Recency Bias | How Sports Bettors Favour The Here & Now

Recency bias is when individuals value recent events over historical ones, believing they provide more insight into how things will play out in the future.

This irrational tendency can have a very negative impact on sports bettors, clouding sound judgement and leading to poor decisions. More specifically, it can influence how a gambler assesses the sport they’re betting on, as well impair their ability to rationally assess their own sports betting performance.


An Example Of Recency Bias

To better appreciate recency bias, consider a case that’s highly common in casinos.

Image that the last eight spins on the roulette wheel have all landed on numbers within the first third of the table (1-12). Having witnessed that, what might the gamblers around the table do for the next spin?

Those most affected by recency bias are likely to put their chips down on the first third in an attempt to replicate recent successes when, in reality, every third of the table always has the same chance.

Extraordinary recent events — such as eight consecutive winners — can cause gamblers to completely disregard overall trends (or lack of) which preceded them.


Evaluating Sport

Sports fans are known for giving more credence to recent events than historical ones. It’s not unusual for a single game, or even a single moment to completely change the public opinion of a team, player or even manager. Football fans, myself included, will attest: we have very short memories!

Of course, form is a key factor in the performance of sports teams because winning generates confidence and momentum that can be carried over to the the next game. But the public are guilty of putting far too much weight on events at the forefront of their minds. Whether it’s a 5-0 thrashing, a hard-fought 2-1 grind against a top side, a big upset, or any other game-changing moment, the here & now overwrites other significant memories as if they’re completely irrelevant or non-existent.

At times, recency bias surrounding football is absurd. ‘Professional’ pundits encapsulate the fickleness of fans: they will heavily praise a team/player, and then completely reverse everything they proclaimed the following weekend. Ex-players and those involved in analysing the game ought to remain rational — but they’re just as emotional and susceptible to recency bias as anyone else.

Many gamblers carry recency bias over into sports betting by heavily basing their decisions around the most recent events without considering the bigger picture — such as the entire series of results that came before. As a result, it can lead to making rash choices based on a very insignificant amount of data.

Recency bias is said to be reflected in where the public’s money is placed, with the most volume on selections that have enjoyed substantial recent success.


Evaluating Betting Performance

It’s very common for gamblers to judge their performance on their recent results rather than the whole data set. Those most affected by recency bias will view a run of recent positive/negative results as the start of more to come — which is a naïve outlook.

For instance, let’s suppose that a bettor has a lengthy track record of losing to the bookies but then, out of nowhere, hits a streak of several consecutive winners. It’s a common situation: the gambler disregards what losses came before, and believes that recent results represent skill, when that’s evidently not the case.

Recency bias can also work the other way. For example, a run of recent losses might lead a bettor to disregard a sound strategy, when in fact the historical performance suggests that it’s profitable. This often occurs when bettors follow a value betting service and the results perform below expectations for a temporary period.


How To Avoid Recency Bias

It’s difficult to avoid something that you may not be aware is occurring. So the first step is to acknowledge that recency bias in betting is real, very common, and quite possibly impacts your decision-making skills to some extent.

My advice is to log every single bet you place, as well as the profit/loss from them. That way your overall performance, as grim as that might be, is there to refer back to at any point.

With every bet logged, it’s also important to know what the approach was for every bet placed. Was it a random punt? Was it part of a strategy? Did you follow a tipster?

So long as you’re able to segment your performance by your approach, you’ll be better equipped to determine whether recent results are truly a result of changes you’ve made, or whether it was just variance.

Sports betting recency bias can lead to poor betting decisions and losses. You have to assess evidence objectively without subjective pre-conceptions. 

Toby @ Punter2Pro
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