False Expectations

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

We are all guilty of it, though not all of us will admit it, but we see patterns and coincidences where they may not be any. This is because our brains are hardwired to find patterns as this is a tremendously helpful skill to have developed as a hunter gatherer – the ability to predict when fruits would appear, or follow tracks to hunt prey would mean more food.

This ability is in-built in all of us. The video below, from the World Science Festival, is a perfect demonstration of this. Bobby McFerrin (singer of ‘Don’t worry, be happy’) demonstrates that we can all follow patterns and make predictions based on what we have seen.

As gamblers though, we must be aware of this because it can lead us astray. It is because it is inbuilt that it is so hard to overcome and there are many examples that can show us that actually our intuitions and expectations are just plain wrong, but if you asked 100 people, 99 of them would say the same thing.

A classic example of where our expectations can get us into trouble is tossing a coin. Assuming that it is a fair coin, and it’s not David Blaine doing the toss, the chances of it landing with either heads or tails are 50/50. Now, if you’ve flipped it 10 times in a row, and you’ve gotten heads each time, most people will if you ask them expect that next time you’ll get tails. In fact, as long as the coin hasn’t changed, neither have the odds, and so the next flip still has a 50/50 chance of being either a heads or a tails.

The thing that probably confuses people is that getting 10 heads in a row is quite unlikely, and if someone asked you to bet on it happening before you started, you’d either want huge odds or you’d walk away. But now that you have flipped it 10 times, it would seem that the odds of there being another to be highly unlikely. The thing is that each coin toss is not dependent on the previous one and so the odds actually remain unchanged for that particular flip.

This is a very simple example, and it only gets more complicated as more variables are introduced, but it does demonstrate very clearly that as players we need to keep our heads if we are to make the right choices during our games.

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