Two word games that trick everyone

Playing two classic schoolyard games can help us understand everything from sexism to the power of advertising.

There's a word game we used to play at my school, or a sort of trick, and it works like this. You tell someone they have to answer some questions as quickly as possible, and then you rush at them the following:

"What's one plus four?!"

"What's five plus two?!"

"What's seven take away three?!"

"Name a vegetable?!"

Nine times out of 10 people answer the last question with "Carrot".

Now I don't think the magic is in the maths questions. Probably they just warm your respondent up to answering questions rapidly.

What is happening is that, for most people, most of the time, in all sorts of circumstances, the carrot is simply the first vegetable that comes to mind.

This seemingly banal fact reveals something about how our minds organise information. There are dozens of vegetables, and depending on your love of fresh food you might recognise a good proportion.

If you had to list them you'd probably forget a few you know, easily reaching a dozen and then slowing down.

And when you're pressured to name just one as quickly as possible, you forget even more and just reach for the most obvious vegetable you can think of - and often that's a carrot.

In cognitive science, we say the carrot is "prototypical" - for our idea of a vegetable, it occupies the centre of the web of associations which defines the concept.

You can test prototypicality directly by timing how long it takes someone to answer whether the object in question belongs to a particular category.

We take longer to answer "yes" if asked "is a penguin a bird?" than if asked "is a robin a bird?", for instance.

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