The Hidden Influences on Decision Making in Soccer and Law

representation of decision-making influences in soccer and judiciary.

Humans often believe they can make objective decisions. However, if even judges can be influenced by such simple things, where does that leave the rest of us?

Read more: The Hidden Influences on Decision Making in Soccer and Law

Being born and raised in the Achterhoek region, naturally, I found myself crossing into Germany quite frequently. Beyond the allure of cozy pubs and delectable cuisine, Germany’s reputation for football stands tall. In fact, every top European league proudly boasts German football coaches. These coaches, often characterized by their youth and innovative approaches, are typically associated with clubs bearing a clear vision for the future.

Unraveling Schalke 04’s Predicament:

Contrastingly, Schalke 04, a club from Gelsenkirchen I frequently visit for its vibrant atmosphere and occasionally for football, currently teeters on the brink of relegation from the Bundesliga. Numerous analyses have elucidated the myriad of issues plaguing the club, highlighting significant blunders at the administrative level. This raises the question: Why do certain administrators seemingly lack rational thinking?

The Science of Decision Making:

The challenges faced by Schalke 04 can’t merely be attributed to a single rational decision. Executive functions, critical for rational thinking, are continually at play in our everyday lives. These functions govern essential tasks like concentration, planning, and impulse control. Nobel laureate Professor Kahneman categorizes this as “System 2” thinking, distinguishing it from the predominant “System 1” – our subconscious. But, how influential are these subconscious thoughts in our decision-making process?

A Revealing Study on Judges’ Decisions:

Researchers Shai Danziger, Jonathan Levav, and Liora Avnaim-Pesso delved into this query, particularly interested in a profession where rationality should prevail: the judiciary. Their study analyzed the influence of meals on sequential parole decisions by seasoned judges. Levav and his colleagues scrutinized 1,112 parole hearings for inmates across four Israeli prisons, presided over by eight judges over ten months. The judges’ days were segmented into three sessions, interspersed with two meal breaks – a morning snack and lunch. Their findings were startling. At the session’s commencement, an inmate’s chances for parole stood at 65%. As the session progressed, this probability plummeted to nearly zero, only to rebound to 65% post-break. Factors such as the crime’s severity, time served, prior incarcerations, and the availability of rehabilitation programs couldn’t account for these odds, and neither did the inmate’s nationality or gender.

TED Talk Highlighting the Study: Watch it here

Reflections and Takeaways:

Upon reviewing these findings, I was admittedly taken aback. Even Levav, the lead researcher, expressed his astonishment to the renowned magazine, Nature, stating, “The research highlights the repercussions of mental fatigue on critical decisions, even amongst elite decision-makers. It’s both disturbing and shocking – the law doesn’t seem to be consistent.” The pivotal lesson here? Always introspect if a decision stems from genuine rationality or if external influences have inadvertently swayed you. Especially in football, where countless opinions impact the decision-making process. Here’s a word of advice for Schalke 04’s administrators: Before appointing your next coach, indulge in a hearty meal. According to Levav, this could be paramount.


Danziger, S., Levav, J. & Avnaim-Pesso, L. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA advance online publication doi:10.1073/pnas.1018033108 (2011)​


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