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02-10-2011

Clarkson University Psychology Professor’s Study Featured in Science News Article on Scoring Streaks

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/wilke.jpg .]

 The results of a new study by Clarkson University Psychology Professor Andreas K. Wilke and his collaborators Benjamin Scheibehenne (University of Basel, Switzerland) and Peter Todd (Indiana University, Bloomington) have been featured in an article in the February 12 issue of Science News, the award-winning biweekly national news magazine.wilke

The feature article, "In the Zone," examines lines of research into how evolution may have trained the mind to see scoring streaks -- even where they don’t exist.

Detecting contingencies and patterns in one’s environment is an important aspect of adaptive behavior. When predicting the next outcome in a sequence of events, people often appear to expect streaky patterns, such as that sport players can develop a "hot hand," even if the sequence is actually random.

This expectation, referred to as "positive recency," can be adaptive in environments characterized by resources that are clustered across space or time (e.g., food, animals, water sources, etc.). But how strong is this disposition towards positive recency?

The results of the new study by Wilke and his collaborators suggests that people have a strong prior or default expectation that sequences of events in their environment are positively autocorrelated, even when tested in the context of a computerized gambling task in which they had to predict the outcomes of two slot machines.

The effects were strong enough to even lead subjects to prefer random sequences over alternating ones that they could have better predicted, and ultimately could have earned money with. Subjects’ prior expectations appeared difficult to overcome, even with repeated feedback and the opportunity for direct comparison between sequences of different slot machines.

The Science News article that examines this line of research can be found at http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/69243/title/In_the_Zone .

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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