(Ir)rationality in action: do soccer players and goalkeepers fail to learn how to best perform during a penalty kick?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

14 Scopus citations


This chapter discusses penalty kicks in soccer, interpreted within the framework of behavioral economics. We present two behaviors of professional soccer players during penalty kicks that seem nonoptimal, and possibly indicate biases in decision making. We ask whether, despite the huge incentives involved in professional soccer and the possibility of learning through feedback from the outcomes of previous penalty kicks, goalkeepers and penalty kickers are not optimizing their actions. We suggest that they do indeed learn to optimize, but have a different utility function; goalkeepers are not solely interested in minimizing the chances of the goal, and kickers are not solely interested in maximizing these chances. We believe that, in general, in cases where decision makers have the ability to learn through feedback about the outcome of their actions but exhibit behavior that seems nonoptimal, it is possible that they do optimize, but that their utility function is different from the one assumed. We propose that such decision makers' behavior be reconceived as "socially rational," in the sense that their social environment seems to be incorporated into their utility functions. Finally, the concept of "socio-emotional rationality" is suggested to account for possible implications in future studies of motion-cognition interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMind and Motion
Subtitle of host publicationThe Bidirectional Link between Thought and Action
EditorsMarkus Raab, Joseph Johnson, Hauke Heekeren
Number of pages12
StatePublished - 26 May 2009

Publication series

NameProgress in Brain Research
ISSN (Print)0079-6123


  • behavioral economics
  • decision making
  • penalty
  • soccer
  • social rationality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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