Solomon Asch was a Polish-American gestalt and social psychologist. A pioneer in his field with a legacy of influence that still persists, Asch is most known for a set of social experiments developed in the 1950s. Widely known as “conformity experiments,” these tests examined the extent to which social pressure alters our perceptions and/or actions. As one might expect, what these experiments ultimately demonstrated was that what the people in our environments say, do, and think substantially impact what we say, do, and think. We humans naturally tend to conform.

This is the eighth installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation on what you are reading. Just think of this as the DFS version of The Neverending Story.

“You’re a Monkey, Derek! You’re a Monkey! Dance, Monkey!”

In honor of Zoolander No. 2, which comes out in just a few days, I’m quoting from the original Zoolander to illustrate the social dynamics that Asch’s experiments highlight:

J.P. Prewitt: And most important of all, models don’t think for themselves. They do as they’re told.

Derek Zoolander: That is not true.

Prewitt: Yes, it is, Derek.

Zoolander: OK.

Also, I should say that my decision to use an example from Zoolander itself might be an example of Asch’s theories in action. The constant barrage of Zoolander No. 2 promos that I have seen recently likely brought this scene from the first movie to mind when I started thinking about instances of conformity in pop culture. My brain responded to my environment in a manner consistent with Asch’s findings.

In determining that we’re all non-good-looking versions of male models, Asch’s conformity tests were remarkably straightforward, as seen in this inadvertently hilarious video:

Side note: This video almost certainly was (not) filmed at “The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too.”

Informational Bias in DFS

In DFS, especially in the echo chamber of Twitter, it’s easy for us to conform and to develop an informational bias by believing that which others have essentially told us to believe. For instance, my very use of the phrase “echo chamber” is a function of my existing within an echo chamber that likes to overuse that particular colloquialism.

In the fantasy industry, it’s really easy for us to be swayed by the opinions of others, especially when they have numbers and rhetoric on their side. For instance, in the slate for February 10, 2016 — the day I’m writing this — Demarcus Cousins and Stephen Curry are the highest-salaried players on DraftKings. They both cost $11,100. If you look at the Phan Player Model, you’ll see that they have the highest floor, median, and ceiling point projections of any players in the slate. Also, they have been the slate’s top producers on a points-per-game basis over the last month.

Boogie and Steph are studs. Even with their elevated price, you could hear in the Twittersphere a lot of people say that they are automatic cash game plays. And they very well might be great plays in this slate — but you can’t go along with what everyone else is saying without first thinking for yourself. In DFS, maybe the worst thing you can do is unthinkingly conform to the norm.

As it turns, there are substantial reasons to think that maybe Boogie and Steph aren’t great DraftKings plays this slate. For one, each of them has a horribly low Bargain Rating. Over the last month, each of them has matched his salary-adjusted expected points not even in 30 percent of his games. Also, each of them has seen a salary increase over the last month, which a quick look in our NBA Trends database will reveal is generally not a good thing. And both of their salaries have increased over the last year, another negative trend. Finally, even the best players in the league tend to underperform when they get up to Boogie and Steph’s salary. At a minimum, these players at least don’t usually provide value.

Any of these factors on its own isn’t particularly deleterious, but collectively they should serve to give you pause. If you see or hear people saying that Boogie and Steph will do well in this slate, those people might be right, but you shouldn’t just credit what they say without first thinking about those players on your own.

“It is In Your Hands”

A necessary condition of life is our dependence on others. That’s what civilization is — the coordinated dependence of a whole bunch of people upon each other. You depend on other people for the invention of technology, the growing of food, the production of entertainment, the dissemination of information, and, yes, even guidance on who to play in any given DFS slate. That’s natural.

In the end, though, you are the person on whom you must depend the most.

In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, American novelist Toni Morrison told a story that resonates with this sentiment:

Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind. Wise. . . .

Her reputation for wisdom is without peer and without question. . . .

One day the woman is visited by some young people who seem to be bent on disproving her clairvoyance and showing her up for the fraud they believe she is. Their plan is simple: They enter her house and ask the one question the answer to which rides solely on her difference from them, a difference they regard as a profound disability: Her blindness. They stand before her, and one of them says, “Old woman, I hold in my hand a bird. Tell me whether it is living or dead.”

She does not answer, and the question is repeated. “Is the bird I am holding living or dead?” . . .

Finally she speaks and her voice is soft but stern. “I don’t know”, she says. “I don’t know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands. It is in your hands.”

Regardless of what others say, your DFS lineups are in your hands. If your lineups fly, you will be the reason. And if your lineups die, you will also be the reason. To that extent, the only opinion that matters is yours.

DFS conformity is not an option.


The Labyrinthian: 2016, 8

Thanks to @14TeamMocker for calling my attention to the Asch conformity experiments. If you have suggestions on material I should know about or even write about in a future Labyrinthian, please contact me via email, [email protected], or Twitter @MattFtheOracle.