Cognitive Sciences Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for practitioners, researchers, and students in cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, and psychiatry. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

People seem to have a preference for celebrating "big round numbers", like the 2,000 post in the forum (although the 10,000 post would probably be more "special" - but not the 10,234 post, so it's not strictly a magnitude bias). There are lots of examples of this. Sports stats are another: baseball players celebrate 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, and 20 wins. Football players 1,000 yard seasons, and so on.

Why do we prefer marking events that are round numbers?

share|improve this question
There's a whole book on numerical cognition that's quite fantastic and offers insight into why certain numbers are more intuitive to work with. – blz Jul 12 '14 at 14:42

I might be wrong but it might have something associated with the numerical goals we acheive as children, young adults and grown up. For example, becoming 10 years of age is a sign of maturity, mainly due to the double digits it contains. This leads us (as children) to believe that we are that much closer to becoming adults. When people turn 40 or 50 they put a lot more pressure on them selves than they would have if that number was decreased a year or two. Maybe it's the obvious facts such as 50 is closer to 60 than 49 is?

Also, when we learn how to count, we don't necessarily stop at 3, or 7, 10 is usually the number that kids are first introduced to, and once they learn it get appraise from external figures.

Basically, our preffered simplicity for numbers may or may not reflect our own personal achievements during our childhood and other significant life experiences. I knwo for a fact that I wouldn't be as proud of running a 39.7K as I would have been for running a 40K, even though the difference is a tiny 0.3.

When we announce our achievements to others we say "I'm in the top 10 for my age in cross-country!", assuming we come 7th, top ten sounds like a greater acheivement, this is just me, others may have different opinions.

Growing up and being congratulated for our achievements by older family members and other adult figures for unspecified winnings might have an impact on our greater admiration of "rounded numbers". I'm not quite sure whether or not I explained my self very well but I hope you understand what I'm saying.

share|improve this answer
I think this is a really useful set of additional examples of the phenomenon that's being asked about, but I don't think this explains why we have this preference. However, it's a good reminder that we are exposed to this kind of behavior from a very early age, and in that sense in might be learned. However, this still leaves open the question of why 10, 100, etc.. in the first place. – Josh Jul 13 '14 at 2:44
I would have to otherwise say that the simplicity of the numbers and ease of remembering them is what makes us favour them over numbers such as 325,234. It takes our brains less time and effort to remember them, since there is usually one number that we're forced to remember, (e.g. in 200, we would just remember the "2") and after that it's just a matter of how many zeros. Sorry I couldn't answer your question, although I'm glad I could help! @Josh – Samir Chahine Jul 13 '14 at 4:08

Because round numbers are easier than full numbers. For instance, $$10^9=1000000000$$ saves a lot, instead of $$997843863678632762767267863$$ I do not know how to give you a short description of this number.

share|improve this answer
Could you clarify: (1) easier in what sense? (2) Saves a lot of what? (3) Why is simplicity of representation appealing? – Jeromy Anglim Jul 10 '14 at 6:55
The reason simplicity of information is preferable is because a human brain takes in an enormous amount of sensory data at all times. It's impossible to process all data accurately, so in order to function, the brain must adopt heuristics that approximate analysis in a viable timeframe. Otherwise we could not react to our environment in a timely manner. Decimal representation of numbers is helpful in that sense because it allows you to represent an inconcievable number as "ten to the power of nine", for example. It connects billions to the ability to count on your fingers. – lea Jul 10 '14 at 7:36
@JeromyAnglim It's supposed to be $10^9$ (not $109$). – M. Vinay Jul 10 '14 at 9:58
I think this is on the right track, but there are lots of numbers that I could represent simply that don't seem to fit the pattern. For example: $512$ is $2^9$, but not many people seem to care about the 512th instance of something. – Josh Jul 13 '14 at 2:48
Binary systems are only really in use in mathematics and computer programming. Decimal systems are basically universal. I think you'll find that there are a lot of computer programmers who get excited about binary numbers, just as readers of Douglas Adams are more likely to get excited by the appearance of the number 42. – lea Jul 13 '14 at 6:47

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.