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Study Finds Round Numbers Are Strong Motivators

MONDAY, Jan. 24 (HealthDay News) -- There's a much greater chance that U.S. high school students will retake the SAT if they score just below a round number (such as 1200) than if they score just above it, a new study suggests.

Researchers analyzed a set of SAT scores from 1994 to 2001 and found gaps just below 1000, 1100, 1200 and so on. This indicates that students who got those scores were more likely to retake the test and have their score below a round number replaced by another score, according to the authors.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, shows that round numbers are strong motivators.

The change in SAT scores probably didn't make a big difference in the students' lives, noted Uri Simonsohn of the University of Pennsylvania. He's concerned that students who score just under a round number might be wasting their time retaking the SAT to achieve a pointless goal rather than doing something more productive.

In an experiment, Simonsohn and colleague Devin Pope, of the University of Chicago, found that people who imagined running laps were more likely to say they'd do another lap if they had completed 19 rather than 20.

The findings show that round numbers have a strong effect and that people will take major action to reach round number-related goals, the researchers said.

More information

For a brief essay on the psychology of numbers, visit the archives of the University of Waterloo.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Psychological Science, news release, Jan. 19, 2011

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