7-1: Eight Behaviour Change Points From THAT World Cup Semi-Final

Have you been enjoying the World Cup? We have. And last night’s remarkable Brazil v Germany semi-final got us thinking. What do psychology and behavioural science tell us about the result, the pundits, the fans and the players after a shock event like that? So here are seven behavioural points about the Germany-Brazil game… and one “consolation goal” as a bonus! Continue reading


This is a great blog post about footballers and whether they know why they’re good at their jobs.

If you ask Wayne Rooney how he scores goals, he will take you through the split-second decisions which make up a goal, and credit it to visualisation. But from a strictly physical point of view that can’t be what’s happening – the human brain isn’t fast enough to consciously make those calculations.

The piece underlines an important point you should bear in mind when you think about System 1 and System 2 thinking. System 1 choices are instinctual and rooted in experience, but that doesn’t make them easy. What’s happening when Rooney scores a goal really is sophisticated, it’s just not consciously planned and executed.

Fans prepare to consciously process their decision to cheer or not.

So why does he visualise it so clearly after the fact? Well, we know that memory is constantly being rewritten – remembering something is also altering it. Rooney has no time to consciously process the goal-scoring event, but plenty of time to consciously re-process it, replacing his memory with something more structured. This is also what’s happening when you ask people to talk you through a buying decision.

Here’s another idea, too. Rooney talks in terms of visualisation – which is a technique a lot of successful people swear by. The idea is that you will be more likely to take advantage of opportunities if you visualise them first – rehearse in advance what you’ll do. Rooney is obviously very good at visualisation – he can reconstruct and break down a goal moment very clearly.

Visualisation – much like reconstructing an event for an interviewer or researcher – involves taking a system 1 decision and processing it using system 2: consciously imagining or recalling an event. It creates a convincing account of what happens or might happen.

So maybe what the Rooney example tells us is that the better you are at making particular system 1 decisions, the better you also are at using system 2 to explain them. This would explain why visualisation seems to work – it’s not that visualising something helps you do it, it’s that the more likely you are to do it the more likely you’ll be to visualise it well too.

Reds And Blues

Watching the tumultuous end to the English football season yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this post by Dan Ariely. As he puts it, “As it turns out our happiness frequently depends not on where we are at the moment, but how easily we perceive we might be elsewhere, or in another, better situation… when it’s a close call, you can think of a dozen little things that would have changed the situation, and each one brings a pang of regret. So, the closer we are to this other possibility, what we refer to as counterfactual, the unhappier we become.”

This would surely have been Manchester City players – and fans’ – fate yesterday, had it not been for Sergio Aguero’s last-minute winner. As it is, the terrible burden of the counterfactual gets shifted to Manchester United – champions-elect when their own final whistle blew, only to find their victory snatched away two minutes later. In the comments to Ariely’s post, someone brings up a classic study of Olympic medal winners – silver medalists are on average less happy than bronze, because they came closer to the prize they really wanted and can’t help but imagine what might have been.

News breaks of City’s guest appearance in the Brian Juicer Blog.

And what of the “neutral” fan? Well, psychology suggests they might think of this as one of the great Premier League seasons. The peak end rule – cited by Daniel Kahneman in his Thinking, Fast And Slow – says that your impression of an experience is defined by the most emotionally intense part, and by the conclusion. So a mediocre sporting event with a thrilling finish might linger in the memory longer than one of sustained high quality! Not that such things can be engineered – but Euro 2012 organisers should be crossing their fingers for a last-minute winner if they want to make the championships memorable.

(Thanks to Peter Harrison for the link!)