This is something I wrote a while back. It seems relevant with the political undertones of society right now. Enjoy.
Why Answer C?
Everyone has heard that if you don’t know the answer, choose C. Why is C a better choice than say A, B, or D? Does A have some contagious disease? What about E? No one likes E anyway. Numerous statistical analysis has been done over this common scoring myth. Some give credence to the answer C, others contradict it completely. I could present statistical data/ mathematical facts/ proof if I really wanted but let’s just take the face value that the common adage is, “when in doubt, always choose C.”
A commonly used reason for choosing C is because it lies close to the middle. A and D (or that self-righteous E) are on the ends if your choices are linear. If the answers are vertical, then they are the first and the last choice. They are obvious choices, screaming out to be chosen, yet human nature makes us suspect the obvious. Then we spot the C, innocently and unassumingly nestled in the middle of all the others. Thus, C is chosen more often because it is a “safer” choice. The outside answers are dangerous in our minds, begging for attention, too obvious of a choice, too good to be true.
However, if you think about how humans treat every other instance, where the order plays an important role, then it makes the above premise less true. In grade school, was the clumsy, awkward kid ever picked first for the kickball game? Not usually because it is a competition and winning is important in school-yard games. The athletic kids (A) are picked first because they are the obvious choice and gives the team the greatest chance of winning. Once the great kickball players are all picked, you move down the line in order of importance. The good players (B) then the average players (C) disappear from the ranks of child athletes. Now the good and average players are gone and all that is left are the bad players (D). They just are not good at the sport. They may try their best, but ultimately, are not up to the challenge. Finally, with all other choices made, all that is left are the unwanted (E). The ones who are the obvious wrong choice. The ones who either put forth no effort and seem to actively contribute to failure, or the ones who are simply horrible at the game. Those who don’t understand, and worse display no willingness to learn or be better. The Es are often last picked because having them on your team usually results in failure. Everyone knows that scenario. I know some adults who wake screaming at night because they were an E in 3rd grade kickball tournaments. It is possible to be an E in one situation and an A in another. Such is the nature of being in a world of people with different talents, skills, and abilities. However in this instance, for this one kickball game, the E status you hold makes you the worst choice at that time. Now that we see where the best and worst players lie in the selection process we return to the large middle group. The average players who are neither the best, nor the worst. The average players who want to play and have fun. Most don’t crave the spotlight and only wish to add to their team’s success. These players are the average choices, the C in this scenario, and they comprise the majority of the population. Even though these players are good at the game they are rarely the first chosen because they are not the best choice. So why in a multiple choice test is it assumed that humans run screaming from the obvious choice and settle for a mid-range answer?
I don’t think “when in doubt, always choose C” is based on avoiding the obvious choice. I think the decision to pick C plays more into the kickball theory of selection. But before I discuss why I think that let us look at some more letters in relation to the kickball theory. The athletic child picked first is a substitute for the answer A on a test. The first and most obvious choice, it stands ahead of the rest, prepared to give it his all and be the winner. You could almost say this is the Alpha answer. These are the aggressive, take-no-prisoners, confident winner that of course you want on your kickball team. Psychologists refer to these people as Type A personalities. In the animal kingdom they are the Alpha male (or female) and they are the leaders. Now the next letter is where psychology and biology stray a little away from the other. A Type B personality usually describes someone who is more relaxed and less aggressive than a Type A. The Type B is still highly successful but it lacks the boasting of success that is common for As. The Beta animal is very much like the Alpha and in animals it serves the purpose of being second-in-command. Being a Beta still carries a lot of weight in both realms. The Beta, like the Type B, can become as successful as the Alpha but merely waits until the opportunity to advance presents itself.
The psychologist, Dr. Perry W. Buffington was the first to define the Type C personality. Dr. Buff (he changed it to Dr. Buff once he became a motivational speaker. I guess it is more “hip”) lays out some specifics for this type of personality but I don’t quite look at it the same way. Dr. Buff asserts that the Type C is thoughtful and analytical yet withdrawn and non-assertive, completely at ease with allowing others to take credit for his work. That doesn’t seem to fit into the kickball selection theory or the “when in doubt, always pick C” norm. I approach the Type C from a different angle. There is no Greek letter for C, so lets go with a military phonetic and use Charlie.
The Charlie Answer gives a little more credence to always picking answer C and possibly some understanding of our society as a whole. The loud and assertive first choice of A will often give us the best results because it is the best fit. At least the A tells us that it’s the best. Alphas are the natural leaders and will vocally inform everyone of their plans to lead us into a better tomorrow. Human history has taught us very well that not all assertive leaders are the best for us. Maybe the A is the best kickball player and will lead your team to victory and school adoration. More often, the A will hoard the attention for himself and boast of his superior skills. So A might be the best choice but too many people are unwilling to continually overlook the drawbacks. Now B enters the fray ready to assume the mantle of leadership. Waiting patiently in the shadows the B is simply a less aggressive version of A. Not as boastful yet also not as confident in all his actions. Too many times have we finally rid ourselves of a bad leader only to replaced by a carbon copy of the original with a few minor differences. At heart the Alpha and the Beta are the same. When the star kickball player pulls a muscle and has to sit out a game, the second best player is ready to shine. Once proven, the Beta will become the new Alpha and everyone will continue in the same endless circle.
Back to our multiple choice answers. A is the obvious choice, yet over the long run A has often produced more trouble than is worth. Next the B stands proudly in line. The skewed reflection of A, destined to become A over time, suffering the same fate in the end. Both have always seemed like the best chance for success, yet neither has proven to be the best answer.
Answer C; Charlie stares at you defiantly as you weigh the options. Charlie, neither braggart nor falsely humble, seems very common in relation to A and B. Common is another C word. Charlie is not much different than the test-taker, not trying to be the best but only attempting to be good enough to not fail. Alphas and Betas constantly disappoint and Charlie continues on, steadfast in his place, grounded by a commonality with the test-taker. Perhaps “when in doubt, always pick C” is a reflection of our disgust at having the As and Bs of society make false promises with little success. Perhaps picking answer C is a tiny demonstration of civil disobedience, ingrained into us from unknown corners of society. Perhaps it is a message to the Alphas and the Betas, that Charlie is nothing like either of them. Answer C is you and I, the average person who tires of being led by the obvious choices. Why choose answer C? The answer As and answer Bs throughout history have led us to where we are today. The natural assumption of their right to rule has become tiresome, troubled by scandals and failures that seem to affect the rest of us more than them. Quietly, yet steadily, everyone is choosing answer C.