Is the “hot-hands” phenomenon a misperception of random events?



T. Gilovich, R. Vallone, and A. Tversky (1985) asked whether the so-called hot-hands phenomenon – a temporary elevation of the probability of successful shots – actually exists in basketball. They concluded that hot-hands are misperceived random events. This paper re-examines the truth of their conclusion. The present study's main concern was the sensitivity of the statistical tests used in Gilovich et al.'s research. Simulated records of shots over a season were used. These represented many different situations and players, but they always contained at least one hot-hand period. The issue was whether Gilovich et al.'s tests were sensitive enough to detect the hot-hands embedded in the records. The study found that this sensitivity depends on the frequency of hot-hand periods, the total number of shots in all hot-hand periods, the number of shots in each hot-hand period, and the size of the increase in the probability of successful shots in hot-hand periods. However, when the values of those variables were set realistically, on average the tests could detect only about 12% of the hot-hands phenomena.


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