JEAB: Behavior Insensitive to Consequences in Major League Baseball

By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor,

A research team lead by Alan Poling of Western Michigan University sought to determine how well the behavior of major-league baseball players matches up to consequences experienced during any given game.

Published in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behaviorthe team was interested in the relationship between switch hitting (i.e., when one decides to hit left- or right-handed) and three types of consequences — bases earned, runs batted in (RBIs), and home runs.  Their participants were legends of major league baseball — Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, and Eddie Murray.

Utilizing archival data from, the team poured over stats for all three players across their careers.  When the team compared left vs. right-handed hitting to the three consequences, the results were surprising — the behavior followed no reliable pattern with the consequences.  In fact, the researchers described the players’ at bats as “insensitive” to the consequences they produced.

All three players showed a strong preference for batting left handed, regardless of the outcome.  The researchers attribute this finding to evidence that hitters have more success when hitting in the opposite handedness of the pitcher.  In other words, when going up against a right-handed pitcher, you would have more success batting left-handed and vice versa.  It also turns out that the majority of pitchers are right-handed.  Even so, the researchers suggest that these players adhered to the “opposite side” hitting rule even when doing so was unsuccessful.

Be sure to check out the full article for many more details, and let us know what you think about the study in the comments below!  Also don’t forget to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!


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2 Comments on "JEAB: Behavior Insensitive to Consequences in Major League Baseball"

  1. Unfortunate choice of target. Differences when facing left or right handed pitchers is a common thing. Whether the switch hitter is better from the left or right side of the plate isn’t important; what is important is if that hitter is better from the right against lefties, or the left against lefties. Something the athlete decides years before they make the professional level

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