Look busy or just sit tight? A lesson in success from soccer

Israeli research: People prefer to 'show they're doing something' - even when it's unwise.

goalie 248 courtesy (photo credit: Courtesy)
goalie 248 courtesy
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ben-Gurion University and Hebrew University researchers who figured out why soccer goalkeepers act as they do during penalty kicks have been included in The New York Times Magazine's prestigious 8th annual "Year in Ideas" supplement, which includes an A-to-Z digest of ideas that helped make the previous 12 months what they were (for better or worse). The idea of BGU business administration department (and lead author) Michael Bar-Eli and his team, Dr. Ofer Azar from the same department and Prof. Ilana Ritov from HU, conceived the idea under G for "Goalkeeper Science" that can be applied to government, politics, business and various other fields during a crisis. The New York Times Magazine cited the study published earlier this year in the Journal of Economic Psychology called "Action Bias Among Elite Soccer Goalkeepers: The Case of Penalty Kicks." Bar-Eli, holder of the Nat Holman Chair in Sports Research at the Beersheba university, and colleagues studied 286 penalty kicks and found that while trying to intercept 94 percent of them, the goalies dived to the right or the left - even though the chances of stopping the ball were highest when the goalie remained in the center. Goalies are afraid they will look stupid or lazy by missing the soccer ball while standing in the center; if they are running to the sides and miss it, they think they will look better, the researchers suggested. "Judgment and decision-making are very important for the understanding of economies, governments and businesses. Because decision-making processes in different contexts often share the same characteristics and biases, we can sometimes examine behavior in sports - where it is relatively easy to observe and where players have huge incentives to make the right choices - and learn from it about human behavior and decision-making more generally," Bar-Eli explains. The Israeli researchers suggested that goalies prefer to "show that they're doing something" instead of appearing to be passive. The magazine quoted Bar-Eli as suggesting that during periods of economic turmoil, chief executive officers of companies and organizations might be tempted to change their corporate strategy or investment managers to juggle their portfolios - even when staying put is the wisest course. "I know an investment manager whose clients will be calling her on the phone saying: 'Do anything! Just do something! I cannot sit and look at how my shares decline!'" Bar-Eli said. By "running around the field" they think they will look more decisive, the authors hypothesized.