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On Fire: The Science Behind Streaks

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (L) shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (R) during Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Cleveland, Ohio.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (L) shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (R) during Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Cleveland, Ohio.

When the creator of NBA Jam was working on the iconic ’90s arcade game, he wanted to make it even more exciting.

So he came up with a solution. When a player shoots two baskets in a row, he’s heating up. It’s then more likely that the player will make the third. When it sails through the hoop a third time, the in-game announcer shouts “he’s on fire,” and the ball bursts into flames.

In the thirty years that followed, ‘heating up’ and ‘on fire’ have become synonymous with the thrilling feeling of being on a roll, on and off the court.

Here’s journalist  Ben Cohen, in the Wall Street Journal:

To have the hot hand is to achieve some elevated state of ability in which you feel briefly superhuman. There is no more pleasurable sensation for humans. The ethereal feeling of having the hot hand exists in nearly every industry and touches nearly every person on earth.

Is the so-called hot hand a quantifiable reality, or an example of the human tendency to see patterns where they don’t exist?

How do we get ‘on fire’ and tap into its power for further success?

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