In two experiments, we investigated the effects of expertise and mode of thought on the accuracy of people’s predictions. Both experts and nonexperts predicted the results of soccer matches after conscious thought, after unconscious thought, or immediately. In Experiment 1, experts who thought unconsciously outperformed participants in all other conditions. Whereas unconscious thinkers showed a correlation between expertise and accuracy of prediction, no such relation was observed for conscious thinkers or for immediate decision makers.
In Experiment 2, this general pattern was replicated. In addition, experts who thought unconsciously were better at applying diagnostic information than experts who thought consciously or who decided immediately. The results are consistent with unconscious-thought theory.
Soccer is a tricky sport to model because there are so few goals scored in each match. The final scoreline will fairly often disagree with many people’s impressions of the quality of each team’s play, and the low-scoring nature of the sport will sometimes lead to prolonged periods of luck, where a team may be getting good results despite playing poorly (or vice versa).