In a penalty situation in soccer, the ball takes less than 0.3 seconds from the player who kicks the ball to the goal. There is not enough time for the goalkeeper to watch the ball’s trajectory and react.
He must make a decision before the ball is kicked.
Soccer players who take penalty kicks shoot one third of the time at the middle of the goal, one third of the time at the left, and one third of the time at the right.
Surely coaches and goalkeepers have spotted this, but what do they invariably do?
They dive either to the left or to the right. Rarely do they stay standing in the middle—even though roughly a third of all balls land there.
Why on earth would they jeopardize saving these penalties? The simple answer: appearance. It looks more impressive and feels less embarrassing to dive to the wrong side than to freeze on the spot and watch the ball sail past.
This is the action bias: Look active, even if it achieves nothing.
This study comes from the Israeli researcher Michael Bar-Eli, who evaluated hundreds of penalty shoot-outs.
But not just goalkeepers fall victim to the action bias, we all fall to this bias in our daily life.
We go to a Doctor and he diagnoses it as a simple cold. We still want a medicine for it and the poor chap has had it if he doesn’t prescribe at least a Vitamin. There is a marriage in the family and everyone wants to be involved despite the dictum of ‘Too many cooks will spoil the Broth’. If the stock market corrects, we must take action immediately. There is a lockdown, we just cant stay at home, we need to go out or we will miss the action. We don’t like to wait lest we miss the bus.
So what accounts for this tendency? In our old hunter-gatherer environment (which suited us quite well), action trumped reflection. Lightning-fast reactions were essential to survival; deliberation
could be fatal.
When our ancestors saw a silhouette appear at the edge of the forest—something that looked a lot like a tiger—they did not take a minute to muse over what it might be. They just ran—and fast.
We are the descendants of these quick responders. Back then, it was better to run away once too often. However, our world today is different; it rewards patience, even though our instincts may suggest otherwise.
Although we now value contemplation more highly, outright inaction remains a cardinal sin. You get no honour, no medal, no statue with your name on it if you make exactly the right decision by waiting—for the good of the company, the state, even humanity.
On the other hand, if you demonstrate decisiveness and quick judgment, and the situation improves
though perhaps coincidentally, it’s quite possible your boss, or even the mayor, will shake your hand. Society at large still prefers rash action to a sensible wait-and-see strategy.
In new or shaky circumstances, we feel compelled to do something, anything. Afterward we feel better, even if we have made things worse by acting too quickly or too often. So, though it might not merit a parade in your honour, if a situation is unclear, hold back until you can assess your options.
This too shall pass, just have the patience and wait and Stay blessed forever.