Most sports fans and athletes believe in hot streaks. A basketball player who has hit several shots in a row, the thinking goes, has a greater chance of hitting the next one, due to a “hot hand.” Think of Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who recently hit 77 straight three-pointers in practice.
Yet for a long time, scientists were skeptical. In 1985, a hugely influential study by a trio of psychologists argued that the hot hand was a myth. Among the NBA and college players they studied, hitting one shot made no difference in their odds of hitting the next shot. Like coin tosses, players were subject to the laws of probability, with the same baseline percentage chance of hitting every shot. Ever since that study, psychologists have held up fans’ belief in the hot hand as an example of human irrationality: our tendency to see patterns in randomness.
Now, however, it’s starting to look like the hot hand might be real after all.
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