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Last updated at 15:09 BST, Friday, 01 August 2014

Researchers explain goalkeepers' mistake

Summary

1 August 2014

Goalkeepers facing penalty shootouts make a predictable mistake that could influence the outcome, say researchers. Psychologists who analysed World Cups and European championships over 36 years found that after three kicks in the same direction, the keepers were more likely to throw themselves the opposite way. The research has been published in the journal Current Biology.

Reporter:

Matt McGrath

Goalkeeper catching a football

Goalkeepers are lucky because strikers aren't aware of statistics, say researchers

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Report

If a tossed coin comes up 'heads', ten times in a row, is it more or less likely to show 'tails' on the next throw?

If you think it must be tails, you are falling for the gambler's fallacy, the idea that sequences of results are connected. And you're not alone.

Some of the world's top goalkeepers are prone to making the same mistake.

Researchers from University College London analysed videos of penalty shootouts at every World Cup since 1976. They found that after three kicks in a row towards the same side of the goal, on the next shot the goalkeeper dived for the opposite side 69% of the time.

This small but statistically significant pattern could be enough to win shootouts. But so far the goalkeepers have been lucky. Penalty takers are under such pressure to score, they've failed to notice and take advantage of the flaw.

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Vocabulary

tossed

thrown into the air, often without care

in a row

one after the other, in a sequence

tails

(here) the side of a coin which doesn't show the head of a person

fallacy

an idea people usually think is true but it isn't

prone to

likely to

dived

(here) jumped to the ground in order to catch the football

to score

(here) to kick the football into the goal

flaw

weakness

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