Magazine article Psychology Today

Things Are Looking Down

Magazine article Psychology Today

Things Are Looking Down

Article excerpt

LIFE HAPPENS in sequences: The unemployment rate grows for a few months and then declines for a month or two. A team goes on a losing streak and then wins a few games in a row. You have several frustrating days at work, and then a project starts to go well.

Sometimes, you chalk up the change to dumb luck. Other times, it seems to reflect that something fundamental has shifted and that the streak is likely to continue. How much evidence do you need to decide whether a change is significant? University of Chicago psychologists Ed O'Brien and Nadav Klein recently addressed this question in the Journal ofPersonality and Social Psychology. The answer, their findings suggest, depends on whether things seem to be getting better or worse.

In one study, participants were asked to imagine several kinds of positive or negative trends-for example, in an athlete's recent performance or a gambler's luck. In each case, they were asked how many of the next 10 events would have to be good or bad in order for them to conclude that there had been a lasting change. …

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