Random Number Poll – Answers

Some time ago, I asked you to Pick a Random Number. There were 560 responses and I thank all who took the poll. I have now closed the poll, but may reopen it in the future.


I wanted to know: Do we humans have an inherent bias in simply picking a number between 1 – 10? This was no prize here; no religion, race, nationality or relationship was at stake. You simply picked a number. If a computer picked a number, we’d get a random pick and each of the ten numbers would be picked equally (1/10th or 10% of the time), resulting in an uniform distribution.

We got a dramatically different distribution. Here are the results and my interpretation. Please share your thoughts as comments.

How frequently a random number is picked - a distribution by Arun Shanbhag

The Answer is 7!
Poll takers clearly had a strong affinity to the number 7, and picked it 24% of the time! Nearly two and a half times more than the predicted ideal of 10%. I will discuss 7 later, but lets quickly take care of the rest of the numbers.

End Aversion:
There appears to be a strong dislike to picking End numbers 1 and 10. Only 4% picked 1. Folks disliked 10 even more with only 2% selecting it. End aversion carried over to number 2 as well, and number 2 was picked by 5% of poll-takers.

Note, the poll did not permit me to use the number 0, thus I used 10. The numbers were thus arranged as: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, with 1 and 10 as the ends. If I had used 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, then 0 and 9 would be the ends, possibly altering the results.

3,4,5,6,8,9:
Other than 1,2,7 and 10, the other six numbers: 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 were nearly uniformly distributed with 9-13 % of picks. We expected all the numbers to be in this range.

What’s with 7:
Seeking reasons for our affinity to 7, I did not find any unifying reason. Many cultural and religious traditions have associations with 7, but nothing exclusively.

Vishnu's ten avataars Arun ShanbhagIn the Hindu tradition (Sanatana Dharma), 7 does not predominate. Prominently we have Vishnu’s dasha-avataar (ten incarnations); Nav-ratri (nine nights) celebrations honoring Nav-Durga (nine forms of Goddess Devi). The nine planetary bodies (navagrahas); 15 days of the waxing or waning moon, 12 months of the year and the 27 constellations finely guiding our lives.

Durga's 700 verses Arun ShanbhagHindu scriptures do refer to the 7 nether worlds and 7 tiers of heaven. Two of our most sacred books, the Bhagvad Gita and the Durga Devi’s Devi Mahatmyam each have 700 verses, with the latter commonly known as SaptaShati ( seven hundred)! Hindus believe all humans are descended from one of seven sages (sapta rishis). The popular temple of Tirupati is located on the seven hills of Tirumala, where Prabhu Venkatesha reigns.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God apparently created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. You have the seven virtues, seven deadly sins; seven years of plenty and seven of famine. Seven days of Passover. But there are TEN commandments.

Islam has references to seven heavens and seven hells. Devotees go around the sacred Kaaba, seven times. Islam also has the seven vices.

Thus, associations to 7 seem to be sprinkled in all religious traditions, suggesting that if humans have an inherent bias to 7, it predates modern religion.


The earliest reference I could find to 7 was to the Sumerian culture from 4,500 – 3000 bce. Scholars of that tradition believe that earth was visited by members of another planetary body called Niburu (or Planet X) which had its orbit outside of Pluto. From their vantage point, earth was the “Seventh” planet (Pluto, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Earth). This was depicted on many stone tablets from that era. The Sumerians seemed to have developed the concept of 7 days in a week and also gave us the 12 signs of the zodiac and 12 associated months in a year.
Sumerian stone tablet possibly depicting that Earth is the seventh planet Arun Shanbhag
Pic from here. Findings from the Sumerian culture are fascinating, but well beyond my area of expertise. Read more here. Much of this rests on the work of archaeologist Zecharia Sitchin, who is mentioned in a couple of the videos I have appended at the end.

Bottom Line:
Humans clearly have an inherent affinity to the number 7, but I can not tell you the basis of this affinity. This is NOT explained on the basis of modern religion. We certainly have a well-recognized aversion to being at the ends. I think there are very interesting ways this information can be used in picking lottery numbers, or any companies which provide customer-initiated offers.

Please share your thoughts. What does the finding tell you? Why do YOU think we pick the number 7?


Videos on the Sumerian culture

7 thoughts on “Random Number Poll – Answers

Add yours

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7_(number)#Religion

    The seventh son of the seventh son is supposed to be twice blessed, blessed with a second sight among men, says the Bible.

    Hinduism has the sapta rishis, the 7 ragas, the 7 seas, the 7 continents …

    Seven does seem to be somewhat more special than other numbers in various symbolisms.

    However I believe in human choices of pseudo random numbers it’s much simpler – our mind is influenced by a desire to be “random”. In our head we associate random with the unusual or the unexpected – an odd number gives us a greater feeling of randomness than an even, and a prime even more so.

    I’d expect people picked 7 because it appears the most unusual of the number set {1…10}

    1. Cheeni,
      Thank you for sharing that. Hindus certainly have their (?) share of 7, but it is not exclusive. The bigger question is WHY? I like the thought of a bias to the primes. Need to check more on that.

      Thank you and hope you are having a wonderful weekend.
      Best
      Arun

  2. It’s assumed 7 is a lucky number, so even if there was no prize attached to the poll our automatic reflex is to pick ‘lucky’. I too would have picked 7 or 9…but definitely not eight, six, four or two… I personally have a bias towards odd numbers! Interesting post.

    1. Thank you Preena for sharing your thoughts.
      Interesting about your preference for odd numbers. I will re-cut the data and check if there is an overall preference for ODD v/s EVEN. Will have to discount the “7” effect on the odd data set. Will post my update.

      Hope you are having a wonderful weekend.
      Arun

    2. Hi Preena, I just took a quick look at the data and sorted Odd and EVEN.
      ODD = 341 (includes data for 7)
      EVEN = 219

      60% of respondents picked an Odd numbers, while 40% picked even
      3:2 in favor of odd numbers.

      Arun

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