Data or intuition? Decision-making in online games

Data or intuition? Decision-making in online games

Human beings are faced with thousands of decisions every day, ranging from the mundane to the crucial, the routine and the life-changing. Something as everyday as driving a car or writing a text message or something as monumental as changing career or buying a new house. How do we make these decisions? And how do those processes impact the choices we make while playing casino games?

The science

The boffins at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences set out to understand and answer that first question. Through brain imaging, they discovered that areas of participants’ brains were active up to 7 seconds before they were aware which decision they had made. Their brains were busy coming up with a decision long before they themselves were aware of it, leading the researchers to believe that this sort of premonitory brain activity might be linked to that ‘gut feeling’ we often talk about, a form of unconscious awareness.

This particular branch of science and medicine is constantly growing, as medical techniques and technology improve, giving scientists unprecedented insight into the human brain. But we are still a long way off — there are plenty of mysteries still to unravel. For now, at least, knowledge on how decisions are made continues to increase.

The choices

It would seem that the nature of the decision being made will determine whether data or instinct is the better influence. For example, in finding a romantic partner, couples often report knowing whether it will work out between them within a very short time. Research says about 3 minutes, with 80% accuracy. On the other hand, the data says that finding your soulmate (or even just Mr or Ms Right Now) is a 1 in 285,000 chance meeting. That’s a lot of meetings.

In business, data-driven decision making companies in the US are 5% more productive and 6% more profitable than competitors. No small margin, by any means. However, 62% of business executives rely on guy instinct when making big decisions. It’s important to keep in mind that big decisions are often taken by people with plenty of experience and know-how, which means their ‘gut’ is particularly well prepared to take on such challenges.

In gambling

Researchers have discovered that experience is also an important factor in decision-making — veteran casino players spotted patterns in a manipulated deck after just ten cards, while novice players needed to see 50 cards before they began to suspect the deck was rigged. There is plenty of data around that casino players can use to inform their decisions, including jackpot trackers and strategy tips, but it would seem that real-life experience just cannot be ignored.

The takeaway from all this is that the two should work in harmony. Data can help build a knowledge base that will help players be more perceptive, more able to pick out patterns and recall strategies. On the other hand, online gambling (like regular gambling) is very much an emotional pursuit, involving strong feelings like excitement, anticipation, loss, victory and others. It would be unwise to discount the role that the so-called ‘gut feeling’ has when playing games. The only thing better than a gut feeling is an educated gut feeling, something data can help with.