Cognitive Daily

Last week Greta was telling her class about a study that related to a well-known story. She started off the discussion with a reference to the story, indicating that “of course you all have heard the story of _______” (I can’t tell you the name of the story now because it’s the subject of our study).

As you may have guessed by now, she was greeted by a roomful of blank stares. She was surprised, because she grew up hearing this story and assumed that her students would have heard it as well. So the question is, why? Do the common stories we all know go in and out of fashion over the course of generations? Or was this story just less familiar than Greta thought? We think we’ve devised a way to find out.

Click here to participate

As usual, this week’s study is brief, with about 20 questions. It should take only a few minutes to complete. You have until Thursday, March 19 to complete your response. There is no limit on the number of respondents. Don’t forget to come back next week for the results!


  1. #1 Donna B.
    March 13, 2009

    I got the last one wrong for sure. I looked it up afterwards and it’s obvious I should check that site more often.

  2. #2 Maeve
    March 13, 2009

    The question about xkcd is… frustrating. At work, we have Websense, which won’t let me view the xkcd website (because it’s “Entertainement”), and even attempting to view it through an RSS feed doesn’t work because the graphics are blocked.

  3. #3 Dave Munger
    March 13, 2009

    That was a bit of a throwaway question. The idea was supposed to be that maybe xkcd fans were more likely to be tech geeks and thus less interested in stories. We’ll see.

  4. #4 Gav
    March 13, 2009

    Had to google xkcd & little house on prairie (did quiz first though).

  5. #5 Katie Cunningham
    March 13, 2009

    The last question was the best! Ha!

    That said, most of my ‘traditional’ stories didn’t come to me until I was in high school, and read the original tales for a class project. When I was wee, I guess it was just assumed the stories were passed down through genetics.

  6. #6 chezjake
    March 13, 2009

    You might consider another way that people are exposed to stories — in my case true for a couple of the ones you cited — through reading to/with your kids or seeing movies with them. In particular, I’m aware of many books and films that tend to appeal to girls because of my daughter.

  7. #7 Drekab
    March 13, 2009

    Cheated on the last question, but I justified it because I would have known it if I had taken the test closer to the 19th than the 13th. Maybe you should have referenced Wednesdays comic? Anyway, off to google the stories I would have otherwise been less likely to encounter in the next week.

  8. #8 dean
    March 13, 2009

    I will be interested to see the numbers on how many people know about xkcd AND Little House on the Prairie. I know nothing about the books and barely remember that there was a show (wasn’t there?) by the same name.

  9. #9 stephenk
    March 13, 2009

    Couldn’t answer the xkcd one. I read it religiously, but couldn’t remember the specifics. Also I don’t know what day it is, which didn’t help. For the same reason (as not knowing what day it is) read Philosopher in place of Sorcerer.

  10. #10 Shannon Jimenez
    March 13, 2009

    I knew Little House on the Prarie and xkcd! Actually, I knew everything except for the Fox and the Grapes. I read books of Aesop’s fables as a kid but that one (if it was in there) didn’t stick with me.

  11. #11 gs
    March 13, 2009

    i thought you were going to include hansel and gretal… i never ran across that story as a kid but have had it referenced a number of times in psychology courses.

  12. #12 Donna B.
    March 13, 2009

    I’m curious to see how age affects the results. I knew of all the items, but my remembrance of Star Wars is almost zilch. I simply was not interested.

  13. #13 randia
    March 13, 2009

    i think movie would have been a good category because i chose other for stories i saw as movies before i actually read them.

  14. #14 Toaster
    March 13, 2009

    I will be interested to see the numbers on how many people know about xkcd AND Little House on the Prairie. I know nothing about the books and barely remember that there was a show (wasn’t there?) by the same name.

    There were BOOKS!? I knew there was a show, was never able to sit through more than 1 minute of it, but did not know that there were books.

    And the question: “How many books did you read in the last year?” is kind of confusing. Do research articles and textbooks count? I assumed that they don’t, but I did include graphic novels.

  15. #15 Freiddie
    March 13, 2009

    I didn’t even know “Fox and Grapes” counted as a ‘story’. It’s so short it can be written in a single paragraph of text. I had to check to make that was actually the story I read (it was in a different language), and it indeed was.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    March 13, 2009

    It’s a generational thing. Also, interestingly, I have no recollection of learning any of these (from the survey) from my parents or any older sibling. I do recall reading most of these stories. And, later, in some cases (not so much for these stories, but others of the same age) I refreshed my memory by reading them to my daughter.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    March 13, 2009

    Toaster: Where I live, there are many women named Laura.

  18. #18 Mike M
    March 13, 2009

    Just thought I’d say that my response might be a little less valuable since I took a course on fairy tales last year, so most of those stories were pretty fresh in my head. I put down that I read them in school, though, even though school was college.

  19. #19 Simon
    March 13, 2009

    I love the fact that the book “Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone” was actually published in the UK as “Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone”. The title being altered for the US market as it was assumed (by whom, I don’t know) that no-one in the US target market would know what a Philosophers Stone was 🙂 I’m British so SHOULD know what the Philosopher’s Stone was (I did, but would the generations after me know? I wonder). Assumed cultural reference meets assumed cultural reference!

  20. #20 OmegaMom
    March 13, 2009

    I bet it was the Fox and the Grapes she mentioned. I knew I knew it, but didn’t remember it’s ending. But then, as soon as I googled it, it was, “Oh, yeah!”, a kind of V8 moment. It’s been an age since I read Aesop.

  21. #21 hanna jörgel
    March 13, 2009

    A friend who is older casually mentioned the Fox and the Grapes to me a few years ago. Before that I had never heard of it. That’s the only reason I had heard of it for the quiz. But I had forgotten everything about it.

  22. #22 Poppy Noir
    March 14, 2009

    I’m an xkcd-loving tech geek who absolutely DEVOURED the Little House books when she was younger. I also have always read obsessively, just about anything I can get my hands on.

    Can’t wait to see the results!

  23. #23 zia
    March 14, 2009

    Ha! That was the *only* line from Friday’s xkcd. Well, ok, almost. :p Fun survey. I think I did good.

  24. #24 Ksks
    March 14, 2009

    You should have added a question about which country we live in, as it’s going to have a lot of influence over the results. For example I’ve heard of “the Fox and the Grapes” through La Fontaine, and not Aesop, and I guess all French people like me are very familiar with it.

  25. #25 dean
    March 14, 2009

    Apparently my question about a link between xkcd and LHOTP wasn’t as foolish as I thought it would seem. It will be interesting to see these results.

  26. #26 Saragh Penfold
    March 14, 2009

    I have read everything in your quiz – but I have also re-read many of them recently to my six-year old – which wasn’t featured in your responses about ‘where did you hear this story’. I think I honestly knew the endings to the stories anyway, so my data won’t be skewed!

    An interesting phenomenon I noticed when I started reading stories out loud was how many “spoof” versions there are – a lot of kids films draw on, and pastiche, classic stories, without kids – or maybe even adults – knowing what the original was.

  27. #27 Philip Potter
    March 14, 2009

    I have heard of little house on the prairie and the wizard of oz but seen neither. I had to pick “other” rather than “never heard of it” but I feel that this must be a common enough situation…

  28. #28 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 14, 2009

    Re: Star Wars, I gave the ending for the first movie, but it wasn’t clear that you wanted that and not the end of the trilogy. Are both going to be counted as correct?

    Simon, Re: Name change of Harry Potter. it wasn’t just that. The word “philosopher” also apparently sounded old and musty to Americans.

  29. #29 Toaster
    March 15, 2009

    Where I live, there are many women named Laura.

    I actually had to look that one up…

  30. #30
    March 15, 2009

    If she said “We all know the story of the fox and the grapes,” that was poor phrasing on her part. I knew the story as “the sour grapes story,” but I had to stop and think for a while before I was sure that’s what “the fox and the grapes” referred to.

  31. #31 elke
    March 15, 2009

    The mouse and the lion, that’s the one where the lion gets trapped, isn’t it? Never knew that it’s as well known as the Grimm fairy tales in the US.

  32. #32 Rod
    March 15, 2009

    Friday’s xkcd?

    The only Friday character I could think of was Joe Friday. It didn’t actually occur to me that you meant the day of the week Friday. I assumed that xkcd was some dippy Scifi talk.

    I thought magic rocks went away with Moses thumping one for water.

    Star Wars, I gave up on “who’s on first” with that one. Was the end movie a pre-quel or a sequel?

  33. #33 Dave
    March 16, 2009

    Darn! I read a bunch of old xkcds on Friday, and didn’t remember which one was Friday’s. The right answer was my second guess.

  34. #34 Dave Munger
    March 16, 2009

    Did I accidentally use a line that appeared in another xkcd? I made up all the distractors (or thought I did).

  35. #35 Lindsay
    March 16, 2009

    I had never heard of xkcd…what is that?

  36. #36 Dave
    March 17, 2009

    I seem to remember something along the lines of the first option, but it may not have been word for word.

  37. #37 Dave Munger
    March 17, 2009


    The order of the options was randomized — which one was it?

    “If Linus Torvalds was a drag queen”
    “Ten reasons not to use Perl”
    “Elementary, my dear”
    “ASCII Porn for Dummies”
    “Coding is such sweet sorrow”
    “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary”

    I’m just curious if I had some kind of unconscious prompting from an actual cartoon (and, for the record, I don’t usually read xkcd)

  38. #38 Dave
    March 17, 2009

    “Ten reasons not to use Perl”

    After thinking about it, I thought maybe the original line I was “remembering” of was something like “We rewrote it all in perl” (or php, or something else). But I went back through the past few months, and I don’t see anything like that, so it’s probably just my faulty memory. Although, I was reading random cartoons (with the “random” button on the site), so who knows. Anyway, I love the Casual Fridays. Thanks!

  39. #39 irisevelyn
    March 18, 2009

    yeah, the end of Star Wars question was kind of unclear, given that there are six movies by now, where the latter 3 are a prequel to the older ones.
    I also think that a questions like which country did you grow up in would have been very interesting, I never heard of the house in the prairie and I wondered whether this has a cultural reason.

  40. #40 Dave Munger
    March 19, 2009

    I’ll be interested to see if there’s an age difference on the “Star Wars” ending. When I grew up, there was only one “Star Wars.”

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