Uncommon Knowledge

How the hot hand delusion messes with the game

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

The hot hand delusion

Here’s some advice for NBA coaches: If one of your players is on a hot streak, tell him to cool off. An analysis of consecutive shots in the 2010-2011 NBA season finds that players who had just scored during regular play (not a free throw), especially from longer range, were more likely to take the next shot for their team. However, that follow-up shot was riskier, as it was more likely to be taken from longer range, and was therefore more likely to miss. Of course, it’s possible that the opposing team puts up a stronger defense against players who’ve just scored, but this would only reinforce advice to briefly keep the ball away from these players.

Attali, Y., “Perceived Hotness Affects Behavior of Basketball Players and Coaches,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Management style: It’s political

Managers aren’t elected and don’t have to declare their beliefs, but they face accountability pressures and bring ideological biases to the job just like any politician. In a new study, researchers found that managers and business students prefer to hold people accountable in a way that’s consistent with their politics: Liberals prefer to hold people accountable for process, while conservatives prefer to hold people accountable for results. There are two big caveats, though. The bias goes away when managers have confidence in people’s productivity. Furthermore, the bias reverses when a person’s preferred accountability regime goes against his or her politics (e.g., liberals prefer to hold people accountable for results when it comes to equal opportunity).

Tetlock, P. et al., “Accountability and Ideology: When Left Looks Right and Right Looks Left,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (September 2013).

Laid-off co-workers make you sick


The recession obviously was bad for those who lost their jobs. But what about those who survived the cuts? Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine analyzed personnel and health claims data from the aluminum company Alcoa to compare workers at plants that had experienced different proportions of layoffs. At plants that had experienced more layoffs, workers had an elevated risk of being diagnosed with hypertension, especially if they were hourly workers without tenure.

Modrek, S. & Cullen, M., “Health Consequences of the ‘Great Recession’ on the Employed: Evidence from an Industrial Cohort in Aluminum Manufacturing” Social Science & Medicine, (forthcoming).

Fighting bigotry with love

If you’re in a new relationship, shield yourself and your partner from bigotry. That’s one implication of new research from psychologists at Tulane. Women and African-Americans in newer relationships had a lower opinion of their relationships after reading an article describing ongoing gender or racial discrimination. The opposite effect occurred in longer relationships, such that reading about discrimination boosted women’s and African-Americans’ opinions of their relationships. The psychologists theorize that people in longer relationships “may be able to draw upon their relationships as a source of self-affirmation following threat.”

Doyle, D. & Molix, L., “Love on the Margins: The Effects of Social Stigma and Relationship Length on Romantic Relationship Quality,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

Oh gosh, I did nothing

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Women sometimes feel they don’t get enough credit for their contributions to a team—but it seems they may not always give themselves sufficient credit, either. In several experiments, subjects were led to believe they were working on a task with another person in the context of a male-dominated business. All of the subjects were told that the team performed well. After working with someone of the opposite sex, women were significantly more likely than men to attribute team success to their co-worker. Women did not show the same deference to a male co-worker if they received positive individual feedback or if the task was divided. Women also showed no deference if they thought they were working with another woman.

Haynes, M. & Heilman, M., “It Had to Be You (Not Me)!: Women’s Attributional Rationalization of Their Contribution to Successful Joint Work Outcomes,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.
He can be reached at
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