James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, November 15, 2010

How To Baffle People

The weekend before last, I encountered an NFL Network show on the "Ten Best Quarterbacks of the 1980's."

I knew, or thought I knew, who the top 3 would be. I was mistaken. When John Elway came in at #4, I spent the segment devoted to him trying to think who #3 (or #2) would be: I KNEW that Dan Marino would be #3 or #2, and that Joe Montana would be #1. So who was the missing guy?

I started to go team-by-team, and I had it figured out by the end of the next commercial break. The mystery man turned out to be #3.

But I thought it was an intriguing mystery, and offered it to friends and family. I asked them, "Here are the NFL Network's Top Ten quarterbacks of the 1980's. Who's #3?"

10. Jim McMahon
9. Bernie Kosar
8. Dave Krieg
7. Joe Theismann
6. Boomer Esiason
5. Phil Simms
4. John Elway
3. ???
2. Dan Marino
1. Joe Montana

Someone eventually got it, as a second guess. But everyone initially gave the wrong answer.

I think the reason is that I gave out too many names. It threw them for a loop. When a list has several good-but-not-Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks on it (#10 through #5), one starts to be thinking in that category of player, and forgets the Hall of Famer.

That's why I asked the question; I thought it would "fool" people into not thinking of the obvious answer. I was right.

I think with a blank slate, if each person would have been asked who they thought were the ten best quarterbacks of the 1980's, they would have gone team-by-team and compiled their list, and this guy would have appeared on EVERYONE'S list.

But because they were bombarded with these other names, some who may have a dubious claim to being on the Top Ten, it got their minds on the wrong track and they forgot a Hall of Famer.

Not exactly a scientific psychological experiment - the sample size was too small - but to me it was a fascinating insight into how the mind works.

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