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17: The Most Popular Random Number

based on 73 ratings
Author: Shelly Smith

Grade Level: 4th to 8th; Type: Social Science, Psychology

Objective:

This project explores whether people’s choice of a “random” number is not so random after all.

Research Question:

  • Will a disproportionately high percentage of people, when asked to randomly choose a number between one and 20 inclusive, select the number 17?

Apparently the answer to the above question is a resounding “yes.” In trial after trial, the number 17 always gets chosen most often. Don’t believe it? Experiment on your friends.

Materials:

  • Test subjects
  • Paper and pencil for recording and analyzing data

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Ask as many people as possible to randomly select a number between one and twenty. Record answers.
  2. Analyze results. What percentage of people choose the number 17?
  3. Assuming the number 17 did indeed occur most frequently, consider possible reasons for this bias. In doing so you might consider factors such as odd/even, prime, and cultural significance.

Terms/Concepts: 17, random, odd/even, prime, cultural significance

References:

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