Mar 042015
 

The psychology of gambling – what it is that makes it so appealing – is a little understood phenomenon. Some things, of course are self-evident: we all like easy money; we all enjoy the sensation of winning, and we all enjoy a sense of playful recreation. These simple explanations hold good for just about every human society that we have any knowledge of. People like gambling – but that doesn’t explain why we seem to like it so much.

cards

Creative Commons courtesy of  Images_of_Money 

Increasingly, research into what it is that people find so attractive is adding to our understanding of this seemingly universal human impulse. In the process, we are learning more and more about the fundamental drivers of our more general behaviour. In this sense, studying gambling offers a window into the psychology of market behaviours and other mass phenomena.

For example, a study published in the journal Psychopathology, by Professor Pinhas Dannon and Doctor Ronen Huberfeld of the Beer Yaakov Mental Health Centre in Tel Aviv showed that when it comes to betting on sports there is little or no advantage to be gained from ‘expert’ knowledge of the sport itself. This is obviously a finding that will have sports fans scratching their heads. How can this be?

The researchers had three groups of subjects place bets to predict the outcome of 16 second round Champions League soccer games. One group comprised professional sports gamblers, the second comprised knowledgeable soccer fans who did not ordinarily bet and the third was made up of people with no prior interest in either betting or soccer.

The results were surprisingly even. When it came to the crunch all three groups were comparable in their success rates. In fact, the two highest performing subjects came from the third – ‘ignorant’ – group. The researchers concluded that there is a mythical quality to ‘expert knowledge’ which aficionados get a kick out of.

What that means in practical terms is that if you are tempted to back a horse on the basis of its name – if you are attracted to Irish Saint at the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival for example – then you can put your money down safe in the knowledge that in reality you know every bit as much as the next man or woman. And much as they will be getting a kick out of thinking that they know something the rest of the world has missed – and we all know that feeling – you will be enjoying a taste of schadenfreude on a grand scale.

Research elsewhere however has shown that there is a peculiarly shared, social aspect to gambling that was previously unrecognised. Professor Josep Marco-Pallarés, a psychologist at the University of Barcelona, writing in BMC Neuroscience, suggests that when we watch others gamble, our brains respond as though we are gambling, too. His research used EEG brain wave technology to measure respondent’s neural reactions to other people’s gambling. He found that even if a subject was not betting themselves, they experienced the same mental response as gamblers they were watching closely.

So much for the schadenfreude!

What this points to an innate herd instinct to share in the emotional reactions of others. And this, perhaps takes us back to where we started. Gambling, like sport, is a fundamentally social activity. It’s appeal lies in the ability to generate that deep social connection between people. It may pit them into adversarial but, like boxers who embrace at the end of a gruelling bout, they will fundamentally recognise the profound value they see in coming together in the first place – however confrontational that might appear at first glance.

As numerous sages down the years have noted, the business of gambling and the gamble that is business are much the same thing. Difficult as it may be to swallow, the research into gambling poses some searching questions for anyone who takes their professional expertise too seriously.

Professor Pinhas Dannon’s and Doctor Ronen Huberfeld’s findings concerning the ‘mythical quality’ of expert knowledge are summarised here.

 Posted by at 1:07 pm
Feb 262015
 

john p craven

I served on submarines in the US Navy during the cold war. John P. Craven, a former Navy scientist whose innovations in ocean technology and exploration led to some of the nation’s most celebrated feats of espionage, died on Feb. 12 in Hawaii. He was 90. The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, his family said.

From 1959 to 1969, as chief scientist of the Special Projects Office, Dr. Craven led the Navy’s drive to expand its presence into the crushing depths of the sea. Among other things, he turned submarines into spy machines that could reach down miles to inspect and retrieve lost enemy matériel, including nuclear arms.

Read the full story on NYTimes.

RIP John.

 Posted by at 8:02 pm
Feb 212015
 

Scanaflo™ is a urine test kit in development that will empower people to monitor their health at home.

Health tech startup Scanadu is working on the cutting-edge of a new type of medical technology that could one day put the hospital in the palm of our hands. Scanadu is now in the testing phase with Scanaflo. This is an iPhone-ready urinalysis strip that, with just one pee, knows if you are pregnant, diabetic or have been smoking weed.

Found via TechCrunch

 Posted by at 1:32 pm
Feb 202015
 

Italian Football
Common Criteria by olaszmelo

E-sports are on the rise, but the impact of digital technology is also being felt in the traditional sporting arena. Hot on the English Premier League’s adoption of goal-line technology to establish whether or not all of the ball has crossed all of the line in those instances where the award of a goal is in doubt, the Italian top division has announced that it is to follow suit.

There has been a long-standing objection to the introduction of optical technologies by traditionalists in both the UK and Italy who have insisted that the matter of human error is an integral part of the game. More practical objections on the basis of cost have also been aired.

However, as in England, the demands of television and club managers – neither of which are ever content with officials’ mistakes – combined with the overflowing riches of the top clubs have seen those objections overcome. From the start of next season the Italian Serie A will adopt the same Hawk-Eye technology as was introduced in the English Premier League at the start of the 2014/2015 campaign.

Recent seasons in Italy have seen a number of controversies erupt as to whether the ball has – or has not – crossed the goal line in matches. AC Milan have twice been at the centre of such rows, on one occasion in 2012 with serious implications: an incorrectly disallowed goal was adjudged to have cost them a victory. The resulting points ‘loss’ inevitably impacted their final tally for the season.

With so much money at stake in terms of direct winnings, and indirectly from the revenues that derive from Champions’ League qualification, it was entirely logical that the means to eliminate human error from the equation should be adopted. Likewise, the considerable interest in Serie A betting put a high premium on teams competing for major honours being able to have complete faith in the accuracy of referees’ decisions.

uefa
Common Criteria by MULADAR NEWS 
Hawk-Eye represents a network of high-speed video cameras to track and triangulate a ball’s position to within a 3.6mm margin of error. Because the system is able to accurately identify the ball’s position in relation to the goal-line, Hawk-Eye can tell when it has actually crossed the line. When it does so, an automated alarm alerts the match officials via a radio transmission to the referee’s watch.

Hawkeye has already been widely used in tennis and cricket, and therefore represents a well tried and tested solution to one of football’s perennial bugbears. AC Milan’s recent sense of grievance and the 1966 World Cup final are by no means the only instances where a dubious decision has had far reaching consequences.

It is unlikely that the technology will be extended to less wealthy leagues, but the news that Germany’s Bundesliga is also to adopt the technology  shows that it is more than just a short-term experiment for the bigger clubs.

The next step, now that the principle of human error has been punctured, will be the development of a software package capable of determining the equally vexed question of precisely when a player steps offside. Given the universal confusion on that point, that could take some time to deliver. Needless to say, it is an issue that does not arise in E-sports.

 Posted by at 3:21 pm