How Risk Preference and Perception of Action Riskiness in Fencing Affect Learning and Strategy of Fencing Play

Holmes, Katharine [Browse]
Senior thesis


Niv, Yael [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Psychology [Browse]
Princeton University. Program in Neuroscience [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
The goal of any sport is to win. As such, the Holy Grail of sports analysis is to identify the optimal action, play, or strategy that scores more points than all other actions, plays, or strategies. While this is a lofty goal, many mainstream sports have complex analytic programs that optimize play from a global to an individual level and generate a myriad of statistics regarding nearly ever facet of game play. However, the sport of fencing has no such programs, no such statistics. The question as to what is the most effective fencing action has thus been left unanswered. Fencing actions are quite complex and there are thousands of permutations and variations making an analytical approach to the sport somewhat daunting. However, all fencing actions, at their most basic level, can be categorized as either an attacking action or a defending action. Using this action classification to analyze fencing matches, I calculated that, when the score is tied, attacking actions are 1.5 times as likely to score than defensive actions. Interestingly, fencers often report knowing that attacking is the optimal action, but nevertheless find themselves choosing to defend. The goal of this thesis was thus to investigate how risk preference and perception of action riskiness in fencing affect learning and strategy of fencing play. I hypothesized that fencers would both view attacking as riskier than non-fencers and that fencers would choose to attack less than non-fencers. In addition, because of variations in scoring rules in the different types of fencing, I hypothesized that saberists would view attacking as less risky than foilists who, in turn, would view attacking as less risky than epeeists and that saberists would also attack more than foilists who, in turn, would attack more than epeeists. I found that fencers attacked significantly less than non-fencers thus supporting my hypothesis and suggesting that there is a difference between fencers and non-fencers, derived from years of experience with the sport, that results in a transference of in vivo field play to in vitro lab play. Additionally, consistent with my hypothesis, I found that saberists both view attacking as less risky and attack more than both foilists and epeeists.

Supplementary Information