How Your Brain Tricks You Into Thinking You Lost A Sock

How Your Brain Tricks You Into Thinking You Lost A Sock

We’ve all lost a sock or two in the laundry, but author Dan Ariely points out in an article on the Wall Street Journal that missing socks aren’t always missing. Sometimes, it’s just a trick of the brain.

Picture: Simon Davies/Flickr

When we believe a sock goes missing, we immediately chalk it up to some supernatural force eating our laundry. While that’s certainly the case sometimes, Ariely points out that sometimes we’re just not recognising what’s really going on:

We also found one mechanism that can explain this mystery — the overcounting of missing socks. You have many socks, and if you see one of them and don’t immediately find its partner, you say, “Oh! A sock has been lost!” You remember that a sock is missing, but you do not exactly recall its type or colour.

Later on, you see the matching sock, but you don’t remember that it forms a pair with the first sock, and you say to yourself (again): “Another sock is missing. Where is its partner? I can’t believe so many socks go missing.”

So we often count as lost each sock in a pair — even though neither is really lost.

As we already know, our memory sucks, and this is more proof of that. Thankfully, you can get around the whole problem by simply making your laundry experience more efficient.

Missing Socks Are No Mystery [Wall Street Journal]


  • All my socks match, so that explanation doesn’t really apply for me, and yet I still end up with missing socks. I only know my socks go missing because every few months I need to buy new ones, not because any have worn out and are full of holes, but because they keep disappearing until I reach the point where I’m pretty much wearing the same pair every day. 🙁

  • Both you two are just experiencing the seasonal migration of the southern plains sockolope. This elusive creature migrates twice a year from it’s summer grazing pastures in the high country, down to the coastal plains for the cold winter, and then back again. Along the way they must find and procure socks which it then uses to incubate their newborns through the final stages of the winter cold, much like a kangaroo pouch. Sockolopes only ever have one offspring per breeding season… hence the reason why only ONE of your socks from a pair goes missing.

  • I pulled apart my washing machine a few weeks ago. I found $1.50, 2 socks, a bandaid and a g-string… I dont even wear g-strings.
    Moral of the story: Washing machines do eat socks.

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