“Three seconds to shoot. It’s Reggie! And it’s Indiana by eight!” Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant. They’ve all gone on seemingly memorable shooting streaks. But past research has shown that the so-called "hot hand" is a myth, rooted in our tendency to see patterns where there are none.
Myth or no, the shooters still seem to think they're on fire when they're not. New research finds that professional basketball players put too much stock in the outcome of their last three-point shot. If they make a three-pointer, they’re much more likely to try another one than if they’d missed. The study, which used game stats for hundreds of NBA and WNBA players, is in the journal Nature Communications. [Tal Neiman and Yonatan Loewenstein, "Reinforcement learning in professional basketball players"]
The Lakers' Bryant was a prime example in his MVP season of 2007–2008. When Kobe made a three-pointer, he shot again from downtown nearly four times as often as he did following a missed three. But trying to ride a three-point streak is often bad strategy. Players actually tend to shoot a lower percentage after makes than after misses. Once again sending the idea of the “hot hand” up in smoke.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
[Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]