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July 09, 2005

98%/2% Thing Explained

My friend Dr. Stephen Burton, a psychiatrist from London, is visiting me at the moment. I just found the 98%/2% thing on AmericaBlog.


Go take the test before proceeding unless you want it ruined for you!

Final Warning!

I thought of the red hammer and was astonished. He thought of a red knife and was less astonished.

I demanded an explanation from him, he being a brain scientist and all, as to why 98% of the people who try the test think of a red hammer. He says he knows why, and will tell me shortly as soon as he finished a little thingy he's working on.

Please stand by...

(Time passes...)

Okay, according to Stephen, the deal is that repetitive tasks bring you into the now and bring you away from preconceptions. Under those circumstances, when told unexpectedly to think of a color and a tool, you are more likely to come up with the statistically most common responses.

In other words, the boring long list of caluclations are pretty much irrelevant except for the fact that they are boring and repetitive tasks which serve the purpose of bringing you "into the moment", making you disinclined to ruminate on what your answer to the color/tool question will be. And once your mind has been so preset, when you are asked the color/tool question, you will go to the answer that is statistically most common. It doesn't have to be a color and a tool. It could be a pet (likely "dog", I should think), or a bird (I've no idea what would be the likely answer here).

There's nothing magical about "red" or "hammer". And there's nothing magical about the specific calculations you are asked to do. It's simply that if you ask people, after a series of repetitive tasks to name a color, 98% of the people you ask will say red. If you ask for a tool, they will, usually, say hammer.


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Well, I thought of a yellow hammer. And the hammer wasn't my first thought, but I couldn't think of a word to go with my first thought (I think it was a scraper), so hammer was my second thought.

But I always knew I was a minority sort of person.

I thought of a blue hammer, but I had blue in my field of vision. I actually tried to think of something different than a hammer, then decided that was cheating.

You probably are in a minority, but I think the 98/2 split is way off. I think most people under the circumstances will say red, and most people will say hammer, but from what I can see from other people's responses, there's no way it's 98%.

I went with "red wrench." And 98/2 is almost certainly one of those statistics you get from a friend of a friend, or that fall off the back of a turnip truck.

Green drill. I guess I'm a total oddball.

Somehow, that's just fine with me.

I thought of a blue drill. But see I *have* a blue drill. And I like my drill a lot: it has very good torque and takes 3/8ths-inch bits.

I suppose that sentence pretty much confirms the oddball thing.

In short, you know -- and love -- the drill.

Blue screwdriver. Which is odd, as my screwdrivers (the non-matryoshka ones) are yellow; what's blue are my pliers. But then, I'm rather weird.

I'm with Kip Manley. Red wrench.

Green shovel !

I'm not a native speaker though.

Blue wrench.

Orange hammer--I think I see a pattern among rassefarians. But if I'd been asked separately, I probably would have said "red" and "hammer."

"orange" and "screwdriver". Then I thought "orange screwdriver"! That must be it! But no.

"orange" and "screwdriver". Then I thought "orange screwdriver"! That must be it! But no.

No, I think you must have been having a brunch-flashback from earlier in the day. Unless, of course, you had a mimosa instead.

I thought of a red fork, but then, I'd just been reading about the spoon theory, so it's probably in the same category as Anna's blue hammer above.

Oh dear oh dear. I thought of a blue chainsaw.

Oh dear oh dear.


It's all okay, Mary Kay, just so long as you didn't think of using the blue chainsaw.

Red hammer for me. Same for the friend who forwarded this to me. Spot on.

I think I'm in the real 2%. I thought of blue, and then I kind of flickered between my old wrench (the one I used to change the oil in my car) and a hammer. But not blue, just the plain metal wrench, and an ordinary hammer of the sort my brother always had around the shop, metal with black around the handle. My brain seems to have kept the two different instructions separate. Well, no one ever said I was normal....

Avedon, my blue wrench was the same way. The blue was an amorphous blob of color separate and apart from the wrench, which was just your basic wrench.

Then my brain sort of smashed them together, and there was a blue wrench, and it looked like the one from Puppy's toy tool kit from six or seven years ago.

I thought burger and chips?? but then im hungry!!

LMAO!!! I'm a googler.. so when i took the damn test i found this page. That was my first thought. Its the most common color and tool. Thanks.. el

Blue screwdriver for me. But like others, I thought of the two as separate things, the color blue, and a screwdriver of no particular color.

Can you ask your psychiatrist friend if this is a some kind of cultural and language based trick?

Would the same questions translated into Spanish and German trigger the same responses of martillo rojo and roten Hammer? ie Do the cognitive processes of speakers of different languages give a different result? Why?

My daughter was raised speaking Portguese, Spanish and later English.

- Her reply was Purple Wrench.

I am a native English speaker, and learned German, Spanish and Portuguese in my teens.

- I answered 'correctly' 8-) with red hammer.

If some of you all call up Oma, will you try it out on her and report back what she says?

Green drill for me too.

I thought of red and saw, but red is my favorite color so I guess I would think of it first. Not too sure why I thought of saw...lol

Damnit....I hate being like 98% of the rest of you....I've never even seen a red friggin hammer in my life...But I said it.... RED HAMMER... I'll bet the Druids are behind this...

Well, you know, "Eric". "Eric the Red". And Thor's Hammer, of course. It's all very Norwegian.

Frankly, I don't see how you could have said anything else.

"Red hammer" for me too, although I did think of another tool first, but couldn't immediately come up with the word for it and so switched to hammer.

BTW, doesn't Red Hammer sound like it should be the nickname of the Russian guy that Rocky fights in Rocky III?

Am i pasted as a completly loser for thinking of this.....

brown sander

An antelope's thigh bone or a stag's antler makes a good hammer. And red is the colour of blood.

Pt II. Do you remember when you had to kill animals to get a meal?

mine was a green drill

I also thought of blue and a wrench, separately. I wonder why red hammer is supposedly so common? I wonder if I would have chosen red, had the question used the spelling "Color" (the version I read first had Colour). but mainly, I wonder if the area the survey was originally done in was a limited geographical area where the public school system (the population of which 98% attended, 2% were home schooled or immigrated..) had a red square labelled "red", and a hammer labelled "tool", in the area kindergarten classes' "Words" books.
I suspect something of the sort, as any color of Hammer never would have occurred to me. I initially had trouble thinking of a tool at all, and though my first instinct was wrench, a computer briefly crossed my mind as well since I had just been reading an article on "augmentation", at sandia.gov. (scary stuff)

From what I see from this and other posts on the 98/2% is more like 10/90% - if you read all the posts there's bugger all who said "red hammer"... from teh list above it's (by my quick count) 5 red hammers and 20 non-red hammers (3 of which were "green drill"). Whoever said 98/2 just made it up for effect.

BTW. I got a similar thing about 5 years back. First you do some maths (1+1, 2+2, 4+4... up to 16+16) then "quick, pick a number between 12 and 5. Then you do some more sums that all add up to 6 (1 + 5, 2+4... 4+2, 5+1), then say "six" for 15 seconds, then "quick, think of a vegetable".. again 98% are supposed say "seven" and "carrot" (I did... but I said orange screwdriver for this new one)

Well, I am a 98% cause I did think red and hammer. However that is because that is what color my thumb is after I use the hammer.

I answered the color question first. My answer was blue. I believe it was because I saw the blue frame around my computer screen. Then I answered the second question and thought hammer. Probably because everybody has one!

I believe those of us who answered the questions seperately are in the minority. I think most people read the whole question before forming a mental picture of the common hammer which usually has a red handle.

So, the thing that seperates the two types of reasoning is one group answered as they read while the other group read the whole question before answering.

Perhaps "red" and "hammer" are default images for the words "color" and "tool" in our minds. One could argue that red gets our attention quicker when we see it, and we have a stronger emotional response to that color. One could further argue that hammers are probably the oldest tools in our species' experience, dating back to when we bashed things (nuts, snakes, each other) with rocks.

I answered purple hammer, as did 2 others out of 19 who did it so far. 6 said red hammer, and 5 of us thought of hammer, but a different color. So I promptly searched for an explanation, and this site is what i found! 98% sounds a bit high to me, even if you're just going for red or hammer. I wonder how it is men vs women or things like that?

I'm from Lithuania (Eastern Europe) and as most of you got red hammer, test was in lithuanian language, so it seems answer doesn't depend on language;)

Red hammer here

I got a red hammer too. I wonder how people from the former Soviet Union would respond...considering a "red hammer" was their national symbol. Thinking it could also be cultural? Other nationalities may respond differently...

I was in the 98% (I don't think I'm normal). Red is the first color in the rainbow and hammer is a very common tool we learn about at the same age we learn the colours (for the Euros), so maybe that has something do do with it.

I said a Red Wrench. I wonder what's up with that? At least I wasn't the only one.

"Go take the test before proceeding unless you want it ruined for you! Final Warning!".
... and you this page named after it. LOL.

BLUE HAMMER... i said blue since its my fav colour.. hammer coz i just couldnt think of any other tool...

I thought Red Hammer, but, I know my mind isn't normal, so, I am a little scared now.

I checked with all my respondents. All of the Non- red hammer folks added the tens first and then the ones...any significance to that?

Yeah, I picked red hammer, and was a little surprised. But, regarding the 98% / 2% thing, aside from this statistic being pretty much unprovable...

Assuming 98% of people choose "red hammer", and there is an even distribution of 'incorrect' answers to both questions, then the chance of someone 'correctly' choosing "red" _or_ "hammer" is

sqrt(0.98) = 0.9899 = ~0.99

So according to whoever came up with those stats, only 1% of people choose a colour other than red, and 1% of people choose a tool other than hammer.

Sounds like crud to me... =)

ok. my answer was : red flute... nope.. red accordion (akordeon)

when the word tool came to my mind i just came up with a musical instrument..

is it strange? and just in 1 sec. i thought flute but wait! no red flute! then red accordion...

this was how i tought in seconds.. am i strange?? :s

I suspect that the math questions serve one or two purposes....
1)They blank you mind from any previous thoughts, making it most likely you will answer with the most statistically likely answers.
2)Could the math questions, asked over and over again predispose the brain to answer in a certain way. Just like a person who does a specific task over and over again gets faster as the brain becomes used to following certain paths. The math makes it most likely that the brain will jump to red and hammer.
I've noticed a few other "usual suspects" for the tools....
1)red hammer (obviously)
2) Orange screwdriver
3)Green drill seems common.

Just something to mull over as orange does not seem like one of the most likely colors, nor does drill seem a likely candidate for most common tool.

I suspected the math had nothing to do with it so I scrolled down and answered 'red hammer'! So, does it really have anything to do with the math?? "Quick" makes me think of hammer. The 'r' at the end of color made me think red. Well that's my story and I am sticking to it!

The real question is, why is a large portion of the public likely to say "red hammer"? It has to do with "red" and "hammer" both being extremely popular and on the "fingertips" of the subconcious. But if you've grown up in an environment where the predominant color was purple and the predominant tool was a crowbar, you are likely to pick those instead of 'red hammer'. And if you are living in such an environment, then its queer.

Now you REALLY got me wondering. Didn't find anyone who thought what I did: blue shovel. I acually HAVE a red hammer. But blue shovel truly just "popped" into my head. Perhaps I should have my head examined?? Or maybe I have anger issues and want to go out and whack someone with a really big blue shovel! (Just kidding-don't send the cops!)

OK. I said Pink Hammer. So I guess i'm with the group of: right tool, wrong color.

I answered Green Cheese grater. :-\ i don't know why. I think in response to the "From what I see from this and other posts on the 98/2% is more like 10/90%" those who don't answer correctly are more likely to be curious as to why it didn't work on them... therefore the people who didn't answer "correctly" are going to google the heck out of it. My 2 copper.

Wow... black sledgehammer? I got the hammer part sort of...

No one else got either black or sledgehammer... should i be scared?

A retired co-worker (John K.) sent the test to me. I, of course, breezed through it and came up with a blue hammer, blue, of course,in honor of Cubbie blue(Chicago Cubs). It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a psychiatrist to figure out that the calculations have nothing to do with it. Most people's favorite color is red and the first tool one thinks of would probably be a hammer. ( I use a hammer to fix everything) It was a fun test, but more fun posting this response to my buddy, the Chicago White Sox fan, who was totally taken in with spooky aspect of the test. Go Cubs in 2006.

I thought of a Blue Hoe...

I found myself thinking of a silver spanner not that i've ever had the urge to use a spanner before now i feel enlightened!

Red hammer too - along with neighbour, but his wife came up with green scissors!
Any sickles to go with red hammers?

I tried this with non-english speakers as well. One Spanish and one chinese speaker. Similar results.

I have the sinking feeling that I need to throw all my psychology degrees out the window after reviewing this research.

While doing the math in the test I: a) was adding the tens before the ones, which is non-standard in the states, and b) Couldn't help but think of this show "Brainman" I had seen the night before on the Science Channel. This guy, Daniel from the UK, was capable of doing enormous calculations in his head (like reciting the first 22,500 digits of Pi without a mistake, and 47 to the 6th power, and multiplying 8 digit numbers). In all tests he out shined the calculators and computers in digits calculated. But the thing was that he said he didn't actually think about the math...his brain just did it for him and he saw the numbers appear. He apparently ?suffers? from synesthesia as well. He claims to think of all numbers (at least up to like 15,000) as having distinct shapes and colors and this was tested repeatedly using clay models. Other interesting notes are that doctors seem to think he has a rare form of autism (maybe asperger's?) but he seems (they said) to suffer none of the negative effects. He was a very engaging and emotive young man. Also, he was challenged to learn Icelandic--purportedly very difficult to learn and pronounce--in only a week. He was interviewed on national television in the native tongue and seemed to do quite well.

So in light of this, while the current hypothesis that the math serves only to deaden your brain seems solid, I think that it's reasonable to assume that at least in some people the math will in fact spark colors. Only the final question would probably be relevant, however, unless the questions were not designed at random.

I came up with "red", I think because numbers have always seemed sharp to me--they are so precise. For tool, I immediately thought of that thing bricklayers use to lay and smooth mortar, but I didn't know what it was called. "Garden Trowel" was the closest in size shape and how you use it, so that's what I answered in my mind.

I thought of blue - a nice frosty hue of blue - and an open-end wrench.

Orange hammer

"From what I see from this and other posts on the 98/2% is more like 10/90%" those who don't answer correctly are more likely to be curious as to why it didn't work on them... therefore the people who didn't answer "correctly" are going to google the heck out of it. My 2 copper.

I agree totally with this comment Abs! I had a blue hammer, two ppl who replied to me forwarding it to them said red hammer.

I went searching for answers :)

My 2cents!

I was Shocked! SHOCKED!
I've always thought that I was different.
But it was "Hammer", then I paused, then "Red"!
I felt that I was under a time crunch to answer so I didn't try to get fancy.

My husband (they guy who can calculate most things in his head) and I (the one with two master's degrees and a PhD) did this test together. He is a red hammer. I am a blue screwdriver. We both read the last two questions as separate questions. I can't add without my fingers. When he caught me using my fingers, I switched to the tens and ones thing referred to above. Then, I still was getting the numbers incorrect, so I figured, "f.... it". Now, when it comes to complicated abstract math as in statistics and studies and what it all means, I get that. My husband stares at me blankly if I go off on that too much. However, he is Mr. Financier and understands all of the stock b.s. But, he answered red hammer, and I, blue screwdriver. I thought of my favorite color and then of the tool I had used that day. (I use the screwdriver almost as much as duct tape.) Red is his favorite color and he would like to use a hammer to my head right now. BTW, Google is great. We had to look up the old Soviet Union flag. My husband was correct, the hammer and sickle are yellow or gold. The flag is red. Overall, we all are strange in that we feel like adding to this blog ;)

To the fellow who thought of black sledgehammer, I thought of a black hammer. Saw no one else thought of "black" and thought maybe was something was wrong with me. The absense of color. Then again, I live in New England and it's March.

Well, I thought orange screwdriver, but then when those two thoughts entered my brain, the picture turned purple. Maybe now is my time for an inkblot test.

I first thought of "Red Saw" and quickly the feeling that this was wrong entered my mind and then "hammer" appeared seeming to be more "appropriate." Fuckin' weird. There's your 2%.

I thought of Red Hammer and it freaked me out!

Doesn't it seem as though a lot more than 2% of people answer something different? I know Red Hammers might be less likely to post a message but surely this 98% figure has been plucked from thin air.

Blue spanner.

Indeed it does seem that way. I think somebody wrote somewhere about how the 2% must have been pulled out of... well, somewhere, if not the air. The way the text of the test is written seems an attempt to put some scientific gloss on The Results, for whatever reason. I think it's quite possible a plurality of people say "red hammer", but I'll bet it's nowhere near a majority, and it certainly doesn't even approach 98%, in my view.

I thought green shovel. I noticed that there is at least one other strange person like me on the planet.

I thought of grey saw..probably because I had been using one just the day before to saw up a tree limb that had fallen off in high winds. I notice that's the only instance of grey on this site so far.

RED HAMMER! The insiduous penetration of human souls by creating in the minds of all a paradigmatic pairing, RED Communism, HAMMER of construction and oppression!


Another - A color and a pet!

Pink Pussy and Black Dog are the most common. Wow, and I thought Red Hammer had potential.

Blue Screwdriver! Seems I have seen several blue screwdrivers here.

I thought of a red hammer but my son thought of a blue screwdriver.

pink hammer! i saw one other person with pink hammer too...cool. just for the records: 1)i'm malaysian. 2) pink is not my favoutiye colour although i do think certain things in pink are cute. (not hammers though??) 3)i agree with red/hammer being the "common colour/tool" explanation. 4) i think the REAL 2-percenters are those who think of tools as other than your regular building/fixing tools; like a computer, or a comb, or a scalpel.

Purple screwdriver here. And of the dozen or so people I forwarded the test to, only ONE thought of a red hammer. While many of my friends may be non-mainstream thinkers, the percentages must be WAY off. Still, kind of a fun idea.

Red hammer. I have to admit that I said "hammer", though I was thinking "pliers". I took the test in romanian (my native language). All I can say is that no matter what language you speak, the outcome is the same. Statistically speaking, I don't believe that 98% of the people answer "red hammer".

I thought of purple hammer, and the strange thing is, i've never seen a purple hammer in my entire life, who the heck has?

Has no one else thought of "blue" and the obvious tool at hand: "mouse"?? I guess I am in a different class of thinker, alright. But, then, I prefer "creative" to "abnormal"! 8-)

"Blue hammer" came to my mind (blue is my favorite color). And hammer was the first tool that came to mind.

I thought of a green screwdriver.

No! Blue -- aaaauuuggggghhhhh!!!!!!

Black PowerSaw - what world am I from...

I'm a bluish-green hammer. I was starting to select the exact shade when I remembered I was supposed to answer quickly, so decided to simplify to blue. I'm an artist so that probably explains that. But now I'm concerned about the implications this suggests for people who do incredibly repetitive work all day, every day. A little frightening, hmmm?

I also thought of a BLUE hammer.. But before "saying" it I tried to think of something else because I had a hinch of what kind of excercise this would be.. But so it became a blue pen. But that's cheating, the original idea was blue hammer. I am a teacher and always walk around in a class with a 100 kg blue sledgehammer.

I came up with ORANGE and CHISEL.
I do have a red hammer but I made absolutely NO connection with the maths and the question at the end.All it served to do was puzzle me...That's why i ended up here.

I thought of a Red Hammer! I even reminded myself that blue was my favorite color, but I STILL picked RED!

I'm in shock! Who comes up with this stuff?

Reading through the responses, I couldn't help but pick a favorite:

Posted by: Tobus | August 29, 2005

"Well, I am a 98% cause I did think red and hammer. However that is because that is what color my thumb is after I use the hammer."

I tought of black hoe,

probably I have been hanging arounf the 'hood too mcuh

I thought orange screwdriver. I use screwdrivers a lot, so I'm thinking that's why I came up with it. Orange is not my favorite color, nor is it close. I think it's because I used an orange screwdriver at work.

The first time I saw this test, I thought nothing of the fact that I came up with orange screwdriver until I started talking to others. Then I started thinking "What's wrong with these folks that they're so proud that they got 'red hammer'? There are oodles of tools in existence." Maybe I just sampled a bad crowd.

I thought of blue wrench. Not sure why I picked blue, it was the first color to pop in my head. I'm pretty sure I picked wrench because my favorite music group is TOOL and they have used a wrench as part of their logo before. A hammer never even crossed my mind.

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