HU researchers dunk basketball myth

He shoots… he doesn’t score. Hebrew University researchers took to the courts and have shattered the myth that a basketball player who scores one or more three-pointers improves his odds of scoring another. Photo by Kobi Gideon/Flash90 New research by …

He shoots… he doesn’t score. Hebrew University researchers took to the courts and have shattered the myth that a basketball player who scores one or more three-pointers improves his odds of scoring another.

Basketball players
Photo by Kobi Gideon/Flash90

New research by Dr. Yonatan Loewenstein, of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences and the Department of Neurobiology at the Hebrew University, and graduate student Tal Neiman raise doubts about the ability of athletes in particular, and people in general, to predict future success based on past performance.

Loewenstein and Neiman examined more than 200,000 attempted shots from 291 leading players in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 regular seasons, and more than 15,000 attempted shots by 41 leading players in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) during the 2008 and 2009 regular seasons.

The researchers studied how scores or misses affected a player’s behavior later in the game, and found that after a successful three-pointer, players were significantly more likely to attempt another three-pointer.

They discovered the exact opposite of what players and fans tend to believe: players who scored a three-pointer and then attempted another three-pointer were more likely to miss the follow-up shot. On the other hand, players who missed a previous three-pointer were more likely to score with their next attempt.

“The study shows that despite many years of intense training, even the best basketball players over-generalize from their most recent actions and their outcomes. They assume that even one shot is indicative of future performance, while not taking into account that the situation in which they previously scored is likely to be different than the current one,” said Dr. Loewenstein.

The study appeared in the latest issue of the journal, Nature Communications.

About Viva Sarah Press

Viva Sarah Press is an associate editor and writer at ISRAEL21c. She has extensive experience in reporting/editing in the print, online and broadcast fields. She has jumped out of a plane, ducked rockets and been attacked by a baboon all in the name of a good story. Her work has been published by international media outlets including Israel Television, CNN, Reuters, The Jerusalem Post and Time Out.