Meta-Gabeing: Unconscious Recall And Information Cascades November 3, 2012  |  Crazy Gabey

Howdy and welcome back to another edition of Meta-Gabeing. This week we’ll be wrapping up our three part series on the fundamentals of strategy based gaming. If you haven’t read part one or part two, I would suggest you do that at some point.

This week we’ll be dealing with the problem of information overload, and how we use unconscious recall and information cascades to counter the problem.

Information Overload

Twitter. ESPN. Yahoo league. Your buddies. RotoWorld. TheFakeFootball. FleaFlicker league. Research. Podcasts. Talk radio. Press conferences. Injuries. Watching games.

There’s a constant struggle for your attention in fantasy sports, more so than any other strategy game I’ve participated in. The human element makes it as fast paced and constantly changing as, well, real life. Let’s face it though, most of us don’t have 3 or 4 hours a day to devote to scouring the internet for every last nugget of information.

We truly live in an age of information overload.

On one hand this can be a blessing, never has the dedicated enthusiast had more tools at his disposable with which to perfect his hobby. Conversely, when your life hits a busy patch (they all do) you can be left staring at your computer screen intimidated and clueless, unsure of where to even begin. There’s no shame in admitting it, we’ve all been there.

What’s important in times like these is to know what’s important (pun intended). I’ve found over the years that keeping two concepts in mind can assist immensely and make all the difference when you’re operating at sub-optimal research levels.

Unconscious Recall

Four players left, top three make the money. You stare intensely at your opponent, he doesn’t flinch. You look at the cards again, trying to make sense of what’s happening. As you go over the sequence of events that brought you to your current dilemma you suddenly “know.” “All-in” you say confidently, shooting a stare back at him. He thinks for a moment, but you know it’s just for show. As you collect your chips, you’re even a little surprised at yourself. How did you know?

You just did.

The above scenario may seem like something out of a movie, but for anyone who’s played high stakes poker it’s a feeling cherished above all others. I’m no expert in regards to anything medical, but I do know that the unconscious mind is constantly at work, sifting through our surroundings and combining them with past experience to guide us in making decisions. It’s the mechanism that makes what would otherwise be extraordinarily complicated processes seem simple and even routine. It’s how we as a species survive. We see dark clouds in the distance and feel the breeze start to pick up, so we decide to stay indoors. If we evaluated every situation independent of past experience then we would be standing in the rain with lightning all around before we figured out it was time to get the hell outta Dodge.

This applies to strategy gaming in a big way too. With all the games you’ve seen, all the news you’ve heard about a player, all the stats you’ve sifted through, all the articles you’ve read, your mind is building an unconscious “database.” Even though accessing all this information cognitively and on demand is nearly impossible, your synapses are constantly firing, building bridges between new information and what’s in storage.

Essentially it all boils down to trusting your instincts.

When I’m sitting at that poker table and all of a sudden know I’ve got my opponent beat (maybe I even know what’s in his hand), it’s not because I’m telepathic or I even that I have some inane hunch. It’s because I’ve been in a very similar situation, many, many times. I’ve seen how opponents react, how they bet, hell, even how they throw their chips in the pot. All these unconscious factors are accessed and processed along with the new information to produce a not so subtle voice in my head screaming for me to raise.

When you have a hunch, don’t dismiss it, and all things being equal, if you don’t have time to research then go with your gut. Often times you’ll find it’s more than just a shot in the dark.

Information Cascades

I’ll start with this definition:

An information (or informational) cascade occurs when people observe the actions of others and then make the same choice that the others have made, independently of their own private information signals. A cascade develops, then, when people “abandon their own information in favor of inferences based on earlier people’s actions.”

There are a multitude of fantasy sports “experts” hanging around every corner of the internet. I say this tongue-in-cheek and not maliciously, but to point out the fact that it’s easy to get swept up in a wave of “everyone else is doing it.” Information cascades can be useful, especially if you haven’t had time to research as thoroughly as you might have hoped. They also help make decisions much simpler than they might have been, had you been forced to examine the information on your own, in a vacuum. In fact, every time you make a decision because you heard two or three experts throughout the week advocating it, you’ve used an information cascade to your advantage.

Information cascades can also be pitfalls though, especially when the original source of data becomes corrupted (I use corrupted loosely, and the lightest sense of the word). This is why it’s important to view information obtained from the hive mind as useful and worthy of consideration, but not the be-all-end-all.

I’ll give an example of information cascade as a detriment.

Ryan Mathews is a guy who has all the talent in the world. He’s an exceptional athlete, and has solid YPC numbers over his career.

There, I’ve listed the positive. Now it’s time for the reasons why all the folks who had him listed as a first rounder this season, and even as a top five pick despite his preseason injury are crazy.

Mathews is a guy who has been unable to avoid missing time or being questionable for almost all his young career. He did finish as the 7th ranked RB in 2011, but the offense was clearly downgraded in the offseason and the injury in the preseason should have raised durability concerns. Instead you had most major publications, websites, and analysts hailing him as a “value pick” at the back end of the first round. Me personally, I couldn’t see him going in the first two rounds. I think mid-3rd round was a fair spot given the offsetting nature of his upside and injury concerns. This is all hindsight of course, and there are clearly times when information cascade proves to be extremely helpful. I just want you to be aware that blindly following the hive mind, even when it’s the expert hive, can prove flawed.

Thanks for stopping by folks and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @CrazyGabey. Until next week.

3 Responses

  1. We’ll never be able to eliminate bias as a human element of our decision making. The idea of using unconscious recall to help make a decision is a shortcut of sorts. I certainly still advocate spending 5-10 minutes researching to ensure your hunch is correct or at least reasonable. I’ll give an example.

    A few nights ago in the NBA the Phoenix Suns played the Golden State Warriors. I had a feeling about Luis Scola, the Suns PF. It kept nagging at me as I was making my initial lineups for the daily fantasy sports site DraftDay, and sure enough when I looked at game logs over the past few seasons Scola had absolutely owned David Lee, the Warriors PF.

    It’s that sort of “shortcut” that I believe greatly assists the casual fantasy sports player. You may not have time to analyze game logs and efficiency charts for all 30 potential PF’s, but you can go with your hunch, dig a little deeper, and spend five minutes researching as opposed to two hours.

    Basically my advice would be never run with a hunch “blindly” unless you absolutely have to. Five minutes or less of research can usually help you differentiate between recall and a pet player.

    • Ben says:

      I guess I was really thinking about poker more than anything. When you are having a session where your decision making on later streets is near flawless. And then you call someone down in a big pot, and you know the second that it is done that while you did “know” the times before, that this time you forced a read out of nothing and made it a “know” when really you were just pressing your good play too hard and were unwilling to give up.

  2. Ben says:

    Now (and the poker angle is a perfect illustration), you can help us all in differentiating between when we “know,” and when we arrive at a conclusion because it is the one we desire or we simply do not know what to do. Always know afterwards the difference, but then it is too late to matter.

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