Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

When to Blink and When to Think: Preference for Intuitive Decisions Results in Faster and Better Tactical Choices

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

When to Blink and When to Think: Preference for Intuitive Decisions Results in Faster and Better Tactical Choices

Article excerpt

Intuition is often considered an effective manner of decision making in sports. In this study we investigated whether a preference for intuition over deliberation results in faster and better lab-based choices in team handball attack situations with 54 male and female handball players of different expertise levels. We assumed that intuitive choices--due to their affective nature--are faster when multiple options are to be considered. The results show that athletes who had a preference for intuitive decisions made faster and better choices than athletes classified as deliberative decision makers. It is important that experts were more intuitive than near-expert and nonexpert players. The results support a take-the-first heuristic defining how options are searched for how option generation is stopped, and how an option is chosen. Implications for the training of intuitive decision making are presented.

Key words: affect, decision making, deliberation, handball


In recent times, interest in the concept of intuition has been renewed and a scientific approach to exploring its foundation has begun (Gigerenzer, 2007; Sadler-Smith, 2008). For instance, in management science, intuition is defined as an involuntary, difficult to articulate, affect-laden recognition or judgment that is based on prior learning and experiences and is formed without deliberative or conscious rational choice (see, e.g., Dane & Pratt, 2007; Sadler-Smith, 2008, for a fuller account). In psychology, intuition refers to a judgment that appears in consciousness quickly, relies on no deep knowledge of reasons for that judgment, and is strong enough to act on (Gigerenzer, 2007). In sports, decisions are often affect laden, and novices and experts alike are driven by many situations to react quickly and emotionally.

Yet, how effective are intuitive decisions, and do individual differences, such as gender or expertise, drive our decision-making preferences? There is a large research industry in management science and psychology (see Naqvi, Shiv, & Bechara, 2006; Plessner, Betsch, & Betsch, 2008, for overviews), but very little in sports--a domain known for its emotional choices and decisions under time pressure. Although research over the last 30 years clearly shows that intuitive choices produce fast responses, it is unclear whether intuition or deliberation produces the most correct choices. Furthermore the relationship between emotions and response quality has yet to be understood in sports decision making.

In the following we will apply the concept of intuitive and deliberative decisions to tactical choices, such as to whom to pass the ball in team handball. These choices are an important component of performance in team sports, and they provide a showcase for applications of intuitive decision making in sports. Individual differences in choice preferences will be examined using different levels of expertise and gender. Because sports teams are almost always composed of one gender and are often limited to one level of expertise, insights about gender- and expertise-specific choices will allow the development of appropriate tactical-training interventions.

Intuitive and Deliberative Decision Making

The first approach that explains intuitive and deliberative decision making is an automatic information-processing approach. It argues that intuitive choices are fast and unconscious associations between a perceived situation and a course of action (Klein, 2003; Plessner et al., 2008, and chapters therein). A second stream of work provides a more emotional account of this continuum between intuitive and deliberative choices, concentrating on the notion of the affect-laden, or gut-feeling component of the aforementioned definitions. Affect is used here as a concept of experience including moods, emotions, attitudes, evaluations, and preferences, but in the following we will concentrate on the preference dimension (which will be measured with a preference scale; see Method section). …

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