Judith Goodyear became the youngest ever presenter at the 2006 New Zealand Skeptics conference with this exploration of the chain letters of the average teen.

Most email chain letters that people my age get are very different to those of adults. I don’t get any by physical chain mail or legal/business related petitions. The ones I do get act on greed, guilt, fear and ‘cuteseywuteseyness’.

The aim of my study was to find out which type of chain letter was the most effective on my age group, effective meaning that the letter got sent on.

I developed a questionnaire using four examples of chain letters from my Inbox. I gave this questionnaire to two blinded classes (47 children) at my school. Blinded means that my English teacher gave them out without anyone knowing that it was my survey.

The four examples in the survey were:

Chain Letter 1

You receive an email with the following message…

Subj: FW: (don’t open in front of parents) (sorry guys)

Five people actually got killed by not sending this piece of mail.

The creator of this mail has a program that will track down everyone who sent this mail and whoever that didn’t send it will DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE because this program can actually track down your address.

Send this to 15 people within the next fifteen minutes or you will die die die die die, what do you have to lose? Your life?

This is an example of a chain letter which uses fear. It says you will die if you do not send it on because “the creator of this mail has a program that… can actually track down your address”.

Chain Letter 2

You receive an email with the following message…

i love you forever and always 2 the end…

i cant live with out ya…

because ur my friend…

send this to 10 ppl in the next 5 min and you will get kissed on friday by da love of ur life….


ur crush will ask u out and 2morow will b da best day of ur life.

Howeva, if u dont send this 2 @ least 10 ppl by @ least 12:00 2nite u will hav bad luck in ur luv life 4 da rest of ur life.

dis is not a stupid lie or a fake.

Just copy & paste & send no send backs… let all your friends know that you love them…

The second example’s element is greed. It has a little bit of cover-up cuteseyness so that you don’t notice. It says that if you send it on, your crush will ask you out and that tomorrow will be the best day of your life. This makes it worthwhile sending it, besides, it even SAYS that it’s “not a stupid lie or a fake”.

Chain Letter 3

You receive an email with the following message…

This is for hurricane Katrina… you need 400 signatures and we are sending it to Red Cross for every name there is a 5 cent donation. If you don’t do it you are dumb.

>1.) Justin

>2.) Max


<snip> names 4 to 315

>316. Kingy!!!!!

>317. Carol (my thoughts and prayers are with those families)

>318. Ashley

>319. Sasha

This third example uses guilt. This means it tries to make you feel bad for not sending it on. It’s supposedly for Hurricane Katrina’s victims. It’s a petition. It misses the vital information of what the 400th person does. Also, because you send it to more than one person, each person you send it to will add their name and send to different people. So if you sent it to Jack and Jill, and Jack doesn’t know Jill, then there would not be a petition with BOTH Jack’s and Jill’s names on it. So there will be many with 50 or so people the same, and then they’re all different.

Chain Letter 4

You receive a long email with the following message…


This is one of the cutest and nicest emails around….

Happy National Friendship Week!!

Many people will walk in and out of your life. But only true friends will leave footprints in your heart. To handle yourself, use your head; To handle others, use your heart.

Anger is only one letter short of danger. If someone betrays you once, it is his fault; If he betrays you twice, it is your fault.

Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.

He, who loses money, loses much; He, who loses a friend, loses much more; He, who loses faith, loses all.

Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, ?

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.

Friends, you and me

You brought another friend

And then there were three

We started our group

Our circle of friends

There is no beginning or end.

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is a gift.

It’s National Friendship Week. Show your friends how much you care …. Send this to everyone you consider a FRIEND. If it comes back to you, then you’ll know you have a circle of friends.


The last example is self explanatory (and incredibly lame). Awww.. How sickening. You’re supposed to send this chain to everyone you consider a friend. If you get it back, you have a circle of friends, which will keep going until you get fed up, as it says nothing about not sending it the 2nd time, the 3rd time, the 4th time and so on.

After each example were options for people to tick one:

Do you?

  1. delete without reading
  2. read and delete
  3. send to one or two people
  4. send to stated number of people

People ticked the one they thought they were supposed to (they were actually supposed to tick the one they DID).

Here are my results:

This is the raw data simply put neatly into a pretty little table. You don’t get much information from it until you see… … this chart. It is a lot more useful than the table. Isn’t it pretty? (It was even prettier in colour! – ed.)

This shows that…

  • People are reportedly far more likely to ‘read and delete’ than to ‘send to stated number of people’.
  • The chain letter type that was most said to have been sent ‘to stated number of people’ was ‘Cutesy Wutesy’.

and that…

  • People are certainly not always truthful when answering questions. I know roughly how many people send chain letters on (see my Inbox for more info) and it was FAR more than my survey showed.

If I ever repeated this survey I would

  • Have a bigger sample size for more accurate results, eg whole school.
  • Attempt to find a way to compare what people say they do to what they really do.
  • Maybe set up chain letters which say that people must forward them to a particular email address which I would have created, to properly correlate what people say they do, and what they actually do.

In 2006 Judith Goodyear was a Year 8 student at Albany Junior High School.

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