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Whether trying to win Presidential primaries, trading stocks, or playing sports, performance-enhancing effects of psychological momentum (PM) are widely accepted. But, does initial success (S₁) lead to subsequent success (S₂) in and of itself due to increased know-how on one’s and opponents’ performance or because it creates psychological force (momentum) that mediates this relationship? We review research on the phenomenon and show its strong empirical foundations in various domains of human performance. To advance research, we present an organizing theoretical framework that proposes both mediating and moderating effects of PM as mechanisms to explain why success breeds success in general. Initial success is critical for PM and has 3 types of effects: intensity, frequency, and duration. Whether performing alone (trader) or against an opponent (tennis player), perceptions of self as a performer (Sp) and of opponent as a performer (Op) are at the center of PM. The theory posits that the more the initial success separates the two (Op/Sp), the greater the PM. These and associated perceptions, however, have to turn into an increased subjective probability of winning or succeeding before PM becomes a psychological force. Evidence supports the mediating mechanism since initial success increases PM, which in turn enhances subsequent success. When initial success with PM leads to a greater likelihood of subsequent success than without PM, PM then modifies (“moderates”) the S₁–S₂ relationship without PM’s independent effect on S₂. There is also tentative evidence for a moderated mediation effect as the influence of PM seems to be greater for male than female performers. Areas of future research are highlighted. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved)
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Psychological Momentum: Why Success
Breeds Success
Seppo E. Iso-Ahola and Charles O. Dotson
University of Maryland
Whether trying to win Presidential primaries, trading stocks, or playing sports, performance-enhancing
effects of psychological momentum (PM) are widely accepted. But, does initial success (S
1
) lead to
subsequent success (S
2
) in and of itself due to increased know-how on one’s and opponents’ performance
or because it creates psychological force (momentum) that mediates this relationship? We review
research on the phenomenon and show its strong empirical foundations in various domains of human
performance. To advance research, we present an organizing theoretical framework that proposes
both mediating and moderating effects of PM as mechanisms to explain why success breeds success
in general. Initial success is critical for PM and has 3 types of effects: intensity, frequency, and
duration. Whether performing alone (trader) or against an opponent (tennis player), perceptions of
self as a performer (S
p
) and of opponent as a performer (O
p
) are at the center of PM. The theory
posits that the more the initial success separates the two (O
p
/S
p
), the greater the PM. These and
associated perceptions, however, have to turn into an increased subjective probability of winning or
succeeding before PM becomes a psychological force. Evidence supports the mediating mechanism
since initial success increases PM, which in turn enhances subsequent success. When initial success
with PM leads to a greater likelihood of subsequent success than without PM, PM then modifies
(“moderates”) the S
1
S
2
relationship without PM’s independent effect on S
2.
There is also tentative
evidence for a moderated mediation effect as the influence of PM seems to be greater for male than
female performers. Areas of future research are highlighted.
Keywords: momentum, hot hand, success-failure, choking, mediation–moderation
If I got something going, I would somehow find a way to stop the
momentum. —Tiger Woods
If one were to ask people on the street, “What is cognitive
dissonance?” most likely 99% would have no clue. But if they
were asked, “What is momentum?” probably 99% would have
a general understanding. They would not answer according to
Newtonian physics but rather, in psychological terms. Indeed,
psychological momentum (PM) is one of the most frequently
discussed phenomena among sports fans and stock traders. This
is especially evident when listening to sports commentators,
reading sports pages, or when following commentaries about
stock markets’ daily behaviors. Similarly, in the 2012 Presi-
dential primaries, candidates were frequently gaining and losing
momentum, according to pundits. It is, then, no wonder that
over 90% of sports fans (Markman & Guenther, 2007), 92% of
coaches (Raab, Gula, & Gigerenzer, 2012), and 76% of NBA
basketball players themselves (Gilovich, Vallone, & Tversky,
1985)believe that their performance is crucially determined by
momentum, to the point that they “almost can’t miss” their next
shot (Gilovich et al., 1985;Markman & Guenther, 2007). Thus,
the public at large and athletes themselves are convinced about
the performance-enhancing effects of psychological momen-
tum.
It is, therefore, not surprising that even a single successful shot
is sufficient to increase NBA players’ likelihood of taking the next
team shot (Attali, 2013). They even change their behavior after a
single field goal attempt and tend to “overgeneralize” to future
actions (Neiman & Loewenstein, 2011). Such a behavioral change
suggests that athletes are quick to embrace psychological momen-
tum and operate on the basis of these perceptions. This is to be
expected given that belief in oneself as performer constitutes one’s
“psychological core” and is at the heart of athletic performance in
general (Iso-Ahola, 1995) and psychological momentum in partic-
ular (Iso-Ahola & Blanchard, 1986). Prior success gives rise to
perceptions of momentum and an increased sense of confidence
and efficacy, as will be shown later. Athletes seek confidence
because, with it, they know they are better performers. Conse-
quently, they are continuously trying to create momentum for their
performance, and the only way to do it is to make successful
performances happen.
Common Phenomenon
Psychological momentum is not just a sports phenomenon. The
tendency to detect short-term sequential dependencies can be seen
in most, if not all, human activities, from births (is the next child
Seppo E. Iso-Ahola and Charles O. Dotson, Department of Kinesiology,
University of Maryland.
The authors wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful
comments and suggestions.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Seppo E.
Iso-Ahola, University of Maryland, School of Public Health, Department
of Kinesiology, College Park, MD 20742. E-mail: isoahol@umd.edu
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Review of General Psychology © 2014 American Psychological Association
2014, Vol. 18, No. 1, 19–33 1089-2680/14/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0036406
19
also a girl?) to weather events to horse race betting to financial
markets’ ups and downs (Arkes, 2011;Hendricks, Patel, & Zeck-
hauser, 1993;Oskarsson, VanBoven, McClelland, & Hastie,
2009). It has even been suggested that individual competence in
detecting streaks serves evolutionary function and helps people to
cognitively adapt to the environment (Wilke & Barrett, 2009). In
the economic context, the importance of momentum perceptions is
quite clear. For example, it is widely believed that since the 2008
Great Recession, companies have been slow to make capital in-
vestments and hire new employees because they are waiting to see
if the economy is “gaining momentum” and therefore truly recov-
ering. Momentum also gets to the heart of the debate on how the
economy works and financial markets function, and whether peo-
ple make rational financial choices (Tetlock & Mellers, 2002).
There is a school of economists who believe that the markets are
“efficient” and consequently always correctly price products (e.g.,
stocks) at a given time. This is based upon an assumption that all
the relevant information is available and that people make rational
decisions and choices about investments. “Behavioral economists”
(e.g., pioneers like Kahneman and Thaler), however, have chal-
lenged this assumption and shown that people actually make
irrational financial decisions during risk taking (Kahneman &
Tversky, 1979). As was seen in the dot.com era, many people
blindly followed the market momentum and frequently bought
stocks high (i.e., near their peak) only to sell them low when the
markets crashed. “Smart” or rational investors, on the other hand,
did the opposite: bought low and sold high. The financial markets
frequently overshoot (positive momentum) and undershoot (neg-
ative momentum) because investors’ and traders’ decisions are
largely emotionally based (Kahneman, 2011;Lerner, Small, &
Loewenstein, 2004). Stock prices over the short term are fre-
quently driven by investor sentiment rather than companies’ per-
formance (“fundamentals”). High-momentum stocks are heavily
traded, often have unjustified price-to-earnings ratios, and exhibit
wild swings based on fluctuating momentums. Investors, however,
can benefit from psychological momentum as shown by Hendricks
et al. (1993). In their classic study of mutual funds’ performance
over 13 years, these researchers sought to determine if steering
money to funds that have performed well recently is justified.
Their data showed that such a strategy can lead to superior per-
formance with returns up to 10% per annum as long as the
evaluation period does not exceed one year. There was a statisti-
cally significant relationship between performance in one period
and the next. The authors concluded that “substantial gains are
available from investing in the mutual fund equivalents of the last
year’s pennant winners” (p. 122).
Psychological Foundations
In the first study of the phenomenon, Iso-Ahola and Mobily
(1980) defined psychological momentum “as an added or gained
psychological power that changes a person’s view of him/herself
or of others, or others’ views of him/her and themselves” (p. 392).
Accordingly, psychological momentum changes not only a per-
former’s own perceptions but concurrently his or her opponent’s
perceptions as well. This definition is important because it posits
that one gains psychological advantage by his or her own success-
ful performance and by an opponent’s simultaneous unsuccessful
or reduced performance. True to the fundamental nature of a
zero-sum game, one’s gain in momentum is another’s loss. A
performer who has momentum blocks his or her opponent from
having one. Both cannot have momentum simultaneously, but
they, of course, can alternate momentums. In this alternation, a
person can create momentum by his or her own successful perfor-
mance (e.g., a “birdie” in golf), but can also build on it or maintain
it by an opponent’s unsuccessful performance (e.g., a “bogey” in
golf), thereby feeding off of the opponent’s lowered performance.
Creating frequent, intense, and lasting momentums in such com-
petitive duels is critical for the final success. Three predictions
follow from these considerations: An individual or team that has
(a) more momentums during the entire contest is more likely to
win or be successful (frequency effect); (b) the one whose momen-
tums last longer (duration effect) is more likely to win or be
successful; and (c) momentums with higher intensity increase the
likelihood of success and winning (intensity effect). Intensity here
refers to momentum that has been created by a powerful perfor-
mance, such as a ferocious dunk in basketball. All of these three
effects will be elaborated on later.
Psychological momentum is an altered and felt state of mind in
which a performer senses things going unstoppably his or her way.
It is experienced as a psychological force in which several factors
or qualities converge in a synergistic way to enable one to perform
at a level not ordinarily possible. Notably, it is accompanied by
perceived superiority over an opponent, attribution of success to
oneself, increased sense of confidence (self-efficacy), control, and
competence. PM is directly reflected in a heightened subjective
probability of success, and this increased probability signals the
birth of PM and its growing magnitude. Because PM critically
depends on initial success, the above-mentioned qualities are only
contributing factors that alone cannot make PM possible. For
example, most athletes enter competition with confidence, but it is
only when this confidence significantly increases due to initial
success that it further fuels a sense of momentum and thus con-
tributes to subsequent success (Feather, 1968). That is why initial
success is critical for momentum building. These considerations
are further elaborated on in the basic model and its mathematical
development, as well as in the mediating and moderating effects of
PM on subsequent success.
The underlying tenet of the theory of psychological momentum
is that previous performance significantly affects subsequent per-
formance (Iso-Ahola & Mobily, 1980). Thus, there is a depen-
dency structure between two consecutive performances, such that
success leads to further success and failure to further failure.
However, this relationship is crucially mediated or moderated by
PM. In other words, PM explains why success often seems to lead
to success. In and of itself, however, success does not result in
success, as will be explained later. Nevertheless, the dependency
structure is fundamental to the PM effect. Of course, failure does
not always lead to failure, nor success always to success, but when
it occurs, we posit, it is critically due to the PM effect.
Consistent with the above theoretical ideas, recent experimental
evidence has indicated that successful hitting in baseball is conta-
gious (Gray & Beilock, 2011). However, as Mace, Lalli, Shea, and
Nevin (1992) demonstrated, this dependency can be easily broken
by external events or agents. They showed that taking a “time out”
disrupted the opposing basketball team’s PM and consequently
reduced its performance success by 56% relative to the pre time-
out level. Consistent with this, Berry and Wood (2004) reported
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20 ISO-AHOLA AND DOTSON
that “icing” NFL field goal kickers (e.g., the opposing team forcing
a time-out) in critical situations had strong negative effects on
performance. These findings, therefore, support Hamberger and
Iso-Ahola’s (2004) proposition that PM is basically short-lived and
temporary in nature. In short, although the fundamental tenet
posits the dependency structure between consecutive perfor-
mances, the theory further postulates that success leads to success
primarily because it is mediated or moderated by psychological
momentum (Iso-Ahola & Blanchard, 1986), as described later.
Before examining these mechanisms, however, a closer look at the
literature on the veracity of the basic tenet of the theory is in order.
Does “Hot Hand” Exist?
Sport Contexts
Although the Gilovich et al. (1985) study was not the first one
on PM, it has garnered more attention than any other study
presumably because it has been invariably, albeit erroneously, said
to have started research on the phenomenon and perhaps because
it provocatively declared that “hot hand” is nothing but a cognitive
illusion and a myth. The conclusion that the present success is
independent of previous performance outcomes was mainly based
upon one professional basketball team’s nine individual players’
probability of making a successful “field goal” given their success
or failure on prior shots over the season. The researchers also
looked at another pro team’s nine players’ probability of making a
“free throw” given a miss or a hit on the prior free throw. Because
the serial correlations for individual players were nonsignificant, it
was concluded that “hot hand” does not exist. These findings,
however, were soon challenged, and it was shown that “hot hand”
indeed exists at the professional (Forthofer, 1991;Larkey, Smith,
& Kadane, 1989) and intercollegiate basketball level (Mace et al.,
1992). Wadrop (1995) reanalyzed Gilovich et al.’s free throw data
and showed that fans’ perceptions of hot hand are justified. To
illustrate the existence of the phenomenon anecdotally, and to
highlight the major conceptual problem in previous studies report-
ing no effect, the following example is informative. In a recent
ACC match-up, Maryland Terps lost their 10-point lead over
Miami Hurricanes, but managed to win the game by a 3-point field
goal by Dez Wells with 3.5 s left. What is remarkable about this is
that Wells had no points in the first half but was a perfect seven for
seven from the field for 21 points during the second half. Needless
to say, this individual momentum-based performance was decisive
for the team’s victory. His performance clearly illustrates the
nature of psychological momentum: it is temporary and short-
lived, infrequent and occasional, individual, yet critical for the
overall team performance. Such individual performance momen-
tums can be very beneficial and “adaptive” for teams, especially if
coaches are astute in first detecting and then capitalizing on them
(Burns, 2004).
Several recent well-designed studies based on large data sets
from basketball have lent strong support for the “hot hand” hy-
pothesis. Yaari and Eisenmann’s (2011) analysis of five NBA
regular season’s free throw data (constructed from over 300,00
attempts) revealed that the second free throw’s success rate was
significantly higher when it was preceded by success than failure
in the first attempt, and this held true at both individual and
aggregated levels. Arkes (2013) performed an illuminating analy-
sis and comparison of a small data set (2,160 observations, thereby
approximating the largest sample employed in prior studies finding
no effect) and a large sample (28,800 observations and 32,000 total
shots).The findings indicated that the prior studies claiming no
effect have had a low chance of detecting “hot hand” because of
two major reasons: (a) small samples and lack of adequate statis-
tical power and (b) failure to consider the frequency of the “hot
hand.” Results showed that the probability of detecting the “hot
hand” increases with its frequency, but even with large samples
this probability can be low if the frequency of “hot hand” is low.
Given that psychological momentum is short-lived (Hamberger &
Iso-Ahola, 2004), it is an infrequent event and difficult to detect,
but prior results (e.g., Arkes, 2010), when using large samples,
“are indicative of a fairly large but infrequent hot hand effect”
(Arkes, 2013, p. 408). Also critical is the appropriateness of the
statistical analysis to represent the underlying probability model
(e.g., incorrectly employing analyses based on normal probability
theory when one based on a Poisson even may be called for).
Finally, Stone (2012) provides strong (mathematical) evidence for
“hot hand” if measurement error bias is removed from the previous
studies finding no effect. He used an autocorrelation model and
simulation to show that measurement error is “severe in the bas-
ketball context” when shot result data are employed to calculate
shot probabilities. Stone demonstrated that because “shots made”
measure the probabilities with error, the autocorrelation between
shots (i.e., the autocorrelation of shot probabilities) is underesti-
mated substantially. The net result, as argued by Stone, is that
evidence for “hot hand” is artificially prevented from being ob-
served, especially for relatively small samples (e.g., as used by
Gilovich et al., 1985).
Besides basketball, the PM or “hot hand” phenomenon has been
investigated in many other sport contexts, from team sports (e.g.,
baseball and volleyball) to individual sports (e.g., bowling, bil-
liards, darts, golf putting, and tennis). It has been suggested that
“hot hand” is more likely to emerge in individually performed
sports as opposed to team sports (Bar-Eli, Avugos, & Raab, 2006).
This generalization, however, does not seem warranted in light of
the above evidence showing that “hot hand” can reliably be de-
tected even in such complex activities as basketball, provided that
appropriate methodological and statistical steps and measures are
taken. Further, a recent well-designed study (Raab et al., 2012)on
volleyball players provided strong evidence for “hot hand” indi-
cating that half of the contestants exhibited streakiness in their
performance. Volleyball is a good field laboratory for testing the
phenomenon because the net separates opposing players and
teams, meaning that opponents are less able to use counterstrate-
gies against a hot player, unlike in a basketball game where
opponents can guard the “hot” player closely. Consistent with this,
Oskarsson et al. (2009) suggested that “hot hand” more likely
emerges in situations where performance trials are more uniform
(billiards, bowling, darts, horseshoes, darts, putting). According to
these authors, uniformity translates into an increased sense of
control: golf putting is more controllable than basketball field goal
shooting, which in turn is more controllable than baseball batting
(p. 276). Therefore, the more control performers feel over out-
comes in certain sports, the more conducive are such situations to
psychological momentum effects. Bowling is a good example of
this relative uniformity of performance trials as every roll is taken
from the same distance and made at a regular, brief interval. It is
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21
PSYCHOLOGICAL MOMENTUM
therefore not surprising that strong support for “hot hand” has been
reported in bowling studies (e.g., Dorsey-Palmateer & Smith,
2004;Yaari & David, 2012).
Tennis does not provide the same uniformity of performance
trials as other individual sports (e.g., bowling) do. Yet, arguably,
the best study and the strongest evidence for psychological mo-
mentum comes from a study conducted by Jackson & Mosurski
(1997) on U.S. Open and Wimbledon tennis contestants. Curi-
ously, this study has almost completely been overlooked in the
literature, even in research reviews. The authors set out to test four
different and competing models to explain competitors’ perfor-
mance success: (a) simple independence; (b) psychological mo-
mentum; (c) independence with a normal random effect (daily
fluctuations in players’ ability); and (d) psychological momentum
with a normal random effect. Based upon two years of data from
both venues (752 matches and 2,765 sets in total), results showed
that the independence model was the worst of the four and pro-
vided a “very poor” fit to explain performance success from set to
set within a match. Although the addition of the random effect
model to the independence model somewhat improved the com-
bined model’s explanatory power, it still was significantly worse
than the PM model, which in turn was not improved by the
addition of the fluctuation in player ability (random effect). In
other words, day-to-day variation in player ability contributed very
little to the overall explanation, whereas the PM model explained
the data “extremely well” and therefore, “the impact of PM cannot
be ignored” (Jackson & Mosurski, 1997, p. 31). They concluded
that “the idea of independence must be abandoned” (p. 33).
Jackson and Mosurski’s findings are also important, in that they
refute the notion of ability (vs. PM) as an explanation for perfor-
mance outcomes. Naturally, when low- and high-skilled players
are compared no psychological factors are needed to account for
the final result. But, when ability and skill are held constant (i.e.,
competitors are homogeneous in this regard), as it is the case at the
elite level of competition, for instance in the U.S. Open tennis
tournament or a PGA tour event, then it is the psychological
factors that differentiate winners from losers. This, of course, has
been demonstrated in countless psychological studies that have
shown the effects of emotions and cognitions on human perfor-
mance in general. One study illustrates the point clearly. Marsh
and Perry (2005) tested the relative contribution of ability (“per-
sonal performance best”) and self-concept to championship per-
formance among 257 elite swimmers in Pan Pacific Champion-
ships. Although the personal best time in swimming prior to the
event explained most of the variance in championship perfor-
mance, self-concept strikingly accounted for more than 10% of the
total variance. In other words, when the effect of prior “personal
best” (ability) was statistically controlled, this psychological factor
still made a significant and meaningful contribution to champion-
ship performance. Which performer in any sport at the elite level
would not embrace a 10% advantage over competitors? Having
even a 1% psychological superiority would be enough for a com-
petitor to handily beat his or her opponent at the elite level.
Although ability is a relatively fixed entity, it nevertheless fluctu-
ates somewhat from day to day, but this random fluctuation does
not make a significant contribution to performance outcome when
compared with PM effects (Jackson & Mosurski, 1997).
Taken together, the PM or “hot hand” phenomenon has been
extensively tested in various sport contexts. Unfortunately, an
overwhelming majority of the studies has used unobtrusive meth-
odologies (archival data, e.g., Albright, 1993), which make it
difficult for researchers to control for confounding influences (e.g.,
Dorsey-Palmateer & Smith, 2004). They are further limited by
methodological and statistical problems, including, but not limited
to, measurement error, small samples, and lack of statistical power
(Arkes, 2013;Stone, 2012). The phenomenon has most often been
tested on basketball players and teams, but this sport is not a clean
setting for testing it because of many situational factors related to
opponents’ counterstrategic behaviors against a “hot” player (Raab
et al., 2012). The methodological problems in basketball studies
have further been compounded by the calculation of simple serial
correlations between consecutive shot results and averaging them
over the entire season (Stone, 2012). Such methodologies and
crude statistics mask short-lived and infrequent but potent PM
effects (Hamberger & Iso-Ahola, 2004), as the earlier example of
a Maryland basketball player so clearly demonstrated. By its
nature, the phenomenon is temporary and occasional yet powerful
when it occurs. As recent studies have shown, the frequency of the
phenomenon is directly related to researchers’ ability to statisti-
cally detect its existence (Arkes, 2013). But, because the frequency
has not been considered in previous studies, it is no wonder why
“hot hand” has not emerged in many statistical analyses and has
therefore been declared cognitive illusion. It is also worth noting
that a meta-analysis does not rescue these poorly designed and
executed studies. Throwing “apples and oranges” into one meta-
analysis and treating different studies as equals, even after subjec-
tively excluding some studies, does not salvage the problem (Avu-
gos, Koppen, Csienskowski, Raab, & Bar-Eli, 2013).
What can be concluded? First, when conceptual, methodologi-
cal, and statistical problems are considered, the phenomenon is
reliably demonstrated even in basketball (Forthofer, 1991;Mace et
al., 1992;Wadrop, 1995). Second, when the PM or “hot hand”
phenomenon is given a fair chance to emerge (e.g., its frequency
taken into account), it shows up as a strong effect (Arkes, 2010,
2013). Third, in those sports (e.g., putting, billiards, bowling)
where performance trials are relatively uniform, thus giving per-
formers a sense of control over outcomes, the phenomenon is
likely to surface (Oskarsson et al., 2009). As a whole, this reluctant
phenomenon indeed exists and can be flushed out by tight meth-
odologies and statistical analyses.
Clearly, experimental studies are needed but at the present, they
are rare. Two reported experiments used a staged cycling race to
investigate the phenomenon. The first (Perreault, Vallerand, Mont-
gomery, & Provencher, 1998) showed that when competitors os-
tensibly caught up with their cocompetitor (i.e., succeeded), their
perceptions of momentum shot up and performance increased. The
second (Briki, Hartigh, Markman, Micallef, & Gernigon, 2013)
complemented these findings, in that when leaders suddenly kept
falling behind their competitor, they naturally felt they have less
momentum but used the situation to increase their energy output in
efforts to catch up, as any competitor would do in such predica-
ment. In other words, they were trying to create momentum for
themselves by pedaling more furiously to catch up. Research has
shown that in such situations goal commitment protects against the
adverse effects of negative feedback by helping a performer to
focus on the task at hand rather than on the implications for the self
(Kappes, Oettingen, & Pak, 2012). It is therefore reasonable to
assume that if the competitors had succeed in narrowing the
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22 ISO-AHOLA AND DOTSON
opponent’s lead, their perceived momentum would have increased
and as a result, would have further increased their performance
output; but had they failed to narrow the gap, PM would have
likely started to wane again and so would have their performance
output. The study underscores the earlier point that psychological
momentum is a dynamic phenomenon that fluctuates as a function
of competitive situations. PM goes up and down and changes
hands many times during competition as it is a zero-sum game. It
is therefore natural that competitors try to recapture the lost mo-
mentum and use it to motivate themselves. However, as our model
predicts, the winner is the one who is able to accumulate more
positive momentums (frequency effect) and make them last for
longer periods of time (duration effect).
PM or “Hot Hand” in Nonsport Contexts
Although sport settings seem to dominate the empirical testing
of the phenomenon, researchers have investigated it in nonsport
contexts as well, most notably in relation to investing in mutual
funds or stocks and pricing momentum in betting markets (e.g.,
Arkes, 2011;Brown & Sauer, 1993;Camerer, 1989;Hendricks et
al., 1993;Jegadeesh & Titman, 1993).It is one of the best known
and most adhered axioms among the active Wall Street inves-
tors and traders that “trend is your friend,” meaning that investors
buy stocks in the up-trending (momentum) market and stay in
them until the momentum stalls. They can also do the reverse by
“selling short” in the down-trending momentum and ride the
momentum as long as it continues. In this kind of investing and
trading, all the decisions are based on momentum rather than
companies’ financial performance (“fundamentals”). Belief in the
momentum effect is so strong that virtually all stock-charting and
software programs include various momentum indicators. It has
been shown empirically that in a relatively short period (i.e.,3–12
months), investors can capitalize on the PM phenomenon by
buying past winners and selling past losers; this strategy has
generated annual compounded returns of 10%–12%, but the effect
dissipates after 12 months (Hendricks et al., 1993;Jegadeesh &
Titman, 1993). The vanishing effect may be due to “gamblers’”
(i.e., investors’) tendency to overestimate the importance of mo-
mentum (Arkes, 2011) and the resultant proclivity to stay too long
in their momentum-based investments or to make too risky bets. In
capitalizing on the momentum effect, be it on basketball courts or
Wall Street, timing is everything.
Feedback Effects
The basic tenet of the PM hypothesis posits the dependency
structure between consecutive performances such that success
leads to further success and failure to further failure. As the above
review of research indicates, empirical studies, especially recent
better-designed ones, provide strong support for the hypothesis.
Thus, in the words of Jackson and Mosurski (1997), it is time to
abandon the idea of independence between consecutive perfor-
mances. This conclusion is bolstered by an extensive psycholog-
ical literature on the effects of prior success and failure on subse-
quent performance on one hand and the effects of feedback on
human performance on the other. Although studies in these areas
have not been designed to test the PM or “hot hand” hypothesis as
such, they nevertheless are highly relevant for evaluating its em-
pirical foundations. Already in the 60s, Feather and colleagues
reported several well-designed and controlled experiments on the
effects of success and failure on subsequent performance (e.g.,
Feather, 1966,1968;Feather & Saville, 1967). All of his labora-
tory experiments produced the same finding: initial success led to
better subsequent performance than did initial failure, and this
result holds true for both cognitive and motor tasks (Iso-Ahola &
Hatfield, 1986).It is curious that this well-replicated finding has
been completely overlooked in the “hot hand” literature (e.g.,
Bar-Eli, 2006;Reifman, 2012).
There is also a rich literature in psychology on the effects of
feedback on human performance. Although feedback can be
expressed and received in many different ways, performance
success represents a powerful form of feedback. In general,
people readily process positive feedback because it affirms their
self-views, whereas they refrain from negative feedback be-
cause it threatens their self-perceptions (Sedikides & Green,
2009).Moreover, positive feedback is more accessible mentally
and better remembered than negative feedback (Kappes et al.,
2012). Bandura (1997) contends that mastery experiences (i.e.,
performance successes) constitute the most important method to
increase one’s self-efficacy. Feedback on goal progress also
increases self-efficacy, and elevated efficacy in turn sustains
motivation and promotes performance (Bandura & Cervone,
1983;Schunk, 1989). Furthermore, it is well established in
social psychology that competence feedback (i.e., success) en-
hances intrinsic motivation (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999). All
of this evidence speaks strongly for the effects of positive
feedback on human affect and cognition.
As for feedback and performance more specifically, an exten-
sive review and meta-analysis of research indicated that feedback
interventions improve performance on average by about 0.40 of a
SD (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996). This review also revealed that when
feedback cues direct attention to task motivation, they augment
feedback effects on performance. Kluger and DeNisi’s review also
disclosed that if feedback provides the correct solution, such
feedback has stronger effects on performance. Clearly, success
informs the performer that he or she is not only doing things
correctly but also, that success is due to his or her skills and effort.
The tendency to attribute success to internal factors (i.e., ability
and effort) is well established (e.g., Sedikides & Gregg, 2008;
Weiner, 1985) and suggests that such attributions are likely to
solidify self-confidence and self-efficacy and thus sustain motiva-
tion (e.g., Schunk, 1989).On the other hand, if success is attributed
to luck and other external factors, such attributions would not
provide any psychological basis for building momentum, yet in-
ternal attributions would. It then follows that attributions of feed-
back and performance outcomes play an important role in the
process of creating and enhancing psychological momentum. Fi-
nally, although it is beyond the scope of this article, it should not
be forgotten that the effects of positive reinforcement on human
cognition, affect, and behavior comprise one of the most robust
findings in all of psychology. Success reinforces one’s perception
of him/herself as a capable performer and motivates for greater
achievement, thereby providing strong psychological foundations
for momentum effects.
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23
PSYCHOLOGICAL MOMENTUM
A New Model Needed
When considering the previous research as a whole, it is clear
that success indeed breeds success. In an effort to advance and
stimulate future research, we build on this fundamental finding and
propose a basic model that explains how present success is linked
to future success via PM. This model goes beyond any previous
theoretical and empirical research by distinguishing intensity, fre-
quency, and duration effects of initial success (or any sequential
combination of these effects) on PM and subsequent success. In
this basic model, we delineate PM psychologically and mathemat-
ically for situations where performers are directly facing oppo-
nents (e.g., tennis) and where there are no face-to-face opponents
(e.g., trading). We also draw attention to PM and its effects to be
observed in “between” and “within” performances, such as tour-
nament performance from day to day (between) and during one
day (within). Theory and research lead us to explain the success-
breeds-success phenomenon in terms of PM’s “mediation” and
“moderation” (and possibly even “moderated mediation”) effects.
Such theory- and model-building has been called for in the liter-
ature (e.g., Bar-Eli et al., 2006;Wadrop, 1998) as previous at-
tempts have been too general in scope and have thus failed to
generate much empirical work. For example, PM has been pro-
posed to represent a positive or negative change in cognition,
affect, physiology, and behavior caused by an event (Taylor &
Demick, 1994), or to refer to a perception of progress toward one’s
goals, resulting in increased levels of motivation, control, and
optimism (Vallerand, Colevacchio, & Pelletier, 1988). Needless to
say, such general suggestions are not particularly useful for a
theoretical explanation of neither the phenomenon nor its empiri-
cal validation. Although statisticians have done a great deal of
research on “hot hand,” their work, understandably, has also
lacked in psychological depth. It should not be forgotten, however,
that first and foremost, PM is a psychological, not statistical,
phenomenon. Therefore, our model-building is based upon eluci-
dating the psychological foundations of PM effects.
Basic Model
In general, psychological momentum is grounded and mani-
fested in two altered perceptions: (a) oneself as a performer (with-
out any social or competitive comparison); and (b) oneself as a
performer relative to an opponent (i.e., perceived superiority over
the opponent). As combined, these two perceptions determine (or
manifest in) the third perceptual component of PM: perceived
likelihood of winning or being successful in achieving a future
goal. This perceptual foundation of psychological momentum has
been validated by empirical data (Iso-Ahola & Blanchard, 1986).
In a racquetball tournament, these perceptions were measured
between sets and were found to increase or decrease significantly
as a function of the outcome of a previous game. Taken together,
psychological momentum is felt and experienced when (a) one has
a high sense of competence, confidence, efficacy and control in
him/herself as a performer, and attributes success to him/herself;
(b) perceives him/herself as superior to his or her opponent; and (c)
perceives an increased likelihood of winning or being successful.
Simply stated, a competitor who has gained momentum believes
he or she is the cause of his or her success, is highly confident,
thinks he or she is better than the opponent, and consequently
senses a good probability of winning the contest or achieving his
or her stated goal(s). These perceptions combine to form momen-
tum that becomes a psychological force or wave that carries the
competitor to further success. Like ocean waves, psychological
momentum lasts only a limited time, but can also be strung
together with other waves into a series of consecutive momentums,
so that a performer can benefit from the frequency, intensity, and
duration effects of psychological momentum.
Although necessary, these perceptions, however, are not suffi-
cient without initial success, nor do they occur without a preceding
success. That is, a person can generally be highly confident, and
perceive that he or she is better than others, and yet have little or
no PM. It is only when these perceptions have been created by a
recent or sudden success that they combine into a psychological
momentum. As Iso-Ahola and Mobily (1980) and Iso-Ahola and
Blanchard (1986) have demonstrated, these perceptions do not
come from thin air but rather, directly from a recent success. Thus,
the basic model (Model 1) is:
SUCCESS¡PSYCHOLOGICAL MOMENTUM¡SUCCESS
Intensity Effect
Accordingly, initial success creates or leads to psychological
momentum, which then leads to further success. In this model, PM
has either a mediating or moderating effect on future success, as
will be discussed later in detail. The nature of initial success plays
an important role. More specifically, the greater the perceived
initial success, the greater the psychological momentum and the
greater the likelihood of subsequent success. If the initial success
occurs with a big bang, or has a “wow” factor associated with it,
the more likely it is to lead to PM, and PM is likely to be strong
(“intensity effect”).When a basketball player makes a ferocious
dunk or a boxer makes a devastating hit or a football team beats the
season’s leading team, the “wow” factor is obvious and thus
enhances the value, meaning, and power of the success. In this
way, mass and velocity (Markman & Guenther, 2007) are either
additively or multiplicatively combined, thereby increasing the
likelihood of PM and its strength.
Frequency Effect
An alternative model (Model 2) for occurrence of PM is as
follows:
SUCCESS1SUCCESS2¡
PSYCHOLOGICAL MOMENTUM ¡
SUCCESS3
Accordingly, psychological momentum occurs because of the
perceived linkage between two sequential episodes of success.
When performers realize and perceive this linkage between the
two consecutive successes, their aforementioned perceptions are
enhanced and as a result, PM is created and felt, with the net result
of enhanced success in the future. In this scenario, there is no
single “wow” factor necessarily involved but instead, emphasis is
on the perceived connection between two instances of success.
However, the realization or perception of the connection between
two successes can become a powerful “wow”-like experience or
feeling. An example would be a golfer who makes two “birdies” in
a row, which then creates momentum, increases confidence in
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24 ISO-AHOLA AND DOTSON
him/herself as a performer and elevates the perception of having an
ability to beat most of the “field.” The net result is an improved
probability of making a “cut” (i.e., qualifying for the final rounds;
Iso-Ahola & Dotson, 2014).
Isolated successes here and there during a contest, especially
without the intensity effect, are insufficient for creation of PM. A
“birdie” on the second and 13th hole, with pars and bogeys in
between, or a winning trade followed by several break-even and
small-loss trades before another winning trade, do not allow a
performer to see a connection between two successful perfor-
mances, and thus, no PM is manifested. The closer in proximity in
time the two successful performances are, the more likely is the
perceived link between the two, and thus, the more likely is PM.
Further, the more successful performances that are achieved in a
row, the stronger PM is. The “frequency effect” postulates that the
more momentums there are during the entire contest or perfor-
mance, whether they are created by high-intensity successes or the
perceived connections between two or more successes, the more
likely is success or winning. As noted earlier, the frequency of an
event is positively related to its perceived streakiness and research-
ers’ ability to statistically detect the phenomenon (Arkes, 2013;
Carlson & Shu, 2007).
The two successes (Model 2) can differ in their intensity or
impact and are therefore likely to have a differing effect on the
formation of PM. For example, if both are high in intensity, it is
then easier for a performer to see the connection between the two
than if they are low in intensity. Thus, in the former case, PM is
more likely. Nevertheless, simply stringing two successes together
can be powerful for creation of PM because it suggests, to a
competitor, a continuity of successful performance. Even if a
trader did not make a lot of money by his or her two consecutive
trades, these trades nonetheless were successful, which then vali-
dates the trader’s “system” and him/herself as a successful trader,
which in turn enhances the likelihood of PM.
When contrasting the effects on PM of one single high-intensity
success (home run) versus the perceived link between two suc-
cesses (single hits by two consecutive players), it remains to be
determined which one is more effective and under what conditions.
It should also be noted that although the general theoretical deri-
vation is based upon the perceived link between two consecutive
successes, it is possible that in certain situations, more than two
instances of success are required before PM is manifested. In
baseball, for example, it may take three to four players to hit
“singles” before PM is felt by the team. Nevertheless, theoreti-
cally, the key point is the perceived linkage between successes,
however many may be required for creation of PM. Whether it is
the first (a single high-intensity success) or second scenario (the
perceived link between two), PM’s existence is tentatively dem-
onstrated by a significant empirical relationship between two suc-
cessful performances (S
2
and S
3
) and its nonexistence by a lack of
correlation between the two. However, although success seems to
breed success in such a situation, this relationship does not exist
without PM’s mediating or moderating effect. Establishment of the
significant correlation between S
2
and S
3
is an indirect way of
demonstrating PM’s influence and calls for a direct measurement
of the three perceptions discussed earlier to ultimately validate
PM’s effect.
Duration Effect
PM has been observed in both short- and long-term time frames
(Iso-Ahola & Dotson, 2014). In general, however, longer PMs lead
to a greater likelihood of success and winning. If a basketball team
has two separate intervals of PM lasting altogether, say, 10 min
during each half, such long PMs allow the team to dominate the
game and therefore all but guarantee the final victory. Both fre-
quency and intensity contribute to PM’s duration. Obviously, the
more frequent instances of PM a team has, the longer the duration
of PM overall. Similarly, more intense PMs tend to be more
enduring in time. It then follows that to maximize PM and its
effect, a performer or team strives to extend PM by creating as
many PMs and as powerful PMs as possible.
Figure 1 organizes the overall manifestation sequences through
which PM may be felt as a result of the three distinct effects of
intensity, frequency and duration.
For organizational purposes, Figure 1 displays sequential inten-
sity and frequency effects in separate columns. However, in real-
ity, PM can be manifested and felt following recent success
through any sequential combination of the three effects of inten-
sity, frequency, and duration. For example, a set of frequent recent
successes building PM could be enhanced by one or more
intensity-based successes supporting a stronger felt PM. Or, PM
might be built from two or more intensity-based successes leading
to an overall high-impact duration effect. A still third example
might include multiple sets of frequent recent successes, each
sufficient to manifest PM, thereby leading to multiple waves of
PM felt for a significantly longer duration mediating and/or mod-
erating subsequent and enhanced successes. Consistent with this, a
recent experiment (Hunt, Rietschel, Hatfield, & Iso-Ahola, 2013)
showed that winners’ early success not only increased their con-
fidence over losers, but this difference got larger with the contin-
ued competitive success. By combining and building PM in se-
quences such as these, enhanced subsequent successes can be
maintained for extended periods or durations. Otherwise, isolated
PMs, like physical momentum as described by Newton, will dis-
sipate.
In general, PM is terminated in two ways: (a) a stoppage in
performance in time and (b) a performer’s own unsuccessful or an
opponent’s successful performance. As for the first, simply stop-
ping performance will interrupt momentum and thus hinder per-
formance. Mace et al. (1992) showed that “timeouts” in collegiate
basketball reduced momentum and subsequent performance by
56%. As to the second, it is well documented that losing or “falling
behind” in competition dampens confidence, perceptions of mo-
mentum, and even efficiency in neural networking (Hunt et al.,
2013;Kerick, Iso-Ahola, & Hatfield, 2000). However, PM can be
maintained by a “neutral” performance. For example, after creat-
ing PM by two consecutive “birdies,” a golfer can keep PM
operational even if he or she makes several pars in a row after the
birdies. However, as soon as he or she “bogeys” or “double-
bogeys” a hole, PM is lost. Similarly, a stock trader, after creating
PM by consecutive successful trades, can maintain PM as long as
he or she breaks even with subsequent trades (“at least I didn’t lose
money”). Such nonlosing trades suggest to him/her that his or her
trading “system” still works and that he or she is a successful
trader, therefore keeping PM alive. But, once he or she has a losing
trade, PM is lost.
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25
PSYCHOLOGICAL MOMENTUM
Whether in direct competition (tennis) or performing without
face-to-face opponents (trader), it is impossible to avoid errors
in human performance. Thus, termination of PM is unavoidable.
However, the longer an individual or the team is able to ride
momentum, the more likely is success or victory. It follows that
successful performers not only seek to create momentums for
themselves but also, to prevent the opponent from building
them. A major strategy for accomplishing this is to force
opponents to make errors. While it is easy to see why errors
abound in such sports as basketball because of opponents’
constant attempts to force them, errors are frequent also in solo
performances (e.g., trading, golf). The reasons for this are both
neurological and psychological. Neurologically, one is never
again able to repeat the exact same motor movement because of
the “context-conditioned variability” and “degrees of freedom”
problems (Turvey, Fitch, & Tuller, 1982). Both internal (e.g.,
muscles) and external (e.g., uphill vs. downhill lies in golf)
conditions vary significantly from situation to situation and
therefore make errors common in motor performance. Psycho-
logically, there are many factors that make people “choke” and
underperform, such as anxiety (Baumeister & Showers, 1986)
and self-focus (Lewis & Linder, 1997). The result of all of this
is the frequency of errors in human performance even at elite
levels (Gray, 2004), making extended periods of PM hard to
come by.
PM When Performing Directly Against Opponents
In many competitive situations, there are direct opponents
(e.g., boxing, tennis, basketball). As indicated, in such situa-
tions two perceptions are critical for PM: perception of self as
a performer (S
p
) and perception of opponent (O
p
)asaper
-
former. Conceived broadly, these perceptions can be qualita-
tively described as follows: self as performer (high, low) and
opponent as performer (high, low). Summarized in this way,
four combinations of perceptions are possible as depicted in the
following 2 2 table.
If initial success leads a competitor to perceive Self as the
superior performer (e.g., higher competence) and concurrently
Opponent as the inferior performer, positive PM is likely to occur
and success to ensue (Cell 2). In general, people have a tendency
to self-servingly compare themselves with others (Sedikides &
Gregg, 2008), especially if they have had recent success (e.g.,
Weiner, 1985). On the other hand, if the Self–Opponent percep-
tions are reversed following initial performance, negative PM is
experienced and downward spiraling performance is likely to
follow (Cell 3). Experimental research has shown that performers
experiencing positive momentum report higher levels of self-
efficacy or self-confidence than those having negative momentum
(Mack & Stephens, 2000). Finally, when the perceptions are
closely matched (Cells 1 & 4), neither competitor achieves PM.
Figure 1. Frequency, intensity and duration effects of PM.
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26 ISO-AHOLA AND DOTSON
Alternatively, these perceptions of Self and Opponent as a
performer can be more specifically quantified across the range of
0 to 1. For all of these situations, PM can be mathematically
calculated as follows:
PMf1OP
SPor PMfSPOP
SP(1)
where PM
f
psychological momentum felt or experienced; S
p
perception of self as a performer; and O
p
perception of oppo-
nent as a performer. A graph of PM
f
for representative values of
S
p
and O
p
is presented in Figure 2.
Figure 2 reflects only positive values for PM felt by Self,
because, by the tenets of PM theory, perception of PM arises only
when the competitor experiences high competence (and efficacy)
as a performer, perceives superiority over the opponent and ex-
pects to win or succeed (Iso-Ahola & Blanchard, 1986). Other
observations implied by Figure 2 may be deduced. For any given
perception of an opponent as a performer, recent success by a
competitor sufficient to boost perception of self (S
p
) will expo-
nentially increase PM felt by the competitor. If simultaneously this
recent or initial success results in a reduction of Self’s perception
of the opponent (O
p
), PM felt will be further increased. Alterna-
tively, the formula also clearly demonstrates PM felt by a com-
petitor can be negatively impacted by success experienced by his
or her opponent. Finally, regardless of the level of perception Self
holds for him/herself, a corresponding equal perception of oppo-
nent will neutralize any potential for a recent success to produce a
positive PM. A negative PM
f
results when S
p
O
p
.PM
f
becomes
negative when Opponent (O
p
) is perceived as the superior per-
former by Self (S
p
). It should be noted that neither S
p
nor O
p
can
be zero in mathematical or practical terms. Even if a competitor
perceives the opponent as inferior to him/herself, the opponent
would never be seen as zero as such a mismatch would not make
a competitive sense. Although Formula 1 allows for all possible
perceptions of Self and Opponent over the range of zero to one, in
reality, large differences between S
p
and O
p
also make no com-
petitive sense. In a real direct competition between performers,
perceptions of self or opponent would not be expected to be less
than about 0.25 and therefore no significant PM would be expected
to materialize at such low levels of perceptions.
The final consideration in computation of PM is the per-
ceived likelihood of winning or succeeding (W
l
). While S
p
O
p
is necessary for PM’s occurrence, it is not a sufficient nor
entirely accurate indicator of PM because the perception of
superiority over an opponent has to translate in a performer’s
mind into an increased likelihood of winning or succeeding. If
it does not, then the earlier Formula 1 gives an inflated or
overestimated value for PM, and therefore, has to be corrected
by the inclusion of W
l
. When W
l
is introduced into the formula
it reduces the previous value of PM and in doing so, corrects for
the overestimation of PM without W
l
. In many performance and
competitive situations, S
p
can be considerably greater than O
p
and thereby suggest a large PM. The resultant large PM would
be inflated if it were not adjusted for a performer’s perceived
likelihood of winning or succeeding in a particular performance
situation. A tennis player may feel that he or she is much better
than his or her opponent in every respect, but if he or she does
not sense a great likelihood of winning their match, even a large
S
p
over O
p
would not guarantee an equally large PM, and
would yield an inflated PM. Because of his or her vast experi-
ence, a competitor knows that there are factors other than
perceived ability that can have a significant influence on the
outcome. He or she knows that an opponent can get “lucky
breaks” and unexplainably find a “second wind;” the audience
can motivate and emotionally lift the opponent to higher levels
of performance; referees can become biased against him/her; he
or she also knows one can become emotionally drained, fall
“out of sync” and make mistakes that the opponent may then
exploit. As a result, a smart competitor is on guard against the
“underdog effect” and therefore does not automatically equate
even a large S
p
over O
p
with a high probability of winning. But
when he or she does, the likelihood of PM increases substan-
tially.
These considerations, and empirical findings indicating the
dominant influence of success and failure in affecting judgments
of probabilities and expectations of success (e.g.,Feather, 1966),
suggest the following adjustment for the earlier Formula 1
PMf
1Op
Sp
Wl. (2)
If the perceived probability is measured on .00–1.0 scale, and if
W
l
, for example, is 0.90 in Cell 2, then the final PM
f
would be
0.63 (0.70 0.90), assuming 0.30 for O
p
and 1.0 for S
p
. In Cell
3, if W
l
were only 0.10, the resultant PM
f
would be a low of .20
(20.10), assuming 0.90 for O
p
and 0.30 for S
p
. In this way,
all three key perceptions are taken into account, and their effect on
PM can objectively be calculated for the four fundamental condi-
tions presented in Table 1. Moreover, the four conditions or cells
in the 2 2 model (Table 1) can be experimentally manipulated
and created, thereby allowing researchers to determine the relative
contributions of the Self–Opponent perceptions on PM following
various manipulated conditions of initial success.
PM When No Direct Opponent
There are many performance situations where no direct compe-
tition exists. For example, when golfers compete in “stroke” play,
they are not directly competing one against another but instead,
against the entire field or against par for the course. Similarly,
when buying and selling stocks, a trader seeks to ride a momentum
and in doing so, is not directly competing against another trader,
but rather against the other traders as a crowd. In such situations,
the above Formula 2 still applies and the three perceptions (S
p
,O
p,
0.0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
0.7
0.8
0.9
1.0
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0
Op=0.2
Op=0.3
Op=0.4
Op=0.5
Op=0.6
Op=0.7
Op=0.8
Op=0.9
Op=0.1
Op=1.0
Percepon of Self as a Performer
Perception of Opponent
PM Felt by Self
Figure 2. PM felt as a function of Self and Opponent perceptions.
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27
PSYCHOLOGICAL MOMENTUM
W
l
)determine PM
f
if initial success has been experienced. The
only difference is that O
p
is not here as specific as in situations
where a face-to-face competition exists. In case of golf, O
p
could
be one’s perception of par for the course, which would vary as a
function of the perceived difficulty of a golf course. In fact, then,
O
p
essentially becomes the perceived difficulty of the golf course.
In trading a particular stock, O
p
becomes the perceived difficulty
in predicting the stock’s movements. What would initial success be
in these situations? In the case of golf, it would be making a
“birdie” or an “eagle,” or making a par on a difficult hole. In the
case of trading, it would be a jump in the stock price on a given day
(or significant movements up in day trading). In general, such
initial successes enhance the value of S
p
and lower the value of
O
p
, thereby separating the two. The bigger the difference between
the two in favour of S
p
, the greater the PM
f
. In effect, O
p
amounts
to “noise” in the system or “error variance” in statistical terms,
with the general goal being to reduce the value of O
p
in relation to
S
p
. Mathematically (Formula 2), as S
p
grows (and O
p
reduces) so
does psychological momentum. Continual climb of a stock (re-
peated success) builds a trader’s S
p
and W
l
and thus PM
f
.Asa
result, a trader perceives him/herself having momentum and is
likely to stay in the stock as long as he or she has PM. A likelihood
of his or her selling the stock increases in a direct proportion to a
reduction in PM. In this way, a trader’s buying and selling behav-
ior can be analyzed as a function of PM.
Between and Within Situations
The impact of PM can be investigated and determined on the
basis of both “between” and “within” performances. Theoretically,
the PM phenomenon may more readily surface in “within” than
“between” situations because of its temporary and short-lived
nature. Failure to differentiate between these two types of perfor-
mance situations may have contributed to conflicting conclusions
in previous reviews of research. In stock market trading, the
difference refers to PM, the effect of which is assessed from
day-to-day performances (between) or from performances during
one single session of trading or “day trading” (within). In golf, it
refers to examination of PM’s influence from tournament to tour-
nament (between) or within a single tournament. Iso-Ahola and
Dotson (2014) analyzed PGA Tour players’ between and within
performance and found support for PM in both contexts. When
players’ performance was analyzed from tournament to tourna-
ment, results showed that not only were “cuts” made but also
achievement of top 10, 20, and 30 performances occurred in
sequence, and more so for higher ranked players. When players’
performance was analyzed within tournaments, results revealed
that each round’s performance was dependent on a previous
round’s performance within a tournament (there are four rounds in
a typical professional tournament). PM can further be analyzed
within a single round of a tournament. Similarly, Jackson and
Mosurski (1997) analyzed the U.S. Open and Wimbledon tennis
players’ performance within matches and found that only the PM
model could explain the outcome of matches in these tournaments.
As a whole, these findings are consistent with the earlier review
of research on “hot hand” and lend credence to Jackson and
Mosurski’s conclusion that it is time to abandon the idea of
independence between consecutive performances. More research,
however, remains to be done to discover the conditions in both
types of situations (between vs. within) that facilitate the emer-
gence of PM effects.
PM as a Mediational Link Between Consecutive
Successes
According to the mediational model (see Figure 3), the signif-
icant relationship between S
1
and S
2
is mediated by PM.S
1
contributes significantly to PM (a), which in turn has a significant
effect on S
2
(b). Finally, the magnitude of the original S
1
S
2
(c)
relationship is significantly reduced when PM is taken into ac-
count. Although no study has directly tested this mediational
model, several studies have reported empirical support for each
link (a, b, c) of the model, which therefore deductively justifies the
proposed hypothesis that PM is likely to mediate the S
1
S
2
link.
Based on their experimental work, Feather and Simon (1971)
reported that task performance is a dominant factor influencing
performers’ confidence ratings. Success reliably improves confi-
dence while failure dampens it (Feather, 1968). Iso-Ahola and
Blanchard (1986) administered a three-item questionnaire to com-
petitors during a 2-min rest period between the first and second
and between the second and third games in a state-wide racquetball
tournament. Results revealed that winners rated themselves as
better performers ability-wise than losers (p.0001), were more
confident in their abilities (p.03), and believed that they were
more likely to win the next game (p.004). Similarly, Feather
(1966) and Feather and Saville (1967) demonstrated experimen-
tally that success and failure play the dominant role in shaping
judgments of probability and expectations of success, with prior
success increasing and failure decreasing them. Based on an ex-
perimentally manipulated free-throw competition, Shaw, Dzewal-
towski, and McElroy (1992) showed that defeating an opponent
increased self-efficacy (measured as self-confidence) and per-
ceived psychological momentum; these effects were also observed
when one’s performance was compared with his or her own
previous performance independent of the opponent. Thus, these
results supported the causal S
1
PM link in both situations, with or
without a direct opponent. In another laboratory experiment, par-
ticipants competed in a staged cycling race. Results showed that
competitors’ perceptions of momentum increased markedly when
Table 1
PM in Relation Self and Opponent Perceptions
Opponent as a performer
High Low
Self as a performer
High NO PM (1) POSITIVE PM (2)
Low NEGATIVE PM (3) NO PM (4)
Psychological Momentum (PM)
a b
c
Present Success (S1) Future Success (S2)
Figure 3. Mediational model of PM.
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28 ISO-AHOLA AND DOTSON
they ostensibly “came from behind” to grab the lead (i.e., when
they succeeded; Perreault et al., 1998). There is also evidence that
those performers who experience positive momentum have higher
levels of self-efficacy than those who experience negative momen-
tum (Mack & Stephens, 2000). This is consistent with Bandura’s
(1997) theory that mastery experiences (i.e., successful perfor-
mances) effectively raise feelings of self-efficacy, which then are
associated with momentum perceptions.
The effect of success on confidence is also seen in visual
illusions. Baseball players, for example, often say that the ball
appears bigger when they are hitting well. Witt and Proffitt (2005)
demonstrated experimentally that this indeed is a psychological
phenomenon: There was a significant positive relationship be-
tween recent success at hitting and the perceived size of the ball.
In other words, increased confidence due to success made per-
formers perceive (illusion) and believe something that was not
real. These distorted perceptions and beliefs were likely accompa-
nied by other altered states of mind, such as elevated concentration
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Recent research has even shown that
this altered state of mind includes an enhanced connection between
confidence and adaptive cortical dynamics, with the net result of
improved performance and success (Hunt et al., 2013).
The emergence of PM also requires that initial success is attrib-
uted to one’s skills and effort. Such attributions mean that a
performer believes that initial success was due to his or her own
actions and not lucky breaks and other external factors. They, then,
fuel a sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy (Schunk, 1989)
and together, further heighten psychological momentum. If, on the
other hand, these attributions are made to external factors, they do
not provide a strong psychological basis for momentum effects to
materialize. Research suggests that internal attributions, however,
are likely because success is generally attributed to ability and
effort and failure to external factors (Sedikides & Gregg, 2008;
Weiner, 1985). These attributions are even more likely if perform-
ers are highly committed to their goal, as competitors typically are,
because goal commitment promotes effective responses to feed-
back by preventing performers from shifting attention away from
the task (Kappes et al., 2012).
In short, research provides strong support for the effect of initial
success on performers’ internal attributions, competence, confi-
dence, efficacy, perceived superiority over opponents, and likeli-
hood of winning or succeeding. The resultant PM becomes a
psychological force that determines how individuals see, experi-
ence, and deal with performance situations. What remains to be
examined is the effect of different types of success (e.g., “big
bang” vs. the perceived link between consecutive successes) on
momentum perceptions and on PM as a synergistic force encom-
passing various psychological qualities. A related question is about
adaptive team environments in which team members are more
efficient in allocating their attentional resources and reducing
cognitive workload (Miller et al., 2013), thereby allowing these
environments to enhance performance without additional neuro-
physiological costs (Miller et al., 2014). Adaptive team environ-
ments are characterized by perceived interpersonal competence,
mutual trust, and cohesiveness among team members. This sug-
gests that such team environments are more conducive to the
emergence of PM as they create favorable conditions for stringing
together successes. Empirical research, however, is needed to
explore these possibilities further.
Relative to the second link in the meditational model (b), does
PM have a causal effect on performance and success? Empirical
evidence suggests an affirmative answer to this question. Perreault,
et al. (1998) reported that as competitors fell behind in a cycling
race, their momentum perceptions plummeted and their perfor-
mance (i.e., measured as energy output) remained at its lowest, but
when they regained the lead their PM perceptions shot up sharply
and performance increased significantly as well. The PM–success
relationship was crucially influenced by the social comparison
aspect of competition, that is, how one performed relative to his
face-to-face opponent. It is natural that perceptions of superiority
over an opponent, and thus momentum perceptions, would de-
crease when one falls behind his or her fellow competitor, as
described in the basic model (see Table 1) and its mathematical
derivation (Formulas 1 and 2). In such a situation, the reduced
momentum is expected to trigger higher energy output as no
competitor gives up easily (Briki et al., 2013). As long as a
competitor is highly committed to his or her goal, this goal
commitment promotes effective responses (e.g., increased energy
output) to negative feedback and thus protects from giving up on
task performance (Kappes et al., 2012). It is therefore not surpris-
ing that the subsequent overcoming of temporary performance
setbacks boosts momentum and thus performance (Perreault et al.,
1998).
In addition to PM perceptions’ effect on success, according to
the PM theory, causal attributions and self-confidence (and self-
efficacy) should have a positive influence on performance. First, it
is well established that causal attributions to internal factors pro-
mote effort expenditure and task persistence, and thereby perfor-
mance success (e.g., Weiner, 1985). Second, it has been found that
those participants who become more confident after initial success
perform better subsequently than participants who exhibit less
change in confidence following success or failure (Feather, 1968).
In a related study, Witt, Linkenauger, and Proffitt (2012) found
that the visual illusion influenced participants’ motor performance.
Specifically, those who were exposed to a perceptually bigger hole
putted more successfully, presumably because they felt more con-
fident when aiming at perceptually bigger targets. Finally, in a
meta-analysis designed to determine the effects of self-confidence
on sport performance, Woodman and Hardy (2003) found a sig-
nificant overall “effect size” (0.24) for this relationship; addition-
ally, the effect size for high-standard competition (0.33) was
significantly higher than for low-standard competition (0.16).
Taken together, these findings suggest that PM indeed has a
significant effect on performance and success, as posited by the
mediational model.
It was mentioned earlier that PM becomes a psychological force
or power that influences how people feel, think, and behave in
relation to performance situations. Power generally refers to one’s
ability to influence others and more specifically, the ability to
control one’s and others’ resources, which is the essence of com-
petitive and performance situations. Burgmer and Englich (2013)
tested the effects of power on motor performance by activating
(priming) power nonconsciously. They found that participants in
the high-power priming condition performed more successfully in
two motor tasks than controls. These findings provide further
support for the idea that PM as a psychological force increases the
likelihood of success. In this force or power (and thus momentum),
many important psychological qualities (especially attributions,
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29
PSYCHOLOGICAL MOMENTUM
confidence, efficacy, concentration, and perceived probability of
success) converge in a synergistic way, enabling individuals to
perform with fearlessness and aggressiveness, with freedom and
even reckless abandon. There is no hesitation and doubt, no lack of
confidence. Anecdotally, this was evident in Serena Williams’ loss
in the 2013 Wimbledon quarterfinal match. She admitted her
inability to “play her own game” because of the opponent’s spurts
of momentum and her resultant ability to dictate pace and nature of
the game. In short, losing momentum made Williams less aggres-
sive and more hesitant, unable to control her own and the oppo-
nent’s resources. More experimental research, however, is needed
to further elucidate PM as a psychological force or power and its
impact on performance.
The above research raises a distinct possibility that psycholog-
ical momentum is an antidote to “choking.” If players get on a roll,
subjective probability of success, internal attributions, compe-
tence, confidence (and efficacy), and concentration (and physical
effort in physically demanding tasks) are enhanced and as a result,
they are less likely to be distracted or become skill focused,
conditions known to lead to choking (DeCaro, Thomas, Albert, &
Beilock, 2011). When stakes are high, pressure is also high and the
likelihood of choking concomitantly increases (Baumeister &
Showers, 1986;Lewis & Linder, 1997). Iso-Ahola and Dotson
(2014) found that psychological momentum was more likely to
surface when stakes were higher (i.e., trying to make the “cut” on
the PGA Tour). It may be that those players who can put together
a string of successful performances and grab momentum when
stakes are high are trying to succeed rather than trying to avoid
failure. Seeing momentum after making a couple of “birdies” or
difficult par saves rather than viewing them as avoidance of
disasters takes the mind away from skill failure to a possibility of
continued success. Iso-Ahola and Dotson’s (2014) data showed
that higher ranked players are such performers as they were more
efficient in putting together a longer string of cuts made, top 30,
20, and 10 performances.
All in all, research provides considerable support for the medi-
ational model and suggests that success breeds success because
PM mediates the link between consecutive successes. However, a
direct empirical verification of the model would be provided by the
data showing that the original S
1
S
2
(c) relationship is signifi-
cantly reduced when S
2
and PM are regressed on S
1
. Such a
complete mediational test remains to be done.
Does PM Moderate the Relationship Between
Consecutive Successes?
The PM theory posits that initial success (S
1
) has two major
effects: (a) it increases the likelihood of subsequent success (S
2
)in
and of itself; and (b) gives rise to psychological momentum and
enhances its strength. The former occurs when a performer ac-
quires technical know-how from his or her recent successful per-
formance and applies it next time with equally good results. For
example, a successful tennis player learns to exploit the opponent’s
weaknesses and avoid his or her strengths, and uses this knowledge
to win the next game or match. Theoretically, then, such technical
knowledge alone could be a reason for the original relationship
between S
1
and S
2
. However, if this relationship is mediated by
PM, it means that initial success not only increased technical
know-how but more importantly, created, reinforced, and length-
ened PM. Because the mediation effect, by definition, indicates
that the original S
1
S
2
relationship is severely weakened or even
completely eliminated by the inclusion of PM, it shows that the
real reason for the original relationship is psychological momen-
tum, not technical knowledge about performance. Furthermore,
technical know-how is more a matter of slowly cumulating expe-
riences than a single successful performance.
Success is a powerful variable that almost always has strong
psychological effects on performers, influencing their feelings and
cognitions, as the previously cited studies have revealed. PM is
one such influence because it is a direct outgrowth from initial
success, without which it therefore does not exist. The two are
interwoven in that initial success can create, reinforce, and
lengthen momentums, and poor performance can degrade or kill
positive PM altogether and start negative spiral. It follows that PM
is situationally determined and not a stand-alone characteristic or
resource that can modify the S
1
S
2
link independent of initial
success. This suggests a significant S
1
PM interaction, which
would be indicative of a moderation effect (c in Figure 4). In other
words, initial success with PM leads to a greater likelihood of
subsequent success than initial success without PM. In doing so,
PM modifies the S
1
S
2
link by strengthening it in interaction with
S
1
but without PM’s independent effect on S
2
(see Figure 4). This
effect can occur when a competitor, as a result of increased PM,
attains a higher level of concentration and mental effort, becomes
bolder in his or her performance, and in those activities (e.g.,
basketball) in which enhanced physical effort is beneficial, in-
creases his or her energy output (Perreault et al., 1998). Consistent
with this suggestion, recent experimental data showed that com-
pared with losers, winners exhibited greater mental effort and
engagement of task-relevant attentional processes as manifested in
lower high-alpha power across the left and right hemispheres
(Hunt et al., 2013). Further research, however, is needed to test
directly the possible moderating effects of PM.
Finally, it is also possible that there is a “moderated mediation”
effect (Baron & Kenny, 1986). As an example, PM’s mediated
effect on S
1
S
2
could be moderated by such variables as gender
and level of competition. This is indirectly supported by Woodman
and Hardy’s (2003) finding that the effect of self-confidence on
sport performance was much greater for men (effect size 0.33) than
women (0.04), suggesting that PM’s mediation effect is greater for
male performers. However, a direct test of such a moderated
mediation effect on PM remains to be undertaken.
Summary, Conclusions, and Future Research
Although the basic tenet of the PM theory posits a positive
causal relationship between consecutive successes, research sug-
gests that this relationship is mediated (or moderated) by psycho-
logical momentum. Furthermore, PM can easily be disrupted by
external events and agents, making it short-lived and temporary in
Psychological Momentum
c
Initial Success (S1) Subsequent Success (S2)
Figure 4. Moderation model of PM.
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30 ISO-AHOLA AND DOTSON
nature. It is not a stand-alone characteristic but situationally de-
termined. Initial success, whether a “big bang” type like a fero-
cious dunk of the basketball or the perceived link between two
closely occurring successes like two “birdies” in a row in golf, is
critical for the formation of PM. Without it, PM does not emerge.
Initial success creates, reinforces, and lengthens momentum. The
more momentums there are during the entire contest or perfor-
mance, the more likely is success or winning (frequency effect).
And the longer the PM can be maintained, whether due to the
frequency or intensity effect, the more likely is the success (dura-
tion effect).
PM occurs in situations where there are direct opponents (e.g.,
tennis, Presidential primaries) or where there are no face-to-face
opponents (e.g., stock market trading). In the former, two percep-
tions are critical for PM: self as performer (S
p
) and opponent as a
performer (O
p
). PM for self occurs only when S
p
O
p
and has its
greatest impact when S
p
is high and O
p
low. Initial success
enhances the value of S
p
and lowers that of O
p
. Other things held
constant, as S
p
grows (and O
p
decreases) so does PM. A boxer’s
devastating hit makes the opponent stagger and simultaneously
builds S
p
over O
p
, resulting in higher PM. However, even a large
S
p
over O
p
would not automatically guarantee an equally large PM
if the perception of superiority over the opponent did not translate
in a performer’s mind into an increased likelihood of success (W
l
).
A competitor has to not only feel that he or she is much better than
the opponent but also, sense that there is a great likelihood of
victory or success. Therefore, W
l
has to be introduced into the
formula (the O
p
/S
p
ratio multiplied by W
l
), which then corrects for
the overestimation of PM if it is determined only on the basis of
the S
p
and O
p
perceptions. In situations where no direct opponents
exist, the same three perceptions (S
p,
O
p
,W
l
) are equally critical
for PM, with the only difference being that O
p
is less specific (e.g.,
the perceived difficulty of a golf course rather than a direct
opponent). Continual climb of one’s stock portfolio builds a trad-
er’s S
p,
diminishes O
p
(or the perceived difficulty of managing the
stock portfolio’s movement), and increases the perceived likeli-
hood of success in trading, and thus elevates PM. A trader’s
likelihood of mismanaging his or her stock portfolio rises in a
direct proportion to a reduction in PM.
Preliminary evidence for the “mediation” effect comes from two
sets of studies: (a) those that have shown present success (S
1
)to
increase PM perceptions, causal attributions to internal factors,
self-confidence, self-efficacy, and competence in particular; and
(2) those that have demonstrated PM perceptions and confidence
to significantly improve performance or increase the likelihood of
success (S
2
). For example, it is well documented that initial suc-
cess increases confidence and confidence in turn subsequent suc-
cess. Similarly, research has shown that initial success increases
attributions to internal factors, which in turn lead to higher effort
expenditure and task persistence. Such attributions signify that a
performer believes his or her skills and effort, not lucky breaks and
other external factors, were critical for success. These attributions
are more likely if goal commitment is high, as it typically is among
competitors. A high goal commitment also promotes effective
responses to failure, thereby preventing performers from shifting
their attention away from the task and losing momentum. Taken
together, although research supports both the S
1
PM and PM–S
2
links of the mediation model, in a complete test of the mediation
effect, the original S
1
S
2
link has to be shown to decrease signif-
icantly when S
2
and PM are regressed on S
1
. This test is yet to be
conducted.
PM can also “moderate” the S
1
S
2
relationship. This would be
evinced by a significant S
1
PM interaction effect. Accordingly,
initial success with PM leads to a greater likelihood of subsequent
success than initial success without PM. In other words, PM
modifies the S
1
S
2
link by strengthening it without PM’s indepen-
dent effect on S
2
. Finally, tentative evidence suggests that the
mediation effect may be moderated by certain factors, such as
gender because it has been found that self-confidence has a greater
effect on men’s than women’s sport performance. Level of com-
petition (high vs. low standard competition) has also been shown
to moderate this relationship. It remains to be determined what
other moderators might influence the PM mediation effect.
The proposed theory integrates the previous research into a
coherent model and postulates that success breeds success because
the effect of initial success is more psychological than technical.
That is, as a result of initial success, PM becomes a psychological
force in which various qualities converge in a synergistic way.
Performers attribute success to their skills and effort, are confident
and efficacious, concentrate better, believe in their abilities, think
they are better than their opponents, and consequently expect to
succeed. Such perceptions combine into one overarching force,
psychological momentum, which astute performers seek to ride as
long as possible. It is conceivable that success contributes to
continued success in and of itself, for example, when a tennis
player learns to exploit the opponent’s weaknesses. However,
acquisition of such technical knowledge is a matter of cumulating
experiences rather than a single successful performance and thus,
by itself, would not be expected to have much influence on the
outcome. On the other hand, if technical know-how, in conjunction
with initial success, increases one’s perceived superiority over an
opponent, then it can contribute significantly to PM and subse-
quent success. Such influences remain to be explored empirically.
Some performers appear to be quick to see and capitalize on
PM, although others seem to be more hesitant. Besides individual
differences, it is also important to understand when and under what
conditions PM is lost and how tenaciously performers cling to it,
how much failure they can tolerate before they cede PM to oppo-
nents. In sports contexts, hanging on tenaciously to PM and
believing in its resurgence may be positive, but in stock market day
trading, it is likely to be a killer. It is known that about 90% of day
traders lose their money, probably because they stubbornly believe
that they still have momentum on their side when, in fact, it is an
illusion. Indeed, evidence indicates that gamblers overestimate the
importance of momentum (Arkes, 2011), causing them to overstay
in momentum-based bets. Perceiving momentum where there is
none can be blinding and hazardous, and not perceiving momen-
tum where there is one can be frustrating and discouraging. How
to become better at accurately detecting momentum and at profit-
ably capitalizing on it in various domains of human performance
remains to be explored in the future. Another fruitful area for
future research concerns the question on how PM is actively
sought and managed by performers. In Presidential elections, for
example, candidates intentionally seek to establish PM by trying to
win certain small states (by electoral vote counts) in efforts to
string together small victories in order to create a perception of an
ever-growing snow ball of psychological momentum.
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31
PSYCHOLOGICAL MOMENTUM
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Received October 7, 2013
Revision received February 24, 2014
Accepted February 27, 2014
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33
PSYCHOLOGICAL MOMENTUM
... Finally, the underlying factors that give rise to change in health are poorly understood. Because an SSD intervention requires employees to change their patterns of behavior, process-oriented models of self-regulating processes during goal pursuit [14,15] and psychological momentum theory [16][17][18] provide conceptual frameworks that can help us to understand the effects of an intervention. More precisely, the velocity (i.e., the rate of change in an individual's health with respect to time; also known as speed) and the acceleration (i.e., the rate of change in velocity) of improvements in people's health can be decisive for positive affect and satisfaction (e.g., [19,20]) and thus ultimately for the success of an intervention [21]. ...
... Psychological momentum (PM) theory [16][17][18] provides another conceptual framework for understanding the psychological mechanisms that may facilitate or inhibit healthy behavioral practices. PM is based on the notion that future behavior is more likely to be consistent with past behavior, because this earlier behavior has unleashed a psychological force or impulse that effects performance. ...
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This study is part of the human-artificial system collaboration op-timisation for the development of autonomous vehicles, by opti-mising a cognitive model of anticipation for use by AI specialists. The research question is whether the spatial representation elicited by auditory-verbal stimulation includes the same properties as the visuospatial anticipation modelled in the Vector Addition model. In the present study, non-pilot and pilot trainees listened to stimuli describing the spatial position of aircraft relative to them. They were then asked to place them on a GPS map. This study shows two new results: (1) the spatial representation developed from audio-verbal information has an anticipatory component and (2) this anticipation is time-bound. This is encouraging to consider a more complete model of anticipation whose formalisation can be used by AI specialists in the design of future artificial agents for autonomous vehicles.
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