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The Psychology of Guessing


On any given day, most humans make a guess or two. It might be the approximate time, the amount of flour to put in a pancake (100g), or how long it will take to walk to the market and back. This skill might seem more like a party trick than anything important but guessing has a role to play in many aspects of human interaction.

Favorite Number

When most of us think of guessing, gaming is often one of the first things to come to mind. In roulette, players need to state where they think a steel ball might land when the wheel stops spinning. This can be anything from a red or black pocket to an odd or even number. People who play roulette games online usually get a few extra choices based on the game variant but, essentially, the rules are unchanging.

clocksRoulette is designed to be a game of chance, where no one number has a greater likelihood of coming up than any other. This encapsulates the whole idea of guessing, i.e. that we’re taking a stab at something entirely unknowable. In the previous cases, such as guessing the time, we often have some assistance, such as the quality of light, the temperature, or even the weight of traffic outside.
Number games always raise interesting problems as far as guessing is concerned. For example, Newcastle University found that 85% of women chose a number less than 30 when quizzed about their favorite number, while men trended much higher, with an equal percentage of people plumbing for a number less than 64. The most popular number for both sexes was seven, representing 12.6% of all the digits chosen.


Favorite numbers, inclusive of dates of birth, soccer positions, door numbers, and all sorts of other things often end up as part of somebody’s personality, appearing in passwords and of course, guessing games. There’s a theory that seven is so popular because the dendrites in our brains also like the number seven. The strength of our memory seems to have a limit of seven objects, for instance, before things get confusing.

photosThis explains why we favor the same lucky numbers in roulette or lottery games. Cultural factors make a difference, especially in the case of the “unlucky” thirteen, which only got 4.1% of the vote in the Newcastle University study. Guessing ultimately comes down to the strange relationship that all things have with the concept of randomness.
We struggle creating random arrangements of things; there’s both rhyme and reason to all the guesses we make. In encryption circles, a pseudo-random number generator is the closest we can get to true randomness. It’s a random process in name only – although, much more so than a human can come up with.
Overall, guessing is an incredibly useful aspect of our lives – but there are still mysteries surrounding such a seemingly innocuous thing.