Kobe Bryant - AP
NBA player Kobe Bryant in 2008. Photo by AP
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Basketball fans are very familiar with the term "hot hands", which refers to a player's ability to successfully shoot a series of hoops. But an extensive research study that analyzed the performance of 291 NBA players in the United States, shows that those who successfully shot a hoop from the three-point line will try to score an again from a similar distance; a shot which they are likely to miss. This pattern, according to the research, evidences a fault in the players' decision making process.

The study was conducted by Dr. Yonatan Loewenstein from the Department of Neurobiology and Cognitive Science and Dr. Tal Neiman from the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They studied how basketball players change their game after receiving positive reinforcement for their actions.

According to their research findings, which were published in the journal, Nature Communication, there is apparently no basis to the commonly held belief in a "winning streak". It is more likely that a player who missed from the three-point line will succeed upon his next try.

The study focuses mainly on Kobe Bryant, one of the NBA's leading basketball players today. An analysis of Bryant's moves while playing with the Los Angeles Lakers shows that, after he successfully shots a basket from the three-point line, he would try to shoot 53% of his next attempts from the same distance. In contrast, he would only try that 14% of the time after failed attempts.

The study also shows that most players wait less time after shooting from the three-point line after a successful attempt than after a failed one.

In addition, the study looked at players from the WNBA, America's professional women's basketball league, focusing on the years 2007 to 2008.

Loewenstein and Neiman say the results of this study are not only relevant to explaining sporting behavioral patterns, but can be used to explain human behavior in general. "Brokers make investment decisions based on their yields from past investments," said Loewenstein, "and voters make decisions based on the results of past sacrifices."