Notes on the Psychology of the Betting Market: Belief Formation
As humans, we are constantly navigating a complex and uncertain world, where the curse of incomplete information and the limitations of language can make it difficult to arrive at the truth. At the same time, we are also faced with the risk and contingency of unforeseen events, which can have a significant impact on our lives. These challenges are further compounded by the existence of the unconscious, our tendency to essentialize, totalise, self-doubt, overreliance on heuristics, and difficulty in changing our beliefs in the face of new information.
Decision making under conditions of uncertainty is a multifaceted and complex process that is influenced by a diverse array of cognitive, emotional, and environmental factors. Research in fields such as behavioral economics, psychology and cognitive science have repeatedly demonstrated that human decision making is subject to a variety of biases, heuristics and cognitive limitations, which can lead to suboptimal choices.
One of the most well-established concept in this field is the notion of bounded rationality, first introduced by Herbert Simon in the 1950s, which highlights the fact that human decision-making is constrained by a variety of factors such as time, cognitive capacity, and availability of information. This means that even when individuals have access to all the relevant information, they may not be able to fully process or consider it all, leading to suboptimal decisions.
Furthermore, social and psychological factors such as emotions, motivations, and the context in which the decision is being made, can also play a crucial role in shaping our choices. For example, the influence of emotions on decision-making is well-documented and can lead to irrational choices. Similarly, the way people draw distinctions and the social and cultural environment in which the decision is being made can also have a significant impact on the choices that we make.
Belief, a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that involves multiple brain regions and a wide range of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral processes, is an untotalizable multiplicity (by which it is meant it involves multiple, interrelated factors that cannot be reduced to a single explanation or unified whole). Beliefs are shaped by a combination of individual experiences, cultural and societal factors, and biological processes, making them unique and highly personal to each individual and they shape our awareness, goals, desires, motivations, and judgements.
Beliefs are formed and represented in different neural networks in the brain, and can exist at different levels of awareness; that is to say, they can be both conscious (ultimately through the examination of evidence and the application of reasoning that beliefs are formed, evaluated, and potentially revised) and unconscious (influenced by factors such as emotions, past experiences, and implicit biases, that are not always accessible to conscious awareness). Beliefs are also rhizomatic, cohering and they can have cascading effects; one belief begets another belief. This degree of entanglement can make it difficult to change or challenge a belief because it is embedded in a web of other beliefs. From a cognitive perspective beliefs are foundational, they can be empowering or self-limiting. A belief about one's own abilities, for examples, can influence motivation, self-esteem, and performance, whilst a belief about the nature of the world can influence perception, decision-making, and behavior. Beliefs can vary in their level of rigidity, with some being highly entrenched and resistant to change, while others are more open to revision. The more unconscious and entangled ones beliefs are and the more that they are caught up with ones idea of self the more dififcult it is to achieve this.
Belief formation can be seen as an imbricative bricolage, where individual belief construction takes place through a layered and interwoven process that draws upon multiple sources including cultural context, unconscious forces, bio-cultural adaptation, fears, emotions, mood and other cognitive processes. Beliefs are ultimately a consequence of accepting the evidence at hand. The brain picks patterns out of the environment based on familiarity and assigns them a level of importance. However, ordinary perception is never purely simple as it is filtered through past experiences and associative memory and contains ideal elements. Strong emotions also drive attentional focus and contribute to motivated reasoning. And our moods impact significantly on our associative memory recall. People find themselves in situations where they must believe something in order to keep frustration, anxiety and stress at bay and more often than not they experience an underlying deficit in relevance detection that causes noise to be integrated into the decision-making process and reduces decision accuracy.
It is also true that we have a tendency to hold onto our beliefs, even when they are challenged or proven to be incorrect. This is partly due to an unconscious disinclination to be proved wrong, and it can make it difficult for us to "defamiliarize" or "deconstruct" our thinking.
Given these complexities, it is imperative that traders in financial and betting markets are aware of the various forces that can influence their choices and actively work to mitigate their impact, for instance through training in decision-making techniques, seeking the input of diverse perspectives, and utilizing decision-making tools and frameworks that take into account the limitations of human cognition:
Overconfidence: the belief that one's own abilities or predictions are more accurate than they actually are (and accordingly discounting the fact that others may know more than we do)..
Hubris, or excessive pride and self-confidence, can be difficult for people to handle for several psychological reasons:
Firstly, hubris can lead to overconfidence, where individuals overestimate their abilities and knowledge. This can lead to a lack of humility and a failure to acknowledge the limits of one's own abilities, leading to poor decision making.
Secondly, hubris can lead to a bias called the "illusion of control," where individuals believe they have more control over events than they actually do. This can lead to a failure to account for randomness and luck in decision making, and can also lead to overconfidence in one's ability to predict future outcomes.
Thirdly, hubris can also lead to a lack of self-awareness and an inability to recognize and correct one's own errors. This can lead to an over-reliance on past success and a failure to adapt to changing circumstances.
Lastly, hubris can lead to a lack of risk management, as the individual may believe they can control the outcome of the situation and may make impulsive decisions without considering the potential consequences.
All these conditions can lead to poor decision making and can be the downfall of even the most successful gamblers and financial market traders. Hubris can make individuals more susceptible to cognitive biases and can lead to a failure to adapt to changing circumstances, which can ultimately result in losses and financial ruin.
Loss aversion: the tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains.
Herding: the tendency to follow the actions or decisions of others without considering one's own independent judgment.
Representativeness bias: the tendency to make judgments based on how similar a situation or person is to a prototype or stereotype, rather than considering all relevant information.
A study by Barberis and Thaler (2003) published in the Journal of Finance found that individuals tend to exhibit "representativeness bias" when making decisions under uncertainty, meaning they tend to rely on past experiences or stereotypes to make judgments about future outcomes
Hindsight bias: the tendency to see past events as having been predictable or obvious after the fact.
Gambler's fallacy: the belief that random events are influenced by past events, and that a streak of luck or misfortune will soon come to an end.
Self-serving bias: the tendency to attribute one's own successes to personal factors while attributing failures to external factors.
Emotion-driven decisions: the tendency to let emotions, such as fear or greed, drive decisions rather than rational analysis.
Misattribution of salience to irrelevant stimuli, most specifically misattribution of causation
The curse of prior knowledge:Human understanding is often biased and influenced by prior knowledge, leading to flawed decision-making and a lack of true objectivity. This is described as "exalting what we can know and prove" while ignoring or dismissing that which cannot be proven, as well as the tendency to "draw all things else to support and agree with it" rather than considering alternative perspectives.
Stress can impair pattern separation, disrupt the encoding of positive experiences, and bias retrieval towards negative events.
Allan N. Schore has proposed that the quality of early attachment experiences between a child and their primary caregiver can have lasting effects on the development of the brain's stress regulation systems, and plays a significant role in stress regulation and resilience. There is substantial evidence from research in the fields of neuroscience and psychology to support the idea that stress can reduce working memory capacity, impair attention and executive functions, and, because it interferes with the brain's ability to engage in reflective self-awareness and introspection lead to more impulsive, emotionally-driven and suboptimal decision making.
From a neurological perspective, stress negatively impacts on the functioning of the default mode network (DMN), a network of the brain that plays a key role in self-referential processing, introspection, and mind-wandering; making it more difficult for people to engage in introspective self-reflection and hence to gain insight into their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Stress also activates the amygdala, in the process impairing memory formation and recall, and making it harder for people to remember past experiences and to reflect on them in an objective manner. Stress also affects self-reflection by altering the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive functions such as attention, working memory, and decision making. During stressful situations, the prefrontal cortex is suppressed, reducing a person's ability to reflect on their thoughts and emotions. Stress also affects the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory formation and recall. Chronic stress has been shown to impair the functioning of the hippocampus and reduce its volume, leading to a decline in memory and the ability to reflect on past experiences.
Stress can also impact risk taking behavior and decision making under uncertainty. During stressful situations, people may become more risk-averse, or conversely, may engage in riskier behavior as a means of coping with the stress. When a person is stressed, they typically rely on heuristics and intuitive decision making, rather than on the more productive systematic and analytical approaches.
All information contained on this website is for informational purposes only. Investors should always consult with a financial adviser before making any investment decision and should not treat any opinion expressed on this website as a specific inducement to make a particular investment. Share prices because they are driven by a multiplicity of factors that it is difficult to disentangle at any one point in time move forward on a nonlinear trajectory. In other words, it impossible to predict the future, especially when it comes to timing. In the end of the day it is always about scaling your risk appropriately.
To cite this article: Niall O'Connor
Notes on the Psychology of the Betting Market: Belief Formation (Published on Bettingmarket.com 06/03/2023. From the series Notes on the Psychology of Trading. All Rights Reserved.)