Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Pigeons smarter than people?

17bImagine you are a contestant in a “Let’s make a deal” game. There are 3 doors to choose from: yellow, blue, and red. You choose the yellow door.

One of the doors you didn’t pick is opened, let’s say the red door, to reveal no prize.

You now have a choice. Stick with yellow? Or swap for the blue door?

It seems counter-intuitive but switching doors doubles your chance of winning.

Researchers in America found that humans rarely changed their minds – even after they had been trained and given explanations – and therefore performed poorly, whereas pigeons learned to adopt this strategy to optimise their “winnings”. (Journal of Comparative Psychology Vol 124 No 1)

Originally posted May 28 2010



Pigeons possibly smarter than penalty-takers in football?

The best way to take a football penalty is to shoot straight down the middle as goal-keepers tend to move to their right or to their left.

At least that’s the conclusion of a group of economists who studied penalty-taking in the French and Italian leagues using a branch of mathematics called (perhaps appropriately) game theory.


Right footed penalty takers tend to shoot to their left, their strongest side, and in fact most penalties are aimed to the right of the goalkeeper who should therefore dive to his right more often than he does.

Footballers are actually good at mixing things up when they  take penalties but why don’t they maximise their chances (like the pigeons in my earlier post)?

Because if the penalty-taker shoots down the middle and the goalkeeper saves it he looks like he is a poor penalty taker. If he shoots left or right and the goalkeeper saves it the goalkeeper gets the credit for making a great save.

But if the penalty-taker is thinking more about himself and his reputation than the team -and most premier league players are nothing if not egotistical – he is unlikely to adopt the best strategy of shooting down the middle.

Other research by sports psychologists suggests ignoring the goal-keeper and his distracting movements  http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/jun/07/psychology-worldcup2010 and Petr Cech believes that wearing an orange top attracts the ball.

The colour of the keeper’s jersey could actually influence the result as some research suggests that it is harder to score against goalkeepers who wear red (just over 50% success) than against those who wear yellow , blue or green – the latter being the worst colour with a 75% success rate for the penalty-taker. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/international/article7099198.ece

Let’s see how this works out in the World Cup!

As if to make their point did you notice the pigeons sitting on the Algerian goal posts when England was playing against them? They clearly knew they were safe.

So it’s Germany again and the possibility of penalties. Hope you heard the Radio 5 phone-in this morning (25/6) with David James, Peter Schmeichel, and other experts adding their pennorth’ .