Two business professors -- Devin Pope at the University of Chicago and Uri Simonsohn at the University of Pennsylvania -- sought to answer how often round numbers encourage personal achievement. Among other things, they looked at professional baseball players and high school students taking their SATs. Pope and Simonsohn's study, published in the journal Psychological Science, comes at a perfect time. If you want to fulfill any goal in 2011, first consider making that goal a round number.
"In my own experience," Simonsohn tells AOL News, "professors receive ratings from their students on a 1-to-4 scale. If my average [student] rating was a 2.99, I'll feel like I've failed because it wasn't a 3.0. There's just something to that round number."
The professors first tested their theory on the batting averages of Major League Baseball players from 1975 to 2008. A player had to have at least 200 at bats for a season. The professors focused on the players whose average hovered near .300 at the end of any one year. Players were nearly four times as likely to end the season with a .300 average than a .299 average. Furthermore, once players reached an average of .300, they were more likely to take more walks at the plate. They'd do what was necessary to maintain that rounded average.
Simonsohn says he and Pope consulted different teams' stat guys and various managers. They wanted to know if players' contracts could explain why four times as many players ended seasons with a .300 average than a .299 average. "All of them agreed that there's just no way" that a .300 average could appear that often as a result of contract negotiations, Simonsohn says.
The professors next looked at SAT scores of incoming freshmen.
The data set was a random sampling of 25 percent of all SAT test-takers graduating between 1994 and 2001. SAT scores are set in 10-point increments, and after crunching the data, Pope and Simonsohn found that their theory held among high school juniors and not high school seniors -- because high school juniors are able to retake their tests in time to mail the results, as high school seniors, to various colleges.
Of the juniors scoring 1,390 on a test, roughly 20 percent more took the test again, as compared with juniors scoring 1,400. The pattern of satisfaction with a round score holds at nearly every increment. Using the senior class as a control, high school juniors were 11 percent more likely to retake the test if they scored 990. There were 1,656 more juniors with a score of 1,100 than with a score of 1,090. "In sum, we find a systematic pattern," the authors wrote in the study.
They'd like to study this further, because no one in the literature has adequately explained the psychological satisfaction of the round number. But it's there. Stock market theories -- "support and resistance trading" and the "round number trade" -- rely on understanding the appeal of whole numbers. Hegel wondered about round numbers and their relation to the law. Simonsohn says a future study on this "is something I'd like to do."
In the meantime, lose 10 pounds this year, and not five. It just might work.