Are you smarter than a kindergartener? Or do you just want someone to confirm you are?
(Click above to get to the puzzle on NYTimes.com)
If you're like me, you probably assumed that B is double A and C is double B and entered something like this first:
And then maybe something like this:
And then maybe a few more sequences along those lines. Yes! Yes! Yes! Winning! I also thought throwing in a 0 might reveal something useful.
Hmm, could it be there was an exception for when A=0? I decided I didn't care anymore and clicked the button for the explanation. The answer?
The answer was extremely basic. The rule was simply: Each number must be larger than the one before it. 5, 10, 20 satisfies the rule, as does 1, 2, 3 and -17, 14.6, 845.
Oh, so in other words, I'm too smart for this puzzle. Nice! Oh, wait. It goes on:
But most people start off with the incorrect assumption that if we're asking them to solve a problem, it must be a somewhat tricky problem. They come up with a theory for what the answer is, like: Each number is double the previous number. And then they make a classic psychological mistake.
So because you naturally want to believe you're correct, you go looking for information that confirms your prior beliefs. That's why I (and maybe you) entered so many sequences I thought would give me a "Yes!" but only one or two that risked a "No." Uh oh. Does this mean that in psychological terms, I'm totally basic?
The phenomenon is called "confirmation bias" and it plagues decision makers at all levels. From your personal daily choices to those of political leaders and corporate CEOs, none of us ever wants to hear "no," so we only ask questions that will get us a "yes."
The lesson here?
When you want to test a theory, don't just look for examples that prove it. When you're considering a plan, think in detail about how it might go wrong.
Good advice, at least according to the New York Times and all of the other blogs I will now look to for confirmation that I understood this correctly.