“Go with your gut.” 


It is a phrase fantasy players use frequently, and over time it has come to take on many meanings from just make a decision, to toss a coin, to do the first thing that pops into your head. We even use it to lament a failed option; “I should have gone with my gut”. Most of us probably know how it feels to go with our guts (you actually feel it in your guts!), but trying to articulate what it means is a completely different story. So, what exactly is going on with your gut and how could it get you in trouble playing NRL Fantasy? 


My apologies to any psychologists out there but here’s what I believe the simplest explanation of a gut decision is: a rapid response or assessment that is likely to be heavily influenced by experience or knowledge, and possibly, although unlikely for NRL Fantasy, innate knowledge. It is your intuition or instinct taking control to make a snap decision and shortcutting past the more analytical parts of your brain. There is even some actual biological evidence that explains why it feels like the decision is made in your gut. Making snap decisions can have lots of benefits in our lives, and self-help manuals are filled with stuff about the benefits of following our instincts, but for most of us it probably doesn’t help our fantasy abilities. 


I say most of us because I have no doubt there are people out there that process high amounts of information, probably without realising they have done so, in order to make gut decisions. The rest of us probably use gut decisions as a short cut, and that means without realising it, we’ve allowed ourselves to be influenced by our cognitive biases.


Dr Renee Miller has written an excellent article for ESPN on the perils of cognitive bias in fantasy baseball and I’m going to take my lack of psychology PhD and try to explain how the four biases she covers - and four more she doesn’t - impact our gut decisions in NRL Fantasy. 


Recency bias

This one is pretty straight forward: we are heavily influenced by what we’ve just seen and this leads us to ignore older evidence. Recency bias is you getting in Agnatius Paasi because he killed it at the 9s or Paul Carter the week after he almost doubled his previous highest tackle count. The immediacy of price rises adds further fuel to the fire of recency bias but you are almost always best not to discount the past.


Confirmation bias 

Your mind looks for information to confirm your decision, not information to actually inform your decision. I think Fluke or For Real feeds a lot of people’s confirmation bias in that they read it already knowing what they want to do and the only information from FoFR that matters is that which confirms what they believe. 


Information bias 

Information bias is using superfluous information that doesn’t actually improve your decisionmaking process. This could be because you’ve already got enough information to confirm that Cam Smith is a gun so you don’t need to know what his consistency rate is; it doesn’t change your decision but it makes you feel more confident in it. Information bias could also involve considering factors that don’t actually influence a player’s scoring, like forcing turnovers, or getting tricked into believing in small sample sizes. Information is great, but at a certain point it isn’t necessary and it could also be miss-leading or irrelevant.


Novelty bias 

We love new things and we want to be able to say we identified something first. We also hate being burned, especially by injury prone players. Brian Kelly might be a better fantasy option than Brett Stewart but really we don’t have much information to know for sure (other than the fact Brett Stewart is shit). Regardless, owners will flock to Kelly over Stewart if they were both selected and at the same price. Perhaps that is a bad example; a better one might be that some coaches are more willing to roll the dice on a potentially new “elite” gun in Ryan James over the established elite credentials possessed by Andrew Fifita.


Outcome bias 

This. Happens. All. The. Time. An outcome bias is where a decision is judged based on the outcome rather than the process. In a sport (yes, fantasy is a sport) like fantasy, outcomes are so highly defined by events outside your control that judging decisions on outcomes can be fatally flawed. Your gut might have told you that Cody Walker was a great pick up in Round 1 last year, but your gut got lucky with an injury to Adam Reynolds. It doesn’t mean that next time your gut decides to go with a player who has low job security you should follow it. Sometimes you get lucky; that doesn’t mean your process was right. Sometimes you get unlucky; that doesn’t mean your process was flawed. Understanding which is which is pretty important. 


Anchoring bias 

An anchoring bias is the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information you get in making a decision. We do this when we see a player and think they look good and want them even when stats suggest they are average. Maybe we got a piece of inside or privileged information and we over-value it compared to other pieces of information to the contrary. This is why ex-players aren’t normally any good at Fantasy or Super Coach. 


Choice supportive bias 

This is the tendency to remember your choices as better than they actually are or were. Once your decision is made you downplay or ignore the faults or information contrary to your decision. You might also create false reasoning for why you did something; perhaps you benefited from a position switch, which you might conveniently ignore or assert you made the decision based on that as a factor, even if you didn’t. This is part of why gut decisions can be so satisfying and why we’ll downplay things when our gut decision is wrong. 


Blind spot bias 

And finally to my biggest problem. The blind spot bias is seeing the bias being used in other people’s decision making processes but not your own. My processes are always right, everybody else’s are always wrong. Damn the results.


So, what now? Well if you want to go with your gut you still can, but at least now you can spend 10 seconds after your gut has spent 3 seconds making a decision checking whether your gut has displayed a bias that hurts your fantasy team.