Second-guessing yourself leads to worse decisions, study finds

When facing a tough decision, it pays to trust your gut.

Second-guessing yourself leads to worse decisions, study finds
Pixabay
  • A recent study examined the accuracy of predictions of soccer matches on a popular betting website.
  • The users were allowed to revise their bets up until the match started.
  • Surprisingly, the results revealed that the revised bets were much more likely to be incorrect.


Imagine you were asked to predict the score of an upcoming match between your favorite sports team and its rival. Now, imagine you were allowed to revise your prediction at any time before the match. Would it do you any good?

Probably not. A new study suggests that it's better to trust your gut and stick to your original prediction. Published in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, the study examined the accuracy of predictions made by 150 users of a popular sports betting website. In total, these users made 57,000 predictions on the final scores of soccer matches in the English Premier League during the 2017-2018 season.

Users were allowed to revise their predictions anytime before the match. But that was rare: The average user only revised about 15 out of 380 predictions, and the majority of these revisions were typically made minutes before the match began, possibly after learning new information that might affect the outcome. Some revisions were made weeks or months before the match, but ultimately, the average time between the first and final predictions was two days.

Why did users change their minds?

"We can only speculate, but we might imagine that game players input their initial forecast, following which they look at the latest online betting odds on the match, or look for other information which might affect their judgement, such as news on team selection for the match," the researchers wrote. "Alternatively, these revisions could simply be the result of changes to initial judgements without any new information."

You might think the ability to revise your prediction would be an advantage. After all, maybe you had more time to carefully consider which team is more likely to win. Maybe public opinion on the two teams had shifted over time. Or maybe one of the teams had recently begun an incredible winning streak.

But the results of the study showed that prediction accuracy decreased significantly — by about 17 percent — when users revised their original predictions. Why? Given that the study controlled for variations by players and teams, it's unlikely that the drop-off in accuracy was due to some matches being harder to predict than others, or some users being better predictors than others.

Pixabay

One possible explanation is a behavioral bias that describes how people are likely to overreact to news that is salient. So, when you learn, for instance, that a player on one of the teams was injured, you might respond excessively to that news, leading you to revise your original prediction.

The results revealed that revisions made after a longer period of time, as opposed to just a few minutes, were much less likely to be correct. Also, users were less likely to predict correctly when their revised predictions included higher scores, for example, changing a 1-2 outcome to a 2-3 outcome. Interestingly, most users underestimated the likelihood of a 0-0 draw. Broadly, this suggests that we tend to falsely believe it's more likely for something to happen than nothing.

Trust your gut

The researchers wrote that their findings "could have relevance to other contexts where judgmental forecasting explicitly takes place and which have real economic importance, such as in company management and planning, financial markets and macroeconomic policy."

Of course, sometimes new information should cause us to revise our decisions. But for situations where new information is unlikely to significantly alter the outcome, the results suggest it's best to make a decision and stick with it.

This aligns with research from Stanford professor Baba Shiv, an expert in the neuroscience of decision-making. Shiv's research found that, even though we often face tough trade-offs when making complex and emotional decisions, a key component of successful decisions is staying committed to our choice. Shiv told Stanford Business magazine: "When you feel a trade-off conflict, it just behooves you to focus on your gut."

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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
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This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

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This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:
https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work

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