Hit a three-pointer? Think twice before shooting again

A new study by shatters the myth that a player who scores one or more three-pointers improves his odds of scoring another.

December 8, 2011 03:56
1 minute read.
Hapoel Jerusalem vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv

Hapoel Jerusalem vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv 311. (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)


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A new study by Hebrew University researchers has shattered the myth that a player who scores one or more three-pointers improves his odds of scoring another.

The research, conducted by Dr. Yonatan Loewenstein and graduate student Tal Neiman, found that basketball players’ tendency to try for another three-pointer is a mistake.

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It revealed that learning from reinforcement can actually impair our decision-making process, raising doubts about the ability of athletes in particular, and people in general, to predict future success based on past performance.

Appearing in the latest issue of the journal Nature Communications, the research by Loewenstein and Neiman examined more than 200,000 attempted shots from 291 leading players in the NBA in the 2007-2008 and 2008- 2009 regular seasons, and more than 15,000 attempted shots by 41 leading players in the 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.

In other words, a successful three point shot provided players with positive reinforcement to attempt additional threes later in the game.

Surprisingly, the researchers 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,” Dr.

Loewenstein said. “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.”

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