Last week’s Casual Fridays study was inspired by an event in Greta’s classroom. She had assumed that most of her students would be familiar with the story of the Fox and the Grapes, which goes as follows:
ONE hot summer’s day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. “Just the things to quench my thirst,” quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: “I am sure they are sour.”
In addition to being the source of the common expression, “sour grapes,” the story actually describes a measurable psychological phenomenon (and I’ll discuss one study about “sour grapes” next week). Greta was surprised to learn that none of her students had heard of the story. So we wondered if familiarity with the Fox and the Grapes was generational, or if in fact most people simply haven’t heard the story.
Our survey asked readers how familiar they were with several different stories in addition to the Fox and the Grapes. They rated each story on a scale of 1 (never heard of it) to 5 (very familiar). Here are the results:
As you can see, our readers are significanlty less familiar with the Fox and the Grapes than with other stories (we deliberately included some stories that have been made into movies, as well as one — Star Wars — that started as a movie).
But our readers also tend to be relatively young — nearly half of our respondents are under thirty. So perhaps the age differential accounts for the lack of familiarity with the story. Take a look at the same results, broken down by age:
Significantly more readers over age 30 were familiar with this story — but even among older readers, it was the least familiar story of the bunch. Maybe some other factor can explain familiarity. Since the story comes from an ancient fable and is influential in many works of literature throughout history, perhaps people who studied literature and the arts in college or university are more familiar with the story. We asked readers about their major field, and indeed found that humanities majors (including literature, history, philosophy, and the arts) were more familiar with the story:
In fact, humanities majors were significantly more familiar with every story except Harry Potter and Star Wars. An even more dramatic result can be found when we look at how many books people said they read last year:
For Star Wars, which most people experience as a movie, familiarity isn’t at all related to number of books read (the same held true for Cinderella and The Wizard of Oz). But for The Fox and the Grapes, the Princess and the Pea, and Little House on the Prairie (all primarily experienced as literature), more books read were associated with more familiarity. This pattern held for the other works primarily experienced as literature (including Harry Potter, where the “literature” demarcation is perhaps most dubious).
The question this week that generated the most interest among our respondents was about the online comic xkcd. We asked readers if they remembered a line from last Friday’s comic, figuring fans of the hacker-oriented strip were likely to be techies who, perhaps, weren’t as interested in old-fashioned stories as other readers.
We didn’t end up finding any association between a correct response on our one-question xkcd quiz an the Fox and the Grapes story. However, there was a small significant negative correlation between getting that answer right and familiarity with Little House on the Prairie:
Basically, if you had read Friday’s xkcd, you were slightly less likely to say you were very familiar with Little House on the Prairie, the books and 1970s TV show about the Pioneer days in the Western U.S.