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To clinch victory, shoot for the left side of the net

July 14th, 2011

Interesting press release about an upcoming study in Psychological Science. In an analysis of every World Cup penalty shoot-out from 1982 to 2010, researchers from the University of Amsterdam found that goalies tend to dive to the right when their team is down and the game is on the line. (In other situations, they were equally likely to go right or left.)

Many studies have found that people and animals that want something tend to go to the right. When dogs see their owners, they wag their tails more to the right; toads strike to the right when they’re going for prey; and humans are more likely to turn their heads to the right to smooch their sweeties…

In an experiment, the team found that people who are told to divide a line in half tend to aim a bit to the right when they are both thinking about a positive goal and under time pressure—just like the goalies.

So how will this affect strategy in the next World Cup? Now the goalies know about this innate tendency; but the shooters know that the goalies know; but the goalies know that the shooters know that the goalies know…

[Minor gripe: the press release doesn’t actually reveal what the split in the data was — i.e. 51:49? 70:30? And the paper itself isn’t yet available online. A rather crucial detail, I’d have thought.]

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