Catching Up: Brains, Writing, and Hot Hands

The past couple weeks have been a scramble for me (the end of the school year tends to crash like a rogue wave into the lives of parents). During that time, I’ve written a couple new “Matter” columns for the New York Times, both of which concerning how our brains work:

–Last week, I took a look at the first attempts to scan the brain of creative writers. While the research is ambitious, some skeptical scientists don’t think we can dissect the anatomy of creativity.

–This week, I look at our penchant to see order where there’s only randomness. Psychologists call this the “hot hand phenomenon,” named for the conviction people have that basketball players can get on streaks. An experiment on monkeys adds to the evidence suggesting that this phenomenon is an ancient bias in the workings of our brains, which emerges from the way our ancestors hunted for food.

2 thoughts on “Catching Up: Brains, Writing, and Hot Hands

  1. In That’s So Random: Why We Persist in Seeing Streaks, you comment on studies that indicate there is a bias in humans and perhaps apes to impose order on randomness. Have you considered that the urge for order is really based on feeling ourselves to be unique or separate, and that extends to groups? We, really the individual, need meaning (order) to continue to make choices which is part of “planning” (more order) our lives, all of which results in separate realities when there is no such reality.

  2. Re: “hot hands”–in sports, it’s called being “in the Zone”, or “at the top of
    your game” or “having the best skate of your life when it counts” (see Olympic figure skating). and I think if you were an athlete you would understand that what is really happening is a combination of focus, peripheral nerve conduction (which is speeded by warmth), increased synaptic density between the pre-motor and motor cortex, muscle memory, fatigue level, state of hydration, and no doubt many other physiologic factors. This is TOTALLY different than a pysch experiment or a rigged situation e.g. a slot machine.

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