Before reading, if you have played cricket in the past I want you to stop and recall one or two of the first cricketing memories that come into your head. Make a mental note of them for now.
If you are a past or present cricketer you may have come across the awkward situation of having to explain to a friend, or perhaps a partner, exactly what it is that you do for a day at a time during a weekend. After giving a bit of an explanation, the summary then given by the person you are explaining to might be: “so you stand around in a field for a few hours, then sit down for a few hours with about 20 minutes of batting and a meal in between?” This is most likely true and so often club cricketers (particularly batters) can be caught saying “why do I bother?” or “just another waste of a day.” So why do we keep coming back for more?
Daniel Kahneman the Nobel prize-winning economist wrote about a couple of psychological theories, that could help to explain what it is that we love about cricket, in his book Thinking Fast and Slow. These are:
- Peak-end rule: our memory of past experience does not match the average level of positive or negative feelings, but to the most extreme point and end of the episode.[i]
- Duration neglect: people’s judgements of the unpleasantness of painful experiences depend very little on the length of those experiences. [ii]
These two theories can tie into each other quite neatly. An experiment described in the book had participants voluntarily put their hand in 140C water first for 60 seconds (cold enough to be painful, but bearable). After a break and a warm towel, the participants were then asked to put their hand in the same temperature water for 60 seconds after which additional warm water was added raising the temperature by 10C, to reduce the pain but still leave some of it there, with participants keeping their hands in for a further 30 seconds.
The third trial offered participants a choice between the two rounds that they had already done. Now, it seems obvious that picking the first trial is the sensible choice to make, as in the second trial you still go through the same pain of the first plus an additional 30 seconds of slightly reduced pain. Yet 80% of participants chose the second option over the first. The explanation given for this was that the ‘peak’ of pain is the same in both trials, but the end of the trial is better in the second option (peak-end rule). In addition, after people had gone through the first two runs, they knew that the second option is longer, but discount this in their memories that then influence their decision (duration neglect).
So, let’s now go back to those memories that you recalled of your cricketing past. You probably thought of that time when you smashed a six or a sweetly struck four, hit the winning runs or took the final wicket, took a ‘worldy’ of a catch or your favourite wicket-taking delivery; in other words, some of the most joyous memories of cricket that you have had. It is unlikely that you first recalled those hours spent watching the rain come down or stood around in the field whilst the opposition cruise to victory. Why? Well it might be due to peak-end theory and duration neglect. Our memories are shaped by those ‘peaks’ of the best moments we have experienced, and the ‘end’ of going to the pub or winning despite your own poor performance! Those long hours stood around in the field or watching the rain come down are lessened due to our inherent duration neglect.
I believe that this allows us to conjure up the romantic notions in our head of playing club cricket, going back each week to try to recreate those memorable moments that we have had in the past, and easily forgetting the hours spent of not doing too much at all. Of course, the friendships and camaraderie developed as part of these times helps to make these hours pass enjoyably and contributes to the social brilliance of cricket. So, if ever short of an explanation to a non-cricketer, perhaps point out that human memories are shaped by a combination of influences known as the peak-end rule and duration neglect and that playing cricket slots nicely into these, so you can’t really help playing. Or just send them a link to this article!