What causes a “hot hand” feeling in basketball?

Many athletes and other people believe in a “hot hand” phenomenon: that a basketball player who sinks several baskets in a row is “hot” and is more likely than average to sink his next basket as well. But based on statistical analysis this doesn't seem to be true.

Here's a possible reason that people might feel as if it were true. When you're learning to perform a task for the first time, a “hot hand” type of belief is probably both factually correct (you actually are more likely to get it right if you just got it right a minute ago) and also adaptive (do it right→more confidence→do it the same way again, do it wrong→less confidence→do something different).

The basketball players under discussion have skills that are more or less mature.  They're not going to get measurably better at shooting over the course of a game. But maybe part of the brain doesn't “know” that. From the point of view of this learning mechanism in the brain, maybe the fact that you just sunk a few baskets indicates that you've learned something new about shooting, so it's time to positively reinforce that learning with a flush of confidence. As long as this “hot hand” feeling isn't actually harmful, there's not much reason for it to distinguish between developing skills and mature skills, if such a distinction is even possible.