You could have students do a variation of Newton’s (1990) tapper-listener study.

Participants formed pairs. One member was the tapper; the other was the listener. The tapper picked out a song from a list of well-known songs and tapped out the rhythm of that song to the listener. Then, the tapper predicted how likely it was that the listener would correctly guess the song. Finally, the listener guessed the song. Although tappers predicted that listeners would be right 50% of the time, listeners were right less than 3% of the time.  To do this activity, have students form pairs, assign one member to be the tapper and one to be the listener, and then give students these handouts.  Note that you can extend this activity by (a) having students take turns being the tapper and the listener and (b) having tappers tap out more than one song.


Related link

Tapper’s sheet


Pick out one of the songs below. Then, tap out the rhythm of that song. That is, tap (beat) your fingers on the table in sync with the notes of the song you picked. Do not hum or sing the song aloud. After listening to your tapping, your partner will guess the song’s name and will write down that guess. Then, before looking at your partner’s guess, estimate how likely it is that your partner will have guessed your song. Note that your partner does not need to know the exact title—knowing what song you mean is enough.


  1. Happy Birthday to You
  2. Auld Lange Syne,
  3. Rock Around the Clock
  4. We Are The Champions
  5. Take Me out to the Ballpark
  6. God Bless America
  7. America the Beautiful
  8. It’s a Small World
  9.  Yankee Doodle
  10. The Star Spangled Banner
  11. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
  12. I Like To Move It
  13. Over the Rainbow from  "The Wizard of Oz"
  14. Celebration
  15. When You Wish Upon a Star


Name of the song I chose  ________________________________________


Practice tapping out the song to yourself

After practicing, but before tapping it out to your partner, estimate the following two percentages:


1. I think there is a ____ % chance that my partner correctly guessed the song.


2. I think there is a ____ % chance that the average person would have correctly guessed the song.

After tapping it out to your partner, but before hearing your partner’s guess, estimate the following percentage:

I think there is a ____ % chance that my partner correctly guessed the song.


After learning your partner’s guess:


Name of the song my partner guessed  ________________________________________


On a scale from 0 (not at all musical) to 10 (very musical), rate how musical your partner is ____


Listener’s sheet



Your partner will tap out the rhythm of a fairly well-known song. Your job is to guess the song based on the rhythm being tapped. So, after your partner has finished drumming the song’s beat on the table, fill out the rest of this sheet. After you fill out the sheet, tell the partner your guess.



I think the song is ______________________________________________






I think there is a ____ % chance that I correctly guessed the song.




I think there is a ____ % chance that the average person would have correctly guessed the song.



On a scale from 0 (not at all musical) to 10 (very musical), rate how musical you are  ____ .





  1. Usually, tappers incorrectly predict that listeners will guess the song.  On average,   tappers believe there is about a 50% chance that the listener will guess the song,  but only 2.5% of listeners correctly guess the song. What does the tappers’ mistaken intuition tell us about the need to use data to test our intuitions?
  2. Professors who know about the tapper-listener study know that they are like tappers and students are like listeners. That is, these professors know that just because they (as “tappers”) understand their own explanations that does not mean those explanations are clear. Thus, these professors welcome questions over material they have “explained.” Would it be good if all professors knew about the tapper-listener study? Why or why not?
  3. By the end of this course, you will be similar to the “tapper” in that you will sense the need for proper research design so clearly that you may not fully explain the reasons for using proper methods to others (“listeners”). How will you avoid making the mistake of not clearly explaining the need for proper design to the scientifically naive?
  4. What do you think is the most important lesson to be learned from the tapper-listener study? Does it have any implications for sending e-mail or text messages?
  5. Tappers differ greatly in their estimates of how likely it is that the listener will correctly guess the song. Even in a small class, it is not unusual for some tappers to guess that there is a 3% chance that the listener will guess the song whereas others guess that there is a 95% chance the listener will guess the song. What differences in personality or background would you expect between tappers who make high estimates (underestimating how hard the listener’s task is) and tappers who make lower estimates?
  6. Could you use this tapper-listener exercise to try to make people clearer communicators, more empathic, or more forgiving? How might you do a study to see whether the exercise actually had the predicted effect? 
  7. What kind of training (e.g., training in active listening, training in empathy, training about the fundamental attribution error) might improve tappers’ performance? If that training improved tappers’ performance, what would you conclude?
  8. In this exercise, the focus was on looking at the tapper’s estimate of how likely the listener would be correct (the first question the tapper answered) and the listener’s actual accuracy (the second question the tapper answered). What other comparisons could you make? Which of those comparisons is most interesting to you? Why?
  9. What question would you add to the tapper or listener questionnaire? Why would you add that question?
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