Bartenders, height and the eye test

Sometimes height is overrated.


One of my biggest pet peeves in basketball (and more broadly, sports) is the “eye test”. The belief is that to truly understand the game you need to watch players play. Sure, stats are good but they’re not match for watching the game, right? Well I vehemently disagree with this.

A great book I’m currently reading is called “Mindless Eating” by Brian Wansink. It turns out humans aren’t great at being able to judge how much food they eat. Small things like the size of the plate or if the person thinks they are drinking an expensive wine with dinner will influence their judgement of their food. Basically, in regards to food, the eye test fails miserably.

One of the craziest tricks is height. If food looks taller then we think there’s more of it. This works in drinking glasses in fact. Give someone a tall slender glass with the same amount of liquid as that in a short stout glass and they’ll think they drank more in the tall glass. The author notices a funny aspect is that many people respond to such finding as “Sure that works on others, but not on me!” The punch line is then of course that experiments dispute this.

Their solution was to bring in a group of experts. They experimented with a group of bartenders. They gave them either a tall glass or short glass and asked them to pour a shot (1.5 ounces). In the tall glasses they were pretty close (1.6 ounces) but they over-poured in the stout glasses. How could this be? Bartenders are experts at pouring shots! Should you ask for your drink out of a shorter glass next time you hit the bars?

The trick is that the experimenters took away the bartenders tools. Bartenders may have bottles or drink dispensers that flow at a specific rate. The bar tender can count to two to know they’ve poured a shot. Bar tenders also have measuring devices they can use to measure out a shot. Take these away and trust them to just their eyes and they fail at a seemingly simple task.

This is huge in regards to basketball and sports. People make the claim that watching the game will give them extra information. Except, it’s the other way around. Without tools to guarantee they’re getting the right information, then even an experts’ eyes aren’t that useful! We want to believe our brains don’t have major flaws in them and that years of practice will help us overcome them. If bartenders can’t even judge a glass right using their eyes then why would something like a basketball combine even work? It’s tempting to believe the alternative, that these studies apply to other people and not us. But I’ll end with a nice Richard Feynman quote:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.



Comments are closed.