R.I.P. - My lifelong belief in "The Hot Hand"

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One of the findings that I found very interesting and, to be honest, hard to get behind is that the "Hot Hand" in sports is actually an illusion. Practically my whole life I have witnessed what I thought was an athlete being "on a roll", "feeling it", "in the zone" and so on and so on. There are even times in my athletic pursuits when I am convinced that I have a hot hand and I just cannot miss. On the converse, I also believed that athletes can have a streak where nothing goes right. I am pretty sure that my athletic career has a lot more cold streaks than hot ones, but still, streaks happen, right? When I found out this was just not true I did not believe it. How can this be a myth!?

As we read in our text, Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University conducted a study that found no evidence for a positive correlation between the success of a player's previous shots to the success of their future shots. I decided to get a hold of this study so I could find out a bit more about their research.

Reading the article and thinking about my reaction to the initial findings actually helped me gain a deeper understanding of believe persistence. Our text has informed us science acts as a good safeguard against our own biases, and after reading this study, I could not agree more. My believe persistence kicked me in the butt initially. I read in our text that the "Hot Hand" is an illusion because a scientific study was done and it found no proof of it's existence. Yet, I did not believe it. My years of supposedly witnessing and feeling the hot hand caused me to doubt scientific data that suggested it was an illusion.

Another aspect that the article included concerns memory bias. The study suggests that people tend to believe in the hot hand because in athletic events a streak is a lot more memorable than a scattered handful of hits and misses. This also now rings true for me. I can remember several basketball games where Rasheed Wallace, my favorite player, was on fire. I also can remember a lot of games where he would not have been able to land a rock in the Grad Canyon. But can I remember one time when he made a few and missed a few, in no particular order? Nope.

So, FINE. I get it now. I did not want to accept the results of this study and now I know why. My belief persistence and memory bias got in the way. I am glad I decided to find out more about this study because it brought up some important things that I will be sure to look out for as I continue to study psychology and how my own biases might prevent me from approaching things in a scientific way.


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I too found it hard to believe that hot hand doesn't exist! You did a nice job of explaining how our own biases get in the way of scientific findings. I guess I should consider my own biases before I really believe in anything else. It is strange how our brains can depict some things but not notice others. It goes to show how our brain longs for interesting things.

I think it's great that you read Thomas Gilovich's study, that was a very interesting part of the textbook. Belief perserverance is such a pervasive sentiment, so many people believe in winning streaks. I really liked your analysis of "The Hot Hand," and how it is easy to forget the random hits and misses of players in sports games. I find it so interesting that humans seek out patterns where are none.

I really enjoyed your inclusion of personal experience with "The Hot Hand." Testing our preconceived notions is not always easy but I liked the way you were willing to look deeper into the study performed by Gilovich and form your own conclusions. Reading about the way we tend to remember either the really good or really bad rang true to my experiences as well; it seems that we tend to forget the moments where sometimes we make a shot and sometimes we miss. Thanks for the insight!

I also believed in "the hot hand" or someone being in the zone. You made a good point that people remember when someone is doing really well or failing miserably, but we don't remember when they make a few shots and miss a few. I now know that there is no science evidence in "the hot hand," but if a player is making shots I still want them to keep shooting.

This being the first psychology class I've taken, I too have had a hard time grasping the nonexistence of "phenomenons", like The Hot Hand, that I once thought to be true. I thought your post was great seeing as you worked hard to keep an unbiased view. I know from experience that it's hard to let go of preconceived notions. Belief perseverance is quite a hurdle to overcome as a newcomer to psychology and it was interesting reading about your experience overcoming it. Thanks for the interesting post!

This study is very plausible; The "hot hand" concept seems to be a bit of pseudoscience. A interesting thing to think about would to be other things that we take for a hot streak for example maybe the state of mind of someone who is winning wont doubt themselves as much as some one who missed the last five shots. This could possibly correlate to the concept of "hot hand".

I agree with you about figuring in confidence when thinking about the hot hand. Actually, the initial reason I looked further into the study was to see if they mentioned anything about just such a thing. I do believe that success brings confidence and confidence, in turn, brings more success. There was really no mention of an athlete's emotional condition at all. My guess would be that there are limited ways of including that aspect of the variables. You really can't ask a player how he is feeling after each shot as he is running up and down the court. Additionally, if you did, I would wager it would start to distract the player, clouding the data?

I'm hurt, dreams are crushed, hope is lost.
Drama aside, it definitely makes logical sense.. just a tough pill to swallow. I'd like to see psychology's stance on the chance differences leading to a perfect game in baseball or Ty Lawson making 10 3-pointers in a row (yeep.. against the tWolves).

I found your post to be very intriguing. I am not a big basketball fan but I had no idea that there was really no such thing as a "hot hand" or streak of some sort. I used to pitch and during games and was pretty consistent throwing strikes. I would love to argue that there is such a thing as a hot hand just to make myself feel better, but it all makes sense now. I guess confidence roles alone in this case. I will definitely have to bring this up this to my friends that play ball.

I found your post so interesting. I don't think we realize how often our own bias gets in the way of our perception of things. We tend to overlook obvious factors because it is more fun to only look at the exciting moments or the dreadful moments rather than the average moments. No one enjoys watching an average game. Most people prefer watching a super exciting game where it appears someone is "on a roll".

Really nice comments guys!

I remember how so many people in my judgment and decision making class were disillusioned by "the hot hand" when they found no scientific evidence for it's existence. It is funny how selective we are in the information that we interpret. We have a tendency to accept everything that confirms or beliefs but ignore other things that are inconsistent. For example when people go to psychics, they remember all of the "hits" but tend to ignore fact that are incongruent.

In the same vein is the sports illustrated curse--how if you appeared on the cover, your career would fall. While this relationship seems to exist, it's really just regression to the mean. When people are on the sports illustrated cover,they are at the height of your career. Once you're at the height of your career, there's nowhere to go but down--hence the sports illustrated curse.

This was a really great demonstration of the biases we're vulnerable to

I would still have to disagree. As a basketball player myself, I can remember times where I would make almost any shot. Yes, this is usually called a "hot hand" but really you can call it "hot eye" or "in the zone" . You've probably heard the expression "the basket looks like a hula-hoop to him right now" well it may actually. When shooting a basketball, it's all about hand-eye coordination, zoning in on the rim is the most important thing, when a player is making a flurry of shots, then he is likely seeing the rim better and able to know where to shoot the ball. Resulting in more made shots. It's something that only the player can see and understand, so it doesn't surprise me that viewers don't understand and aren't able to scientifically understand it. Regardless of what studies show me, if I have made my last six shots near the end of the game, and we need one more to win, I guarantee you that everyone watching knows who is going to take the shot, and that's just basketball, not science.

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This page contains a single entry by dolin015 published on February 6, 2012 12:06 AM.

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