Bowdoin Economist Says the ‘Hot Hand’ is Real, and Important (Pacific Standard)

Daniel Stone

Daniel Stone

The prevailing thought in academia for 30 years has been that the “hot hand” — when an athlete is playing well above his typical level — is just a myth, or “random statistical noise,” as NYT’s columnist David Brooks puts it.

But Assistant Professor of Economics Dan Stone argues that researchers are overlooking a real pattern in behavior when they dismiss the possibility that athletes, indeed anyone, can achieve exceptional streaks of success. He and Jeremy Arkes, an associate professor of economics at the Naval Postgraduate School, write in the Pacific Standard that several recent papers based on their research are proving “that the laymen seem to have been right all along.” For while economists and psychology researchers thought they had disproved the hot hand phenomenon, coaches, players and fans continued to believe.

Besides “enhancing our understanding of basketball,” the work of Stone and Arkes might have deeper implications into the “potential importance of psychological factors, confidence and momentum in performance in a range of contexts,” such as childhood education. “Better results early can give children confidence, making them more likely to achieve better results later,” they speculate.