Home > Cognitive Bias, Decision Making, Metacognition, Pattern Recognition > Is there truth to the Hot-Hand Fallacy?

Is there truth to the Hot-Hand Fallacy?

Have you ever been playing a game of basketball with friends and then you make a shot, and then you make the next one? Did your confidence suddenly go up, despite the fact that the chances of you making the shot again are exactly the same as they were before? You, my friend, have just fallen victim to the hot hand fallacy.  The hot hand fallacy is the belief that because a person has had a successful experience with one event they will be able to reproduce the same event with success again or vice versa where if they miss they are more likely to miss again. The hot hand fallacy has been accepted by the psychology community as a cognitive illusion. A mistake in processing and in pattern recognition, but what if the hot-hand fallacy is not a fallacy at all?

The hot hand fallacy can be explained by defining cognitive control as the ability to adaptively adjust to an ever-changing environment by allocating resources towards attempting to making sense of the world around us for things, such as luck or making that basketball shot. The information is stored and creates patterns through top-down processing. Top-down processing is how the brain uses the information that it already has stored to make predictions about the present or future stimulus. The hot-hand fallacy is an example of how top-down processing can oftentimes be erroneous because it relies on expectations and expectations can fail us. An example of the conflict between expectations and actuality is in the Stroop Task where participants are given a color written in another color then asked to inhibit what the word actually is and only pay attention to the color. The results of this study are that people have a slower response time versus cases where they only have to name the color.

Stroop Task shows the relationship between expectation and actuality.

People’s expectation is that the color of the word will not matter, while the actuality it is the thing that they must attend to. The original evidence for the hot-hand fallacy comes from a paper written by Gilovich, Vallone, and Tversky where they describe how basketball fans believe that a players chance of making a shot increases when preceded by a successful shot versus an unsuccessful one. In their study, they recruited college students who were fans of basketball and asked them “if a player has a better chance of making a shot after having made his last two or three shots.” Researchers found that 95% of the participants agreed with the statement(Gilovich, T., Vallone, R., & Tversky, A. (1985)). In order to test if this fallacy applied to athletes, researchers examined data from the professional NBA basketball team the 76ers and according to their data the players were more likely to miss following making shot, which completely differs from the hypothesis presented in the hot hand fallacy.


Demonstrates how the hot hand and cold hand fallacy were equally explored in the research about baseball pitchers URL: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/baseballs-hot-hand-is-real/

Though there is evidence for this phenomenon, I discovered that psychologist, such as Duthoo, Wuhr, and Notebaert, do not feel as if the hot hand fallacy applies to all. Some research claims that pro athletes gradually become unaffected by the successes and failures after playing the sport for so long. They even go further to argue that rather than being motivated by the shots made, some pro athletes report that it is instead the losses motivate them to succeed. As well as articles, such as Baseball’s Hot Hand is Real”  that claim hot-hand is measurable in pitchers by analyzing the velocity of the pitch even going as far to develop a system called the Hidden Markov Model from data collected from MLB 2014-2015. It works by taking the velocity at which the pitcher delivers their peak performance and determines that when their fastballs are delivered at a lesser velocity than the normal peak performance that the pitcher is in “cold hand”. While when pitchers are pitching balls at their individual peak velocity they are in “hot hand”.  After rummaging through all that data, their research found that when a pitcher is moving from a hot pitching state to a cold pitching state their pitches are 2 miles per hour slower(Arthur, R., Mattews G. (2017)). Research such as this presents the possibility of the hot hand fallacy existing.

A depiction of how resources are found in bunches such as food.
URL: https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-fruit-market-mapusa-fresh-exotic-fruits-bunches-ripe-bananas-goa-image93518519his presents the possibility of the hot-hand fallacy existing.


Psychologists have studied the hot-hand fallacy from a variety of approaches. The evolutionary explanation for this phenomenon claims that when people were previously hunter-gatherers they needed to forge to find resources. Resources such as fruits, animals, and people tend to be found in bunches. From top-down processing, humans were able to conclude that one resource was an indication that more resources were around. Evidence for this theory has been discovered by going into pre-westernized communities that are described as “hunter-horticulturist”(Wilke, A., Barrett, C.H. ( 2009)).

Though we will never truly know the truth behind the hot hand fallacy, we can hope the next shot that we shoot will be the one that makes it in.


Wilke, A., Barrett, C.H. ( 2009). The hot hand phenomenon as a cognitive adaptation to clumped resources. Evolution and Human Behavior. 30.pp.161-169.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2008.11.004

Duthoo, D., Wuhr, P., & Notebaert, W. (2013). The hot-hand fallacy in cognitive control: Repetition expectancy modulates the congruency sequence effect. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. 20. pp.798-805. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-013-0390-7

Livingston, J.A. (2012). The hot hand and the cold hand in professional golf. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. 81.pp.172-184. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2011.10.001

Duthoo, W., Abrahamse, E., Braem, S., Boehler, C., & Notebaert W. ( 2014) The heterogeneous world of congruency sequence effects: an update.  Front Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01001

Arthur, R., Mattews G. (2017) “Baseball’s ‘Hot Hand’ Is Real”. FiveThirtyEight. Accessed from https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/baseballs-hot-hand-is-real/

Gilovich, T., Vallone, R., & Tversky, A. (1985). The Hot Hand in Basketball: On the Misperception of Random Sequences. Cognitive Psychology. 17. pp. 295-314. Accessed from http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~mozer/Teaching/syllabi/7782/readings/gilovich%20vallone%20tversky.pdf



  1. Monique Legault
    May 4th, 2018 at 12:41 | #1

    One of the interesting aspects of the Hot Hand Fallacy deals with up-and-coming athletes. In these cases, are they really improving drastically, or are people just beginning to pay more attention to the player and therefore have more accurate stats and the player begins to get more game time, resulting in higher numbers. With more people paying attention to that player, the good or even mediocre plays seem to stand out more, and the bad plays are seen as mistakes.
    As someone who has played sports all my life I am also interested in the role of confidence in this effect. As you begin to play better, you gain confidence in yourself which then causes you to play more confidently. Even off the playing field, having confidence in yourself greatly affects your performance in a variety of areas, from academics to presentations. So could the hot hand fallacy really just be explained by an increase in confidence?

  2. May 17th, 2018 at 23:38 | #2

    As an athlete, I have experienced and witnessed in others this notion of being essentially untouchable in your successes. I agree that this has no scientific backing, deeming it the Hot Hand Fallacy, and more so the subject of superstitious beliefs. We might recognize a series of patterns as a continuous, and ongoing event when in reality it is really just luck. This notion of false pattern recognition can feed into the confidence of the athlete or spectators, hoping for impossible or unlikely outcomes. Tying this into the evolutionary concept helps to solidify our inherent need to find patterns in everyday life, even if they are false.

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