Roger Federer defied the expectations of countless when he won the 2017 Australian Open versus Rafael Nadal.

You are watching: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior mark twain

Before the final, Federer had won simply 11 out of 34 matches against Nadal. Many experts thought that Roger’s backhand would malfunction as Nadal unleashed top-spinning, high-bouncing forehands throughout to Roger’s single-handed backhand, similar to in many of their past matches.

So just how is this even remotely appropriate to the civilization of HR and selection?

Experts tried to predict the manner in i m sorry Federer and Nadal would certainly play versus each other, and also therefore the result of the match. Likewise, HR professionals shot to predict exactly how a candidate will certainly behave, and also therefore just how well castle will carry out in a role.

In HR and also organisational psychology circles, that is oft quoted the “the ideal predictor of future action is previous behaviour”. Unfortunately, this is periodically treated an ext like a basic law of physics 보다 a handy preeminence of thumb.

To say previous behaviour is “the best” predictor oversimplifies the issue, however it is true the it regularly gives one indication that probable future behaviour. Imagine, Heidi has actually been working out three times every week because that the critical year, so we would not it is in surprised to discover her exercising next week, or in future weeks. This can even offer an indication of exactly how well she will carry out in a fun run in 3 months’ time. In a work-related setting, a sales who high level of world contact and also networking in their last duty might predict comparable behaviours in the function you space considering them for, hopefully translating into high revenue generation.

The best Predictor

“The best predictor of future action is past behaviour”, has actually been deadline to anyone from psychologists, such as Albert Ellis, Walter Michel, and also B.F. Skinner, to writers such as mark Twain.

One the the people to discover this idea in depth to be the American psychologist Paul Meehl. He wrote, “…behavior science study itself reflects that, by and large, the best way to predict anybody’s actions is his actions in the past…”. However, "Meehl’s Malignant Maxim" was focused specifically on legal judgments about whether someone would certainly re-offend. He likewise believed there were an extensive “sources that error” in using an easy predictions based on an offender’s previous behaviour.

But back to predicting project performance and tennis matches.

Caveats for Basing guess on previous Behaviour

If predicting future behaviour were as simple as looking at previous behaviour, you could expect that Federer would have a an excellent chance that losing, based on his ahead backhand performance versus Nadal and 32% win rate in those matches. Yet psychological research mirrors us there space several critical provisos come take into account, before assuming previous behaviour will certainly strongly predict future behaviour:

1. The future situation should it is in very comparable to the previous situation

Yes, there were many similarities between the Australian Open last 2017 and also previous encounters. Nadal would an extremely likely it is in unleashing huge top-spinning forehands come Federer’s single-handed backhand. Moreover, previous grand slam matches greatly favoured Nadal, 9 to 2.

However, there were some crucial differences from previous situations. The courts were much faster than usual, suiting Federer’s in its entirety style of pat on his backhand (and his forehand). In addition, it made a distinction that Nadal only had actually a two-day gap in between his semi-final and the final, contrasted to Federer"s 3 days, an especially with both players gift older than in past encounters.

While these situational distinctions would not nullify the background between the 2 players, it could make the odds closer come 50/50, or at least make us much more cautious in our predictions.

Selection Example

A sales candidate, David, has had excellent sales in his previous role. He is hired, however only performs in ~ a trivial level. This is the difficulty - his previous duty was selling integrate harvesters to farmers. His brand-new role is offering strategic branding solutions to corporations. That’s two very different situations, different species of customers, and also different products, inquiry a different technique (i.e. Collection of behaviours).

2. Forecast is finest when over there is a quick time in between past and also future behaviour

In the situation of Nadal and also Federer, they hadn’t played versus each other since 2015, when Federer won, and before that since 2014. Your matches stretch back to 2005. Basing a prediction over together a long time period reduced the validity of prediction based on previous matches.

Imagine basing a selection decision on behaviours stretching back 12 years in a candidate’s career. Over the time duration people often change. I m sorry brings us to the next point.

3. The person must tho be basically the same currently as they were then

People adjust for a selection of reasons. General experience can give us a various perspective on both ourselves and also the world, as can significant life events. A person who in ~ 22 had been insensitive or cheeky come customers due to the fact that of a absence of maturity might not have any such problems by the time they are 32.

We don’t know specifically how Federer might have readjusted as a person, but we know he had actually been utilizing a tennis racquet through a bigger head because 2014 – this allowed him to hit his backhand flatter and much more aggressively, with less risk of lacking the sweet spot. He likewise reacted suddenly in the fifth collection when behind, lifting and playing aggressively fairly than ending up being nervous and also tentative. It transforms out that he had actually prepared v a various mindset, that he would play the ball, rather than his opponent, and also would proceed to beat ‘attacking’ tennis nevertheless of the risk.

People adapt since of the feedback they acquire from the world. The consequences of a behaviour deserve to lead to a readjust in that behaviour. Sports world are a prime instance of this, frequently transforming their approach based on whether they victory or lose.

Selection Example

Let’s to speak that an extremely early in your career a nurse, Alex, sometimes misses vital details in patient information and administering care. This is plainly an undesirable job-related behaviour which you might think will guess the exact same behaviour in future. One day, Alex makes a mistake the puts a patience at risk. There is one investigation and Alex is completely mortified by she mistake. The consequences of the behaviour cause her to inspect the details far much more carefully in future, and there are no further incidents. Why? because the bad behaviour has actually been removed through feedback.

4. Frequent, reflexive behaviours are an ext predictive 보다 behaviours based on aware intentions.

The intentions of civilization can make a huge difference to whether they bring out a behaviour. This has been written around by researcher Icek Ajzenand boy name Fishbein, and others such as Sheppard, Hartwick & Warshaw (1988).

True, you might say hitting a tennis ball is a high-frequency, reflex behaviour, leading to a fairly consistent layout of play. However for tennis players, they have actually the volume to rework their style through aware effort and coaching. That is specifically what Federer has done.

Selection Example

In a work situation, high-frequency, unconscious behaviours might include the manner in which someone interacts with others. Photo John, a negotiator that is just moderately effective. Two of his intended behaviours are making counter-offers easily after an market is made and also the usage of phrases such as “this is a really fair offer”.

Through training, man becomes mindful of research that reflects these 2 behaviours space actually counterproductive, reducing his effectiveness. He clears them native his repertoire and voila, he boosts as a negotiator and becomes one eminently employable candidate.


Past behaviour may be a fairly good predictor the future behaviour in some cases, but prior to jumping come conclusions around just how predictive, you need to take into account similarity of situations, the moment period, how much the human may have actually changed, and how habitual the behaviour could be.

And who"d have thought, Federer in reality won!

Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1980). Understanding attitudes and predicting social behaviour. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, attitude, intention and also behaviour: An advent to theory and also research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Franklin, K. (2013). The ideal predictor that future actions is...past behavior". Psychology Today.

Meehl, P. E. (1989). Law and also the fireside inductions (with Postscript): some reflections that a clinical psychologist. Behavioral Sciences and also the Law, 7, 521-550.

See more: 21 Of The Most Hilarious " In This Essay I Will Meme, #In This Essay Meme On Tumblr

Sheppard, B. H., Hartwick, J., & Warshaw (1988). The concept of reasoned action: A meta-analysis of previous research with recommendations for modifications and future research. Journal of customer Research, 15, 325-343.