Monkeying Around with the Hot Hand

Imagine you're at a roulette table in Las Vegas.   You've been having an amazing run of luck (yes, it does happen on occasion).   After winning five times in a row using a can't-fail new system, do you become convinced that the next bet must pay off as well?   On the other hand, do you become convinced that the odds must turn and you change your bet instead?    Whichever way you decide, you are likely to fall prey to a basic misconception about probability.   Human beings are not very good at predicting random events.

A classic example occurred in the casino at Monte Carlo on August 18, 1913 when "black" came up fifteen times in a row on a roulette wheel.   Once word got around the casino, gamblers swarmed the roulette table and most bet on "red".   After all, the odds had to turn sometime, right?   As the wheel kept coming up "black", many gamblers doubled their stakes in the hope of winning.   By the time the magic streak ended after twenty-six turns, the casino had raked in millions.  The gamblers ended up poorer and also became a living example of what is known as the "gambler's fallacy".

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.







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