The Unlucky Irish: Celtics Fans and Affective Forecasting
Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 28, 2007
For Celtics fans, last week was a lousy week. On Tuesday night, the NBA conducted its draft lottery, and the Celtics wound up with the worst possible outcome: the 5th pick in next month’s draft. (To watch the lottery and some conventional commentary about it, click on the video below.) So, no Greg Oden and no Kevin Durant for the same franchise that was robbed of Tim Duncan 10 years ago by the very same lottery system (which we discussed at length last month).
Because they have already faced a series of unfortunate events, and because the Boston sports community tends to put great faith in “faith,” many Celtics fans assumed that it was their turn for some good fortune. In light of those high expectations, the ping pong balls delivered news that has been received with disbelief and despondency. Take comments by Jeff Clark, who runs the most widely-read blog devoted to an NBA Team, Celtics Blog:
Waking up this morning, I don’t feel any better. I feel a little sick in my stomach. I’m sure Celtics fans all across the world feel the same.
The funny thing is that yesterday I was so very excited. It was like I was 10 again and it was Christmas morning. I was giddy. It hadn’t even occurred to me that this could really go this wrong. I mean, logically, sure, I knew we could miss out on 1 or 2. But that’s not what my heart said. My heart believed. I was completely sold. We weren’t just going to get a top 2 pick, we were going to get Oden at number 1. It was going to happen.
The first hint was the Bucks at 6. “That doesn’t seem right.” My head said. “Shut up, you’re overthinking this” my heart said. Then he pulled out the Celtics logo and my heart stopped. Dumbstruck I couldn’t even react. Out of nowhere, my dreams were shot, Christmas was cancelled, and my team was doomed to another 10 years of failure.
I thought about it a lot last night and this morning and I’ve had time to ponder the implications. You’d think that after that I would have a better perspective. Sorry. I don’t. I’m still depressed.
Maybe Danny can still turn things around, but even good GMs need a lot of luck. Aside from drafting, Danny hasn’t proven that he’s good. Doc is still the coach, and I can’t say that I’m very excited about that.
We have a pick in a “deep” draft. Well who cares how deep it is? If Oden/Durant are perfect 10’s, and there are a bunch of 5’s in the draft, that means we still end up with a 5. So maybe we’ll have a decent 2nd round pick. Yippee.
I don’t know what I want the team to do now. I haven’t figured it out. Part of me wants to fire Danny, trade Pierce, and start over. Part of me wants to package the pick, Gerald, Theo, and whatever else to get a player to put next to Paul. All of me wants to sit on the couch and go into a coma until the games start. It’s going to be a long, long offseason.
In response to Clark’s comments, ESPN’s Henry Abbott, a diehard fan of the Portland Trailblazers–the team that defied long odds and won the lottery–reminded Celtics fans that all is not lost:
- It’s a lottery. The nature of all lotteries is to be randomly cruel to some and randomly generous to others. The system might look awful on any given night, but it evens out, in theory, over time.
- Us Blazer fans know what it feels like to fall in the draft. We were tied for the worst record in the league last year and ended up picking fourth. But it turned out we got two of the best three or four players in the draft.
- Things happen in strange ways. It would not be at all surprising to me if neither Durant nor Oden proves to be the rookie of the year. The Florida players, for instance, are older and far more experienced. Not to mention, of these top players, you know some will be injured at some point. Maybe your luck comes in another way.
We at The Situationist suspect that Henry Abbott is onto something that will indeed help to bring Celtic fans out of the doldrums — as much as it brings Blazer fans back to earth. There are many interior situational features that lead us to adjust far more quickly than we anticipate and to countenance outcomes that might seem unfair or unjust. Situationist contributor John Jost has written about the sytem-justifying effects of “sour grapes” and “sweet lemons” rationalizations, for instance. Oden and Durant will probably disappoint anyway. Who says Greg Oden “is about to own the game?” For all we know, the fifth draft pick may turn out to be the best of all in this deep draft–a draft that will include highly touted and immediately ready-for-the-NBA prospects like Jeff Green of Georgetown University and Al Horford of the University of Florida.
Furthermore, even if Oden and Durant live up the hype, we’ll be fine. As Situationist contributor Tim Wilson and Situationist friend Dan Gilbert have shown, most of us tend to exaggerate (in intensity and duration) just how happy or sad different positive and negative outcomes will leave us.
That literature has been summarized (by still other Situationist contributors) as follows:
The best evidence about our ability to predict (or even remember) our emotional states reveals that we are often poor judges of our own well-being. The problem is not so much that we do not know what will bring us pleasure or pain. People typically are correct to assume that a new car will elicit some happiness and that a bad accident will generate unhappiness. The problem is that, owing to our ineffective forecasting, we vastly overestimate the intensity and duration of our emotional reactions to such happenings.
Winning the lottery, landing a good teaching job, and falling in love all may bring us some joy. Losing a bet, a job, or a lover will certainly bring sadness. But none of these events will affect us as much as we tend to imagine. Because of this impact bias, “common events typically influence people’s subjective well-being for little more than a few months, and even uncommon events — such as losing a child in a car accident, getting cancer, becoming paralyzed, or being sent to a concentration camp — seem to have less impact on long-term happiness than one might naively expect.”
In one study, for example, associate professors were asked to estimate what their overall happiness would be if they made tenure, or were denied it. The study found that, in the short term, those who received tenure were less happy than they expected, and those who were denied tenure were happier than they predicted. Another study asked student respondents who were involved in committed, long-term relationships to estimate what their happiness levels would be if they suffered a break-up. Their happiness estimates were far lower than the actual reported happiness levels of other students who had recently suffered a break-up.
Our pattern of poorly forecasting our affective states has been demonstrated in a number of studies of political events. One version of the study asked Republicans and Democrats how happy or unhappy they thought they would be the week following the 1996 presidential election if Bill Clinton were reelected. A week after the election, Democrats who had predicted that they would be substantially happier if Clinton won in fact reported overall happiness levels that were no different than before the election. Republicans were only slightly less happy overall than they were before the election, although they had predicted that they would be substantially less happy. Even in ordinary circumstances that we experience repeatedly — such as consumer or employment decisions — we continue to make the same affective forecasting errors again and again. There is apparently too much working in favor of the maintenance of our dispositionism for it to be compromised by evidence of it failing us.
The basic lesson of affective forecasting research is clear. Despite our overly optimistic and overly pessimistic predictions, the truth about ourselves is, as Daniel Gilbert and his co-authors put it: “Most people are reasonably happy most of the time, and most events do little to change that for long.”
So cheer up Celtics fans — you’re going to soon enough anyway. How ’bout those Sox!