Do Winning Streaks Really Exist?

You got back to your car just in time to dodge the parking ticket.  You were the 100th customer at the supermarket and qualified for free groceries.  And your son just got into the college of his choice, all in one day.

On a winning streak?  Not likely, say experts. 

Humans have a well-documented tendency to see winning and losing streaks in situations that, in fact, are, well, random, according to newswise.com.

We're not alone.  Monkeys do it, too.  Researchers find that monkeys also share our unfounded belief in winning and losing streaks. "The results suggests that the penchant to see patterns that actually don’t exist may be inherited—an evolutionary adaptation that may have provided our ancestors a selective advantage when foraging for food in the wild, according to lead author Tommy Blanchard, a doctoral candidate in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester," newswise reports.

 This inborn tendency to feel that we are on a roll or in a slump may help explain why gambling can be so alluring and why the stock market is so prone to wild swings, said coauthor Benjamin Hayden, assistant professor brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. 

So why do monkeys and humans share this false belief in a run of luck even when faced over and over with evidence that the results are random? The authors speculate that the distribution of food in the wild, which is not random, may be the culprit. “If you find a nice juicy beetle on the underside of a log, this is pretty good evidence that there might be a beetle in a similar location nearby, because beetles, like most food sources, tend to live near each other,” explained Hayden at the Web site.

Evolution has also primed our brains to look for patterns, added Hayden. “We have this incredible drive to see patterns in the world, and we also have this incredible drive to learn. I think it’s very related to why we like music, and why we like to do crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and things like that. If there’s a pattern there, we’re on top of it. And if there may or may not be a pattern there, that’s even more interesting.”

So, do you still believe in winning streaks?  I do.  I hate to see the romance, or mystery, sucked out of life so I'm going to continue on and look for my very next one.

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