A look at "Confirmation Bias" and why that could negatively impact your drafting.


It's about 3am. Your online draft has just finished and you are wound up. So you start looking through the other rosters in the pool and as you do you get excited.  This year, you've got it in the bag. Everyone else should just save the trouble of roster management and award you the GM of the year ahead of time. You send a group email to that effect and go to bed a happy man falling asleep just as Mr. Sun is coming up.


Sound at all familiar? If it does, first of all you need to know you have come to a safe place to confess your fantasy addictions. Yes, you stay up all night and yes, you are reading about fantasy hockey in August. But, at least you are not writing about it in the basement on a beautiful summer evening while trying to give your wife the impression you are doing something meaningful like I am. So, you'll receive no judgment from the Puck Pastor - only grace.


Second, there is a psychological reason you are feeling over-confident in those wee hours and it is worth understanding so you can improve your fantasy hockey savvy.  And really, who doesn't want more savvy?  


Let’s begin. In 1968, two Canadian researchers compared the level of confidence felt before and after bets were placed on horses. The study found confidence soared after bets were placed. This increase in confidence is interesting because the horse hadn't raced yet and the better had no conversations with anyone. In fact, there was no variable present you’d think should lead to increased confidence. The only thing variable was an increase in commitment level. The money on the table meant more confidence.


This study reveals our compulsion to validate the wisdom of our commitments both internally to ourselves and externally to others. This compulsion is so strong once we solidify a commitment in some way (a bet, a purchase, or a relationship) we selectively look for only the data, which affirms our wisdom.  This is called a 'confirmation bias' and it takes many forms.  


  • When you are reading reviews of a product after you have purchased it. It's after the fact, you are only looking for data which confirms your decision.  


  • When your wife asks you if she looks fat in her new dress. She's not looking for objective feedback, friend.  


  • When your friends are divided in their opinions on your new girlfriend.  But you put more weight on the positive opinions, dismissing the negative.


What does this have to do with fantasy hockey?  At least 3 things:


1.  Confirmation bias can make you too attached to your underachieving picks of previous years.


Last year, and the year before, I took Bobby Ryan way too early. People laughed. They pointed. They made fun. You'd think I'd learn. But a quick look at the fantasy predictions for this year shows I have him way too high on my draft list again. I've yet to find someone project him as high as I have him for ‘13-14. These are the signs of a confirmation bias at work. I have a dysfunctional need to succeed with him and validate my previous choice to myself and to others. You probably have the equivalent in your history. Name it as a dysfunctional attachment and move on.


2. Confirmation bias means you will overrate the players on your favorite team.


An Oiler fan in a draft I was in a few years ago grabbed Andrew Cogliano (“grabbed” was his actual word). He chose him way too early (and it wasn't a terribly deep draft) with the assertion "Cogliano should be good for 60 points this year".  


3.  Confirmation bias will affect your drops and adds. 


You'll probably hang on too long to underachievers. Then, when you do finally drop them, you will be too quick to return them to your roster as you seek to validate your original choice.


Now. You’ll have to excuse me I have to go Google Bobby Ryan. But before I go. I should say, I have never been more confident in the deep truths of this article than I am at the current moment. I can hardly wait to look through the comments and put incredible weight on those which affirm my biases and dismiss those which call into question anything at all about it.


And I look awesome in these jeans.


Check out last week's equally insightful Puck Pastor:

Lindy Effect


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Comments (12)add comment

germant said:

Solid. Great article! I like the combination of psychology and the odd religious spin.

Not only does this apply to poolies in your own drafting but it's also wise to remember how NHL GMs and coaches have this same bias. Playing their first round pick despite him not being that good, giving first line minutes to the guy they just traded for to validate the GMs move, playing a certain goalie above a statistically better backup because they've given that goalie a huge new contract.

Good job! Really enjoyed the read.
August 29, 2013
Votes: +0

Atomic Wedgy said:

Atomic Wedgy
Yes... Berglund, Niederreiter and Okposo. I almost quit Okposo, then he went on a tear (tear for him...) at the end of the last season. I'll be forced to keep him now. He has all but justified and confirmed my faith in him! smilies/cool.gif
August 29, 2013
Votes: +0

agentzero said:

Berglund @alexmullen4180

Oh man... Like you have no idea. I don't know why I keep hanging on..
August 28, 2013
Votes: +1

alexmullen4180 said:

... Patrik Berglund is my Bobby Ryan, just can't ever justify trading him.
August 28, 2013
Votes: +0

Stunaman said:

... Good article - this is true for fantasy hockey and the rest of life.
Important to know that it exists and then you help guard against mistakes from it. Ie, drafting too high, holding onto an underperformer too long.
August 28, 2013
Votes: +1

agentzero said:

... This is actually an awesome article that brings a perspective that is most important in fantasy hockey: owners' psyche.

It is definitely the biggest factor in a team's success as no matter the information available, if old habits and preferences bias our choices, we will inevitably always end up with the same results. Awesome article.
August 28, 2013
Votes: +1

agentzero said:

... This is an absolutely terrible article which provides no value to poolies whatsoever.
August 28, 2013
Votes: -2

ktox said:

Not just your own bias I definitely overvalue my own players. It makes it difficult for me to trade.

But also you need to watch for confirmation bias from organisations and coaches, typically when dealing with goalie tandems. How often does the big signing guy get the start when he is being outperformed by his backup?

Nice article.
August 28, 2013
Votes: +0

Ed. said:

... Great article, and definitely food for thought.

It's tough, especially with prospects, because you also don't want to be the guy who was calling Kadri a bust last summer (for Leaf fans confirmation bias often runs the other way, convincing us every other team's players are better.)

You know what I mean though. There is a delicate balance between bailing on a prospect too soon and keeping him too long. NHL coaches often don't give the kids the opportunities that we dream they will, and some guys develop at a ridiculously slow pace, so it is really tough to figure out who is a bust, and who is the next Blake Wheeler, Marty St. Louis, or Tim Thomas.

August 27, 2013
Votes: +0

TavesSoul said:

... Really enjoyable read here, Nathan. Definitely been guilty of this (David Savard will break it eventually...).
August 27, 2013
Votes: +0

hank mooney said:

hank mooney
... Great article, seriously. I'm in the same boat with Bobby Ryan--but this year is going to be different...I can feel it!!smilies/grin.gif
August 27, 2013
Votes: +3

robmyatt said:

very neat great piece Nathan.
Really enjoy this psychological spin on fantasy approach!
August 27, 2013
Votes: +0
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