Action bias among elite soccer goalkeepers: The case of penalty kicks

Michael Bar-Eli, Ofer H. Azar, Ilana Ritov, Yael Keidar-Levin, Galit Schein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations

Abstract

In soccer penalty kicks, goalkeepers choose their action before they can clearly observe the kick direction. An analysis of 286 penalty kicks in top leagues and championships worldwide shows that given the probability distribution of kick direction, the optimal strategy for goalkeepers is to stay in the goal's center. Goalkeepers, however, almost always jump right or left. We propose the following explanation for this behavior: because the norm is to jump, norm theory (Kahneman, D., & Miller, D. T. (1986). Norm theory: Comparing reality to its alternatives. Psychological Review, 93, 136-153) implies that a goal scored yields worse feelings for the goalkeeper following inaction (staying in the center) than following action (jumping), leading to a bias for action. The omission bias, a bias in favor of inaction, is reversed here because the norm here is reversed - to act rather than to choose inaction. The claim that jumping is the norm is supported by a second study, a survey conducted with 32 top professional goalkeepers. The seemingly biased decision making is particularly striking since the goalkeepers have huge incentives to make correct decisions, and it is a decision they encounter frequently. Finally, we discuss several implications of the action/omission bias for economics and management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)606-621
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Economic Psychology
Volume28
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2007

Keywords

  • Behavioral economics
  • Choice behavior
  • Decision making
  • Sport psychology
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics

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