Horse raceEveryone wants to pick a winner, but figuring out who’s on a roll and who’s not is tricky. Three in a row seems to be the key. But is Hillary or Barack on a streak? And what about all those men’s and women’s basketball teams in the NCAA tournaments?

Suzanne Shu, assistant professor of marketing in SMU’s Cox School of Business, and co-author Kurt Carlson of Duke University got to thinking about perceived streaks and who – or what – is hot. In “The Rule of Three: How the third event signals the emergence of a streak,” published in the September 2007 Organizational Behavior and Decision Processes, they find evidence that “3” holds significance in the minds of observers across many domains. In five studies, the authors noted direct and indirect evidence that perceived “streakiness” plateaus with the third repeat outcome in a sequence. The rule of three also draws support from human learning and cognition, such as the optimal number in advertising exposures, and perception and judgment in the role of patterns. Read more from SMU News.