How Economic Game Theory Tells Me To NOT Watch The Patriots

Game Theory is relatively new concept in economics that studies decision making by “rational” human beings. The reason for the “scare quotes” on rational is because human beings, by design, are NOT rational. However, much of economic theory would have us believe we are. But that’s a debate for another post.

Doesn’t Make Economic Sense For Me To Watch Patriot Football Games
For this post though I want to talk about why I choose to not watch most Patriot football games. My choice in this comes down to basic economic theory and IS rational once you undestand how this works.

So, here’s a little spreadsheet I created for myself to decide whether or not I should watch a Patriots game.

There is just a TON of economic AND financial planning theory tied into this one decision actually and this is what makes human beings so interesting.

Losing Hurts More Than Winning Brings Joy
Okay, first and foremost, taking the Nobel-Prize winning work from Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky(K&T) we know the pain of losing is much greater than the joy of winning…for most people. Now, economic theory is based on the premise that humans are rational, so Kahneman and Tversky’s theory is/was at odds with economics. After all, it doesn’t make economic sense that losing $1 would hurt more than the joy of winning $1. But K&T studies proves it does.

Their research has been further validated by other researchers but you don’t really even need to read this stuff to understand how this makes sense. Just think about: You find $100 on the ground. YAY! You drop $100 on the ground and can’t find it. NO! Which causes more emotion? Losing does, by nearly a factor of 2 to 1.

Given K&T’s research, validated in my own personal experience by the way, why would I want to risk 100 points of pain watching the Patriots lose if I can only get 50 points of pleasure to watch them win? This should not be a tradeoff a rational human being should willing to make.

Patriots Losing to The Giants (TWICE) Taught Me A Lesson About Myself
Ironically though, with all my professional and educational background it took until the Pats losing the second time to the Giants in the Super Bowl for me to figure this out for myself.

I remember watching the Pats beat the Rams, beat Carolina, and beat the Eagles in Super Bowls. That was great and made me happy. But when the Pats lost those two games to the Giants, it was DEVASTATING. You’d almost rather have had the Pats not get to the Super Bowl to begin with than to lose those games EVEN though they had won 3 times before.

Going into the Super Bowl against Seattle the Patriots Super Bowl Record was 3-2. But those 2 losses were MUCH more painful, by far, than the joy of those 3 wins. It makes no sense, from the economics perspective of rational human behavior, and I get that, but for a fan you can throw your rational behavior out the window.

Spreadsheet Used To Determine If I Should Watch Game
So, as the Patriots were preparing to play that Super Bowl against Seattle, I came to the conclusion that I just couldn’t watch. And while I hadn’t developed my spreadsheet then it was the same formula in my head. Here is how it goes:

A Patriots win is worth 4 points of joy for me if I watch the game.

A Patriots loss causes me 6 points of pain if I watch.

A Patriots win is worth 3 points of joy if I watch.

A Patriots loss is worth 3 points of pain if don’t watch.

Add those up and you get -2. The negative means it’s too much a risk to watch the game.

Must Factor In Likelihood of Patriots Winning In Different Scenarios
But there is more to the formula. You also have to factor your own superstitions…again human beings are NOT rational. But my belief is that if I watch the Patriots play they are MORE likely to lose than if I don’t watch them play. In fact, if I don’t watch them play I believe there is a 60% chance they’ll win. Yet, if I do watch them play, I believe there is only a 40% chance they’ll win. Does that make any sense? Of course not. But no one would ever be able to prove to me, as rational and level-headed as I am on most matters, that just my eyes viewing a Patriots game would not make them more likely to lose. Crazy right? Or basic humanity, maybe?

Now, we add up the numbers and we still get a negative number. Finally, using the IF, THEN function in Excel, if the end number is negative, then do I watch? The spreadsheet pushes out a “No”. As you can see above.

And there you have it. Simple automation at work. Telling me NOT to watch the Super Bowl. Who am I to argue with mathematical formulas or artificial intelligence?

Patriots Lose To The Eagles…And I’m All Right
Lo and behold, as disappointed as I was that the Pats lost night to the Eagles, because I did not watch after the first half I’m not nearly as devastated as I was when they lost to the Giants. The reason is that I don’t have certain plays replaying in my mind of what could have been.m

I still get upset watching this replay of Danny Woodhead’s third quarter touchdown and thinking at this stage in the game how the Patriots were on a roll and couldn’t be stopped. Yet..it all fell apart. I remember Mario Manningham and David Tyree like it was yesterday. UGH. But I have no clue what happened last night, other than the Pats lost. For some reason it’s easier to deal with.

Why? Because humans are not rational beings. Which is what makes being human so fascinating. Our hearts are huge. So, much bigger than our brains think they should be and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just won’t watch the Patriots play a football game. Crazy, huh?

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