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Shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot – or not?

April 26th, 2018 1 comment

Picture this: you’re watching your favorite professional basketball team on television
when suddenly their best player gets fouled again—that’s already the sixth time tonight, and he
hasn’t missed a free throw yet! You watch eagerly as he steps to the free throw line for the first
of two shots. He bounces the ball, once, twice, stares down the rim, and shoots—swish—a
perfect shot once again. The referee hands him the ball for his second and final shot while you
think to yourself, “There is no way he will miss this shot, he’s hot and having a great night. He
hasn’t missed a single free throw all night, and he just made the first shot, so this one has to go
in.” But your confidence is shattered when the ball leaves his hands and soars just a bit too far,
bricking off of the backboard

Nothing but air.

and into the hands of the other team. If this situation sounds
familiar to you, then you’ve fallen victim to what psychologists call the “Hot Hand Fallacy,” or
the erroneous belief that someone’s performance in a sporting event or similar life circumstance
is expected to occur in significant “streaks”—in other words, good outcomes are more likely to
occur in conjunction with other good outcomes, and, likewise, bad with bad.

Yes, that’s right, the erroneous belief, as there exists significant research that tells us that
the state of a player “being hot” is nothing more than a figment of our imagination. If you have
trouble believing this, then you’re not alone. Gilovich et al.’s extensive 1985 study found that
91% of college-aged basketball fans believed that one is more likely to make a shot after just
having made a basket as opposed to missing a basket. Furthermore, the participants, on average,
estimated a player was nearly 20% more likely to make a shot after having made one compared
to after having missed one (Gilovich, Tversky, & Vallone, 1985).

So, if this belief is so ingrained in people’s minds, how can it be wrong? Read more…