Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences
Bar-Hillel and Budescu (1995) failed to find a desirability bias in probability estimation. The World Cup soccer tournament provided an opportunity to revisit the phenomenon in a context in which desirability biases are notoriously rampant. Participants estimated the probabilities of various teams’ winning their upcoming games. They were promised money if one team—randomly designated by the experimenter—won its upcoming game. Participants assigned a higher probability to a victory by their target team than did other participants, whose promised monetary reward was contingent on the victory of its opponent. Prima facie, this seems to be a desirability bias. However, in a follow-up study that made one team salient, without promising monetary rewards, participants also judged their target team to be more likely to win. On grounds of parsimony, we conclude that what appears to be a desirability bias may just be a salience/marking effect, and—although optimism is a robust and ubiquitous human phenomenon—that wishful thinking still remains elusive.
Bar-Hillel, Maya; Budescu, David V.; and Amar, Moty, "Predicting World Cup Results: Do Goals Seem More Likely When They Pay Off?" (2008). Psychology Faculty Publications. Paper 10.