Research highlight

Social science: Hot streaks in artistic, cultural and scientific careers analysed


July 12, 2018

Hot streaks, or periods of repeated successes, can emerge randomly within an individual’s career, are temporally localized and are not associated with any detectable change in productivity, according to a study published online in Nature this week.

The hot streak, loosely defined as ‘winning begets more winnings’, highlights a specific period during which an individual’s performance is substantially higher than typical. Although widely debated in sports, gambling, and financial markets, little is known about whether hot streaks apply to individual careers.

Dashun Wang and colleagues collected datasets recording the career histories of 3,480 individual artists, 6,233 film directors and 20,040 scientists, tracing the impacts of the artworks, films and papers they produced, approximated by auction prices, IMDb ratings and citations garnered after 10 years of publication, respectively. The authors found that the vast majority of artists (91%), film directors (82%) and scientists (90%) had at least one hot streak, with a burst of high-impact works occurring in sequence, and that they could occur randomly within a career. They also found that individuals showed no detectable change in productivity during hot streaks, despite the fact that their outputs in this period were significantly better than typical, which suggests an internal shift in individual creativity when the hot streak occurs.

doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0315-8

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