Left or right? In football, as in life, it’s so easy to jump the wrong way. And the reason is very simple

The referee blows his whistle, the penalty-taker begins to limber up, and fans tense up. The goalkeeper has a high-stakes decision to make. Where will he jump – to his right or left, or will he stay in the middle. No matter how experienced, the keeper is likely to make a common mistake: jumping into action when doing nothing would be a better idea.

An analysis of 286 penalty shootouts found most keepers prefer to leap left (49.3%) or right (44.4%) instead of staying put in the centre (6.3%). However, staying in the centre would have been a better idea. The study shows 39.2% of kicks head for the middle, 32.1% go to the left, 28.7% to the right. So why do keepers leap when it would be better to stay put? According to Michael Bar-Eli and colleagues, the answer is action bias. This is our tendency to take action even when doing nothing is better.

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