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Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to Deal with Success in Investing

By Sam McNeill

What follows is a true and factual story. A University in the US did an experiment to understand more about the psychology of success. This experiment has subsequently been repeated a number of times at different places and by different people.

The experiment is straight forward. It asked people to guess the outcome of tossing a coin. The outcomes are either heads or tails and you guess the outcome and then you are either right or wrong.

On probability, if the coin is tossed you have a 50% chance of guessing correctly which way it will end up. The experiment required 500 tosses of the coin and the outcome followed the laws of probability of around half of the tosses producing a correct guess. This probability outcome is fairly well understood by the experiment subjects, and people generally.

However, within the 500 tosses you will have a good chance of stringing together a number of tosses in a row that you will guess correctly. This is where the psychology of success comes into effect. The experiment asked it's subjects how they felt about their performance in tossing the coin and guessing the correct outcome at various times during the experiment.

What the experimenters discovered was that when people were having successful runs - four or five or six correct guesses in a row - they developed a belief that their own skill and expertise was responsible for this success. Reasons stated included: I am now concentrating harder and that is improving my performance, I am getting better at this; through to, I have developed the skill of how to guess a coin toss more accurately.

Remebering that the experiment subjects were fully aware of the law of probability at work in the experiment, with a likelihood of 50% of the outcomes being correct and 50% of the outcomes being incorrect, but believed that their talent and/or ability was attributing to their success. Quite disturbing in its contradiction.

This same effect occurs with people investing in the stock market all the time - and this is especially the case with people new to investing and trading. The investor or trader begins to believe, after a winning trade or two that they have some super "talent" for picking stocks and shares. They begin to believe that they have some natural talent that makes them better than the average trader.

The outcome, before too long, is that the investor's belief in their own ability results in over confidence. This over confidence results in trading too many stocks or trading without managing the risk inherent in any trade. Unfortunately the stock market has a nasty habit of slapping down over confident traders with a big loss.

The truth here is that every trade involves risk and every trader should be managing risk. This means protecting your capital and not getting carried away with your successes. Beware the Market Slap! - 23212

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