Journal article

Surprised by the Hot Hand Fallacy? A Truth in the Law of Small Numbers

Joshua B Miller, Adam Sanjurjo

Econometrica | Econometric Society | Published : 2018


We prove that a subtle but substantial bias exists in a common measure of the conditional dependence of present outcomes on streaks of past outcomes in sequential data. The magnitude of this streak selection bias generally decreases as the sequence gets longer, but increases in streak length, and remains substantial for a range of sequence lengths often used in empirical work. We observe that the canonical study in the influential hot hand fallacy literature, along with replications, are vulnerable to the bias. Upon correcting for the bias, we find that the longstanding conclusions of the canonical study are reversed.

University of Melbourne Researchers


Awarded by Spanish Ministry of Economics and Competitiveness

Awarded by Generalitat Valenciana

Funding Acknowledgements

Both authors contributed equally, with names listed in alphabetical order. Financial support from the Department of Decision Sciences at Bocconi University, and the Spanish Ministries of Education and Science and Economics and Competitiveness (ECO2015-65820-P) and Generalitat Valenciana (Research Projects Gruposo3/086 and PROMETEO/2013/037) is gratefully acknowledged. This draft has benefitted from helpful comments and suggestions from the editor and anonymous reviewers, as well as Jason Abaluck, Jose Apesteguia, David Arathorn, Jeremy Arkes, Maya Bar-Hillel, Phil Birnbaum, Daniel Benjamin, Marco Bonetti, Colin Camerer, Juan Carrillo, Gary Charness, Ben Cohen, Vincent Crawford, Martin Dufwenberg, Jordan Ellenberg, Florian Ederer, Jonah Gabry, Andrew Gelman, Ben Gillen, Tom Gilovich, Maria Glymour, Uri Gneezy, Daniel Goldstein, Daniel Houser, Richard Jagacinski, Daniel Kahan, Daniel Kahneman, Erik Kimbrough, Dan Levin, Elliot Ludvig, Mark Machina, Daniel Martin, Filippo Massari, Guy Molyneux, Juan Mora, Gidi Nave, Muriel Niederle, Christopher Olivola, Andreas Ortmann, Ryan Oprea, Carlos Oyarzun, Judea Pearl, David Rahman, Justin Rao, Alan Reifman, Pedro Rey-Biel, Yosef Rinott, Aldo Rustichini, Ricardo Serrano-Padial, Bill Sandholm, Vernon Smith, Lones Smith, Connan Snider, Joel Sobel, Charlie Sprenger, Daniel Stone, Sigrid Suetens, Dmitry Taubinsky, Richard Thaler, Michael J. Wiener, Nat Wilcox, and Bart Wilson. We would also like to thank seminar participants at Caltech, City U. London, Chapman U., Claremont Graduate School, Columbia U., Drexel U., George Mason U., New York University, NHH Norway, Max Planck Institute for Human Development (ABC), Microsoft Research, U. of Minnesota, Naval Postgraduate School, the Ohio State U., Santa Clara U., Stanford U., Tilburg U., U. de Alicante, U. del Pais Vasco, U. of Amsterdam, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, U. of Pittsburg, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, U. New South Wales, U. Southern California, U. of Queensland, U. of Wellington, U. of Wisconsin, U. of Zurich, Washington State U., WZB Social Science Center, as well as conference participants at Gary's Conference, IMEBE Rome 2016, MBEES Maastricht 2015, SITE Stanford U. 2016, 11th World Congress of The Econometric Society, The 30th Annual Congress of the European Economic Association, and the 14th TIBER Symposium on Psychology and Economics. All mistakes and omissions remain our own.