Sunday, October 05, 2008

Statistical research tends to show that athletes who have experienced consecutive successes (e.g., made baskets, hits in baseball) do not raise their probability of success on the next attempt, relative to their long-term baserates. For example, a long-term .50 basketball shooter will not be any more likely than .50 to make his or her next shot after making, say, three straight hoops. This runs contrary to the popular belief that the athlete is "hot" and therefore at an elevated rate of success. Another way of conveying the lack of a true "hot hand" is that athletes' instances of several successes in a row tend not to occur any more frequently than runs of several heads in a row (or tails in a row) from large numbers of coin tosses.

Despite most studies' lack of evidence for hot-handed performances beyond chance, however, I have never disputed that athletes may feel something special is going on during their runs of success. One type of perception, until recently (I thought) only in the realm of the anecdotal, is that relevant athletic stimuli (e.g., a basketball hoop, the baseball on the way from the pitcher) look larger or clearer than when the athlete is not in the midst of a streak.

An item from July on the "Nudge" blog, which I did not see until recently, cites evidence that successful athletes really do seem to see their targets as bigger.

The research in question is by Jessica Witt of Purdue University and colleagues, and is entitled "Putting to a bigger hole: Golf performance relates to perceived size" (published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, June 2008). The above-linked Nudge posting provides a concise description of the study's details.

In looking up Dr. Witt's faculty website, I noticed that she had published a similar study (with Dennis Proffitt) with recreational softball players ("See the ball, hit the ball: Apparent ball size is correlated with batting average," Psychological Science, December 2005).

The story does not end there, however. In their softball article, Witt and Proffitt cite a study by Wesp et al. (2004, Perception & Psychophysics) that "demonstrated that dart-throwing ability affects perceived size of the target. Participants who hit the target with fewer attempts selected larger circles as matching the size of the target than participants who were not as successful" (p. 938).

My apologies for not noticing these studies earlier, but better late than never!

1 comment:

dave said...

My blog records streakiness in purely random sequences with a heavy emphasis on visualization I’ve I referenced several of your articles.

tell me what you think I’d love to hear it good or bad.