How Recency Bias Clouds Your Judgement

Recency Bias is the phenomenon of a person most easily remembering something that has happened recently, compared to remembering something that may have occurred a while back.

For example, when Richard Panik scored six goals in his first six games of the 2016–17 NHL season. Historically, before the season began, Panik had 25-goals scored in 181 career NHL games. That amounts to a 0.14 goals per game average. In his first six games of the season, Panik was averaging one goal per game. People using recency bias overlooked that historical information we have on Richard Panik and started to proclaim him the top–6 forward that Chicago has been searching for. A 17-game goal drought later, and Richard Panik currently has 9-goals in 36-games. His goal scoring pace is now 0.25 goals per game, which is closer to his 0.14 career mark and a more reasonable number than the one goal per game pace he started the season on. Recency Bias clouded many people’s analysis of who Richard Panik is. At age–25, he shouldn’t improve that greatly from his historical career performance. That performance indicates he is a bottom–6 level sniper. This isn’t a knock on Panik, he is simply the perfect example of recency bias. Getting a cheap, quality bottom–6 forward in exchange for Jeremy Morin was a good deal for Chicago and Richard Panik adds value to the team. He’s not a top–6 level forward and the chances he ever becomes one are extremely low.

Recency Bias is always brutal at the beginning of the season. Players & teams go on “hot” or “cold” streaks, and fans jump to conclusions using recent events to shape their judgment, rather than every event available to them.

An example would be Corey Crawford having a couple bad games, resulting in fans discussing trading him and anointing Scott Darling the number one goalie. Over the past three seasons, he’s been one of the best goalies in the league. But the “what have you done for me lately” or the recency bias crowd will ignore past performance because “the bum let in eight goals over two games”.

When analyzing hockey, it’s always important to look at all the information provided. It’s easy to get extremely excited or down on a player depending on their last stretch of games, but it’s always key to compare that stretch to what we historically know about the player.

We know Richard Panik is a bottom–6 forward.

We know Corey Crawford is an elite, top–5 in the NHL goalie.

This doesn’t mean that Crawford is infallible and will remain in the upper echelons of goaltending. Likewise, there is always the possibility that Richard Panik breaks out and becomes a top–6 forward. A player’s overall talent or status in the league can change. However, the smart move is to go with what we know about a player already, because that historical information will be correct more times than not.