The psychology of betting .. How does science explain our obsession with the fantasy game?

“He pretends to run a fake team of real players who play for other real teams, rivaled by fake teams that are run by fans who may or may not be interested in promoting their original teams, but who, in any case, are still interested in their fantasy teams. Have you mastered the description? “.

(Malaki Clarken, editor of The Irish Times describes the fantasy players) (1)

About a year ago, Irish sports writer Malaki Clarken decided to write his opinion frankly about the fantasy game, specifically the fantasy of the Premier League, and in an article published by the Irish Times, the man set out in a violent and cruel skin link for addicts of this game.

According to Clarken, who appears to be in his forties or fifties, the fantasy game is the dumbest game ever invented by humans for many reasons; Regardless of its amazing ability to manipulate your affiliation, spoil your viewing pleasure, and the fact that it does not add to you any actual football knowledge, it also produces a huge amount of information, statistics and analysis that is impossible for a human mind to comprehend, thus swallowing a huge area of ​​your time trying to run behind the mirage. .

Clerkin likens it to the famous “PacMan” game, as if it’s feeding off all your leisure time relentlessly, relentlessly. This brings us to the last reason the man mentions; Feeling ashamed, and perhaps ashamed, whenever someone asks you what you are doing, then signs of surprise and pity appeared on his face after I answered him.

What makes Clerkin’s article so important is not his extreme criticism of fantasy addicts, but the fact that he is one of them as he admits at the end, a paradox that baffles many psychiatrists and sociologists; Obsession with the game is not always associated with admiration for it, but in many cases it turns into a state of conscious addiction. She hates the game and enumerates the reasons for this, but she cannot stop playing it at the same time.

I know.. I don’t know

What is interesting here in the case of Clerkin and others is that this state of conscious criticism contrasts sharply with the very essence of the game, which is based mainly on a set of unconscious emotional biases. We make decisions that make us feel comfortable or happy, and we do so unconsciously.

According to the experts of the famous “Fantasy Football Scout” website, there are at least 10 cognitive biases (Cognitive Biases) that control our decisions while playing Fantasy, and most of them guarantee the inevitability of failure to reach a winning squad, and the most prominent of these biases can be summarized in the following: (2)

  • First: Confirmation Bias:

The father of cognitive biases and the source of most of them, which is what your mind does when it ignores information that contradicts an opinion you formed earlier.

  • Second: The Scarcity Heuristic:

In short, it is the illogical association between scarcity and value, i.e. the assumption that a player’s high price, and therefore the difficulty of including him in your squad, is evidence of his high value, which ignores the fact that player prices rise or fall retroactively based on the performance of the last season, not the current.

  • Third: The Gambler’s Fallacy:

Perhaps the most famous fallacy ever committed by fantasy players, which means assuming that the situation will inevitably reverse if the player performs better or worse than expected. can not continue.

  • Fourth: The Bandwagon Effect:

The simplest and most widespread, that is, determining the value of an opinion based on the number of its adherents.

  • Fifth: Recency Bias:

Overvaluing fresh, up-to-date information just because it’s up-to-date, which is what happens when you pick a player who scored a hat-trick last week, assuming he’ll do it again next week.


These biases negatively affect most fantasy players most of the time, and the question that baffles everyone remains the same; If we can be so detached and conscious while evaluating the effects of the game on us, as Clerkin did, then why can’t we be so detached while actually playing it? Why do we succumb to these biases that cause our squad to lose or not score the required number of points? The question acquires added importance when you know that the same applies to players who pay money for additional information, or in-depth statistics, such as the NFL Fantasy players, who “The Insider” says that 70% of them lose money per month, while only 1.3% of them account for In excess of 90% of the gains. (3)

All this prompted scientists to try to answer the question. In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Lee K. Farquhar and Robert Meads are the types of users of fantasy games according to their motives, and the most prevalent type is the one who plays the game for fun only, and does not care much about the accompanying analyzes and statistics, as its goals are summarized in the usual boasting after winning – if it happens – and using it to promote himself during Trans daily discussions. (4)

The problem here, as you know, is that the odds of achieving this victory are extremely rare, yet the obsession with the game continues to increase even among those who do not follow the actual sport or watch its matches, which is explained by neuroscientists and psychiatrists with the dose of dopamine – the hormone of pleasure or euphoria – that we get On it when we feel we are about to make a profit, sometimes even when we lose by a small margin. (5)

safe bet

In general, betting – with time or money – is a risk-based activity, and this makes it a source of pleasure, as it stimulates what neuroscientists call the “reward circuit” in the brain, as we believe that every risk includes a potential for gain in some way. This is what causes dopamine to be released, but how do we feel like we’re about to win if the odds of winning are nearly non-existent? (5)

In fact, the surprise is that there is no contradiction here; Because this feeling of imminent gain is caused by the zero prospects of winning! This is illustrated by an important paper also published by the University of Cambridge in 2007, where it is believed that the small chance of winning leads people to what can be considered a “safe bet”; Any risk with a value that they are actually willing to lose, whether it is an amount of money or a space of time, and once the decision is made, we are psychologically qualified to overlook the loss as long as there is a possibility, even if it is small, for the opposite to happen. (6)

This is the equation that makes sense in our brains; Sacrificing what we can lose for a small possibility of getting more value from our point of view, and another study published in the US National Library of Medicine in 2009 says that avoiding losses by a small margin is “Near-Misses”, or just getting close Gaining by the same difference stimulates the same feeling of pleasure and happiness, and even pushes us to try again, which also falls under the aforementioned Gambler’s Fallacy, as getting close to the winning squad in this round is what makes us assume that we are candidates to win in the next round. (7)

This is what makes it all like a risk free shot that gives us a dose of dopamine for nothing, and that’s what makes fantasy games so exciting for so many of us, the all-time low probability of winning that people only pay for in their spare time, or their official working time in Some cases, a constant source of excitement and enthusiasm, we imagine are free.

burning nerves

Penetrating the American Mind book

While research and studies pay more attention to those who spend their money to win in fantasy, of course, for the simple reason that the loss in this case is tangible and material, Dr. Robert Lustig of the University of California believes that successive dopamine releases are no less dangerous in turn, in his book “Breakthrough The Hacking of the American Mind, Lustig explains that addiction to these small doses of dopamine leads to nerve burning, both figuratively and literally. (8)

The man theory is very simple; Dopamine stimulates nerves, and when nerves are constantly stimulated in a short time – as expected with a game that carries weekly results – they gradually die, and then the body begins to use a defensive mechanism to limit the effect of each new dose of dopamine, reducing the number of nerve receptors it reaches to avoid the greatest damage It is possible, and therefore we need a larger dose of dopamine each time to get the same effect as before, in short; What medicine defines addiction. (9)

Lustig believes that this is the essential difference between two emotions that people often confuse; Pleasure and happiness, the former is material, and results from the secretion of dopamine, and we can feel it individually and a lot of it leads to addiction. As for the second, it is spiritual, and it results from the secretion of serotonin, and it is not tested except in groups, and a lot of it has no medical harm.

The surprise here is that fantasy is not an evil game in itself. Of course, it helps to unconsciously and gradually activate this kind of addiction to us, but it can be a way to socialize with friends and family as well. In a survey conducted by St. John Fisher College in New York among its students, 83% of the voters said that the first reason for playing the game is the desire to communicate with close people and the surrounding community, but the results of the poll remain worrisome in any case, as a relatively large number of voters mentioned other reasons such as the desire to earn money or escape from reality. (10)

Most people can control their impulses when it comes to money. Some studies say that only 0.2-0.5% of those who bet pathologically can destroy their lives, but perhaps that is what makes a game like Fantasy so attractive. It gives us an addiction of a different kind. (11)

“It is a game so stupid, so stupid, that makes me feel so stupid and so insignificant that the original game can never make me feel, that nothing in the universe can ever do.

However, I can’t wait for the new season to start.”

(Malaki Clerkin, editor of the Irish Times) (1)



1- Fantasy football; Simple and stupid obsession for many – The Irish Times

2- The Psychology of Fantasy Football Scout

3- The system of sharks and small fish dominates the fantasy game and crushes the chances of most players to win – The Insider

4- Study: Types of Fantasy Game Users and Their Motivations – Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication

5- Why do we bet on fantasy games when the odds are against us? – The Insider

6- The psychology of betting – University of Cambridge

7- Study: Getting close to winning and losing by a small margin stimulates more betting – US National Library of Medicine

8- The book “Penetrating the American Mind” by Dr. Robert Lustig – Amazon

9- The difference between pleasure and happiness by Dr. Robert Lustig – Slobex

10. St John Fisher University Student Survey; The secret to allure of fantasy games – St. John Fisher College

11- Study: review of two types of addiction; Pathological betting and substance abuse – US National Library of Medicine

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