(Photo:Flickr/University of Salford)

Any die-hard sports fan will tell you about “hot streaks” — when a certain player is on a roll and playing their best for games at a time. Some skeptics could chalk it up to superstition, but a Yale University study revealed that these winning streaks are more than just wishful thinking.

Researchers Gur Yaari and Shmuel Eisenmann explored the winning streaks of NBA players’ free throws as a way to analyze the “hot hand” phenomenon:

“Yaari and Eisenmann used a large data set of more than 300,000 free throws to show strong support for the ‘hot hand’ phenomenon at the individual level. They analyzed all free throws taken during five regular NBA seasons from 2005 to 2010. They found that there was a significant increase in players’ probabilities of hitting the second shot in a two-shot series compared to the first one. They also found that in a set of two consecutive shots, the probability of hitting the second shot is greater following a hit than following a miss on the previous one.”

Yaari said the “hot hand” phenomenon exists thanks to better and worse periods in a player’s career and is possibly linked to a longer sequence than just two consecutive shots.

“Our results set the stage for further physiological and psychological investigations of the origin of this phenomenon,” he said. “While the example we studied came from the sporting world, the implications are much more far-reaching.”

Source: Yale University

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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