This New York Times numbers puzzle is messing with our minds

In case you’ve been away from Facebook for the afternoon (in which case, congratulations and can you please tell us all of your secrets for resisting temptation), a fun puzzle on the New York Times’ Upshot blog has been making the rounds about how people solve problems.

The concept is pretty straightforward – the Times gives you three numbers (2, 4, 8) and lets you test out your numeric theories for what the rule is for that sequence. Do the numbers double? Do they have to be even? You can try out by testing your own numbers here, or if you’re impatient like we are, simply skip ahead to the answer.

The answer? Simply that each number must be larger than the one that came before it. There’s no complex mathematical formula or trend beyond that, but the puzzle’s been baffling people all day all the same.

According to the Times, people’s assumption that the question is a tricky one is based on the deep-founded psychological desire not to hear the word “no.”

They said that a full 77% of their test takers correctly guessed the answer to the riddle, but without asking a question where “no” was an answer (like trying out the number sequence 3, 2, 1).

The test is an adaptation of one used by Cathcard Wason, an English psychiatrist, in the 1960s, to test confirmation bias, or recalling information that confirms your pre-existing beliefs.

Another reason so many people are prone to confirmation bias? No one really likes hearing “no” for an answer.

So maybe the Debbie Downers of the world really do have a point – it’s good to tackle issues from all fronts instead of just looking at the positive.

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