Sympathetic magic and perceptions of randomness: The hot hand versus the gambler's fallacy

Thinking and Reasoning 15 (2):197-210 (2009)


The gambler's fallacy and hot hand were studied in predictions about outcomes of coin tosses. A critical trial occurred when participants made predictions after a “run” of four heads or tails. Participants' attention was manipulated to focus on the person flipping the coin, the coin, or neither (control group) as a possible cause of the run. We also manipulated whether or not there was a change in who tossed the coin. In the control condition the standard reversal was observed (gambler's fallacy); however, when participants focused on the person, and it was that same person who conducted the run and critical coin toss, more people chose in the direction of continuation (hot hand). Directing attention to the person tossing the run seemed to prompt participants to behave as if that individual was “hot” in terms of getting a specific outcome (e.g., heads), as if by sympathetic magic, thus eliminating the gambler's fallacy

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