Can't figure out what makes this mental "magic" trick work
October 1, 2010 10:09 AM   Subscribe

How does this trick work?

I remember someone doing this in middle school, and I've never learned why it works.
posted by Busoni to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think most of it is in the "quick, think of a vegetable". For most people, that will probably get you either carrot or celery (common vegetables). I also noticed that right below that was "arrow down", which I read to myself, then subconsciously searched for vegetables that sounded like "arrow".

Most things like this are pretty subliminal. For some really interesting stuff, look for Derren Brown's "subliminal advertising" experiment.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:14 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the "six" part is a red herring, to keep you from priming on the final question. It turns out it doesn't much matter what you ask before-hand - the most common vegetable will be carrot.

Look for Derren Brown's "subliminal advertising" experiment

Derren Brown is a magician - his "explanation" for how his tricks work are part of his act.
posted by muddgirl at 10:16 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I also noticed that right below that was "arrow down", which I read to myself, then subconsciously searched for vegetables that sounded like "arrow".

Now that's interesting, because I thought "marrow", which is a British vegetable name and not used over here, but it was what popped up despite only knowing it from seeing it in brit lit once a year or so.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:22 AM on October 1, 2010


[folks, OP is asking a question about why it works when it works "it didn't work for me" doesn't really get there. Little help? Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:24 AM on October 1, 2010


I figured that "six" rhymes with "sticks," which would be naturally associated with "carrot." But perhaps I'm overthinking a plate of quick-name-a-vegetable.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:25 AM on October 1, 2010


This works, I think, simply because "carrot" is the archetypal vegetable for enough people that it will work enough times for it to be regarded as working.

There's been other work, as I recall, to demonstrate that if you ask a roomful of people to pcik a number between 1 and 100, a sizable number will pick 37.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:27 AM on October 1, 2010


I did think "carrot" (and somehow felt foolish about it).

My explanation is that when asked to think of "a vegetable", my mind passed
over things like peas, beans, corn, beets, etc. because they aren't "a
vegetable" to me so much as they are "vegetables". I wouldn't say, "please give me
give me a corn or a pea or a bean", but I would say "please give me a
carrot".

In this context, answering cucumber, eggplant, etc. also makes good sense.
posted by Right On Red at 10:28 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Right On Red's theory makes sense to me. I thought of "a pumpkin."
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:35 AM on October 1, 2010


I've always heard it explained that people think of the word "Carrot" because we're used to hearing numbers before the word "Carat." As in "12 carat gold, 14 carat gold", etc.

So after hearing a bunch of numbers, the word "Carat" is in our heads, which is the first vegetable we think of when asked.

I don't know if this is the real reason but it sounded logical to me when I heard it when I was 12.
posted by bondcliff at 10:41 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think there are any "right" answers for this, so I'll throw in my own wild guess:

The word "six" sounds like "sex," especially when you're repeating it many times as fast as you can. And then when you're asked to think of a vegetable, your dirty mind jumps to phallic shapes. I thought of a cucumber, FWIW.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 11:00 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought "broccoli" and then heard the word "carrot" in my head, as if somebody had said it.
posted by stubby phillips at 11:08 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm quite certain it's the fact that most people (in the US) have had lifelong positive reinforcement of the carrot as a year-round "safe" mild acceptable easy to make vegetable.

I always think "tomato," because I'm a little OCD about food and eat, on average, 5 to 10 tomatoes a week.
posted by SMPA at 11:13 AM on October 1, 2010


Are any of you taking this out for a try doing it cold? That is to say, trying it without ever having heard any mention of this before? My guess is that not too many of you are; this is an old playground staple.

So, could it be that for the 98% of folks who've run across this before, carrot is lurking in the back of your mind somewhere -- "I know this; I'm supposed to say 'carrot,' right?" -- pushing you to that end. The vegetarian equivalent of "Don't think of elephants," or some such thing?

As I was doing the math, I remembered that there was some sort of food thing coming up. And when I got to the question itself, I thought "rutabaga." But I'd be lying if I said that there wasn't some level of consciousness that was thinking "You know what? I'll be damned if I say 'carrot' again."
posted by .kobayashi. at 11:16 AM on October 1, 2010


Are any of you taking this out for a try doing it cold?

I did it cold AND I thought of a carrot. I've heard of a similar "mind reading" trick that involves thinking of, like, a color that begins with B, a state that begins with D, and an animal that begins with E, ending up with something like 75% of the audience thinking of the same phrase.
posted by muddgirl at 11:26 AM on October 1, 2010


Another aspect might be that you're scrolling and reading pretty narrowly downward as you do this, like a carrot grows, so you're kind of being led. Be interesting in a different visual configuration, like horizontally.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:32 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Science:

"There’s a thing floating around the internet where it asks you a bunch of math questions really quickly, then asks you to think of a vegetable. It’s here.

"I proposed, on Reddit, that this is because 90% of people (a number I made up) think of carrot when asked to think of a vegetable. I was called out on this number, so I decided to run an experiment. The hypothesis is that the math questions have nothing to do with it, other than distracting you, so you have a rapid response. I set up a series of Mechanical Turk hits, in two groups. Group 1 had a single question: 'Name a vegetable'. Group 2 was a little more complicated. As with the original, it asked 7 questions, then the 8th 'Name a vegetable.'

"To investigate the role that the math has to do with it, there were four groups of questions in Group 2. The first was the same as the questions in the gif above. The 2nd were historical questions. The 3rd were different math questions. The fourth was color questions (often involving fruit, but no vegetables). It was emphasized that the HITs would still be approved if the questions were incorrectly answered.

"Average time for the Group 1 (single question) was 13 seconds, and Group 2 (8 questions) was 43 seconds. Each HIT was presented to 20 different people.

"Results are being analyzed now. You can download the raw files here.

"Except in one group, the most common vegetable was carrot (20-45%), followed by cucumber.

"Very preliminary results are:

"20 Respondants when asked 'Name a vegetable' (alone): 45% Answered 'Carrot' 15% Answered: 'Cucumber', 'Spinach', or 'Tomato' 10% Answered 'Onion' 5% Answered 'Broccoli'

"Of 80 survey respondants, in all groups: 15% answered 'Carrot' 10% answered 'Cucumber' 10% answered 'Tomato' 8% answered 'Onion'

"Of the 20 who answered the questions in this image: 25% answered carrot 10% Cucumber 10% Onion 10% Brinjal (a type of eggplant)

"Of the 20 who answered the other math questions: 20% answered carrot

"Of the 20 who answered color questions (one question was what color is a tomato): 10% answered carrot 20% answered tomato

"Of the 20 who answered the history questions: 30% answered carrot All others were 5%"
posted by grumblebee at 11:43 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, anything like this will "work" to an extent. I could put up a web page that said "Think of a color and then click this button!" And, upon clicking, you see, "The color you picked was GREEN!"

People who didn't pick green will say "bah," get bored and move on. But a certain percentage of people will be REALLY amazed at my mind-reading skills.
posted by grumblebee at 11:46 AM on October 1, 2010


I thought of a "beet," I think because it has few letters, and "six" has few letters.
posted by np312 at 11:49 AM on October 1, 2010


Here, let me blow your mind.

There is no trick.

Or rather, the trick is, it makes you think a trick is happening, when there isn't.

The trick is that you're just gullible.

Look again at how the "trick" is revealed.

You're thinking of a carrot, right?

If not, you're among the 2% of the
population whose minds are different
enough to think of something else.
98% of people will answer with carrot when given this exercise.
Freaky, huh?


Pay attention to the "if not" sentence.

Look, some people are going to say carrot, and some people won't. Whatever the breakdown is, it's not 98-2.

If you didn't think of a carrot, you are told you are in a select 2% group "whose minds are different enough to think of something else." You are flattered about this fact, and move on.

If you did think of a carrot, a blanket assertion -- with no evidence provided -- that you've been the subject of a trick, along with 98% of everyone else, makes you go, "Whoa! This is incredible."

If you answered "carrot" and fell for the 98-2 line, you are more likely than not to pass this along to a friend. "Look at this, this is neat."

That friend may or may not choose carrot like you. If they don't, they are flattered and move on. If they do, they may react themselves, and even reinforce your reaction. "Whoa! It happened to me, too! This is really cool."

And that's how viral marketing works.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:50 AM on October 1, 2010 [13 favorites]


This is also an old Penn and Teller trick from one of their books, only the idea was that you'd just ask someone to name a vegetable and take a picture of them using a doctored polaroid that had a carrot exposed on it. The questions have nothing to do with it, the idea is that you get someone to just reflexively name a vegetable.

My girlfriend whose mother tongue is Russian (although English has been her primary language for 10 years now) answered cucumber when I tried it on her a while back., so there could very well be some cultural variance.
posted by mikesch at 12:00 PM on October 1, 2010


carrot, pea, bean, okra, squash, tomato, broccoli, rutabaga, Brussels sprout, cauliflower, cabbage, pumpkin, radish, lettuce, endive, cucumber, eggplant, spinach.

That's my extremely scientific 'list of vegetables I thought of in a minute or two'. You'll notice, perhaps, that in this list there are 6 vegetables with 6 letters.
  1. Nobody likes squash
  2. sprout is more a stage through which some other vegetable passes. Plus, the singular thing is clunky - you only ever hear 'sprouts'
  3. Radishes are great, sure, but they aren't really a staple
  4. Endive? No way.
So that leaves carrot and tomato. And everyone knows that there is some sort of controversy about whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables. So that leaves carrot as the only acceptable 6 letter vegetable. It's totally obvious.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:05 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's the Perfect Prediction scam, with only one round.
posted by zamboni at 12:07 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I figured that "six" rhymes with "sticks," which would be naturally associated with "carrot."

That's exactly what happened when I tried it. I really wanted to think of broccoli, but carrot popped into my head first.
posted by TedW at 12:25 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's the Perfect Prediction scam, with only one round.
posted by zamboni at 12:07 PM on October 1 [-] [!]


Yes, that! That's what I was trying to pinpoint. I didn't know it actually had a formal name.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:34 PM on October 1, 2010


.kobayashi.: "And when I got to the question itself, I thought "rutabaga.""

That's really weird, because I had no idea what was coming, but I also thought 'rutabaga.' I have no idea why, I couldn't even tell you the last time I ate or even saw one.
posted by CrayDrygu at 5:19 PM on October 1, 2010


That's really weird, because I had no idea what was coming, but I also thought 'rutabaga.' I have no idea why, I couldn't even tell you the last time I ate or even saw one.

I just like how the word sounds.
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:45 PM on October 1, 2010


My internal monalogue went "sixsixsixsixsixsixsixsix sticks no wait - carrot." So I'd be interested to see what you'd get if you tried it with another number.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:24 PM on October 1, 2010


After this was posted on reddit there was a long thread where people listed their answers and many of them were definitely not carrot, which prompted someone used the Mechanical Turk to ask 194 people to name a vegetable and recorded their answers. Carrot was the top result, but it was only 34%. So yes, as Cool Papa Bell said, the trick is convincing you that a trick even exists.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:47 AM on October 2, 2010


I really wanted to think of broccoli, but carrot popped into my head first.

Wait... WHAT?

That's the most brilliant comment I've EVER read on Metafilter. Maybe on ANY site.
posted by grumblebee at 2:29 PM on October 2, 2010


I asked my wife, "quick name a vegetable" without the sixes and she answered, "carrot".
posted by notned at 6:32 PM on October 2, 2010


I asked my wife to name a vegetable and " green pepper" was her answer. I may try the actual trick on her tomorrow and see what happens.

I am flattered by your praise, grumblebee.
posted by TedW at 7:58 PM on October 2, 2010


I asked my wife to name a vegetable and "Thomas" was her answer.
posted by euphorb at 12:34 AM on October 12, 2010


I know I'm super late to the party but isn't the thing above the 6 on a keyboard called a carrot?
posted by citywolf at 1:25 PM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Since you were so late I'll join in and say that when I tried the actual trick on my wife, "sweet potato" was her answer, so yeah, it doesn't work reliably.
posted by TedW at 3:20 PM on October 19, 2010


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