November 23, 2010

Bird Brain

Check out this cute little guy!

I saw him (or her I guess) pecking away like mad (check out the size of that hole!!) while I was on my way to take what ended up being some very frustrating memory and cognitive-ability diagnostic tests. Well, I shouldn't make them out to be all that bad...I guess I was just hoping that I'd perform better on them than I think I did. Truthfully, I don't have any idea how I scored. and I guess I shouldn't care too much anyway because these tests were just part of a research study on memory and cognitive function, thus my scores will forever remain safely confidential and won't affect my future--academic or otherwise--in any way.

In the first test I was shown 4 symbols that were said to represent 4 words: "cowboy", "dog", "horse" and "the". I was then presented with a page containing a sequence of these symbols and was asked to "read" them. Ok...easy enough. I was then shown 4 additional symbol/words and asked to "read" another sentence that incorporated all 8 symbols. I did fine here as well. It started to get a bit tougher when the required symbol "vocabulary" grew to incorporate 16...and finally I think 28 new words. Maybe it doesn't sound that bad, but remember: I was given only one chance to see each new set and was not given pointers if I stumbled or instruction if one of the new words didn't stick as well as I would have hoped. I actually felt like I did ok with this task, but in typical Kelly fashion I had been hoping for perfection...and probably fell a bit short.

The second test required me to listen to a sequence of words and numbers and then repeat back as much of the sequence I could remember stating the objects first (in order) and numbers second (again, in order). For example, the first thing I heard might have been something like: "six...turtle." I'd then respond with "turtle...six." Not so bad right? Well, when you start getting faced with strings of utterances like, "horse, dress, nine, cup, six, four, house, truck, one" and then have to regurgitate all those things in the new correct order (which, by the way, would have been "horse, dress, cup, house, truck, nine, six, four, one")...well, you can see why I may have struggled.

Finally, I was faced with a set of logic problems where in each case I was provided with a "key" (say...1 red plus 1 blue = black), and then asked to solve for a bunch of problems based on the information provided by the key or keys. It was like algebra...with colored squares. For the first several pages I was cruising! I found a great visual system by which to quickly identify and apply the information I needed. The test administrator even commented about how quickly I was able to move and that most people take much longer to solve each problem. It was thrilling! Each puzzle increased in difficulty though and while at one moment I was going forward with little or no trouble, I suddenly encountered a problem I absolutely didn't understand. "Take your time," said the administrator, "there's no hurry." But try as I might I simply couldn't make any solution work. "There is a correct answer." reassured the administrator, but at a certain point I simply had to pass. From that point forward I passed on all but one problem and ended the test feeling deflated and embarrassed. "Don't worry," the researcher told me, "everyone has trouble. They all come in wanting to be geniuses, but these questions are meant to be tricky."

Later this afternoon I participated in another study in which I was asked to look at a series of images depicting armed "criminals" and "police officers." I had to quickly identify with a joystick which was which. The key was that all the "police officers" were wearing badges somewhere on their person. I got the idea right off the bat that this test was meant to diagnose whether or not I had any any latent racial biases that would make me more likely to identify any black people shown as criminals. I don't think I had much trouble with this one (though I was not shown the results so I guess I don't really know for sure).

My conclusions for the day: I feel glad to have contributed to science, it felt great to make a whopping $18, and although I might be a bird brain, at least I'm not a racist!


  1. Sounds like you had an adventure on your "day off" Have a great Thanksgiving!

  2. Man, I want to participate in a study like that! It sounds like it was really stimulating. I am sure you did quite well; it's too bad we don't get to know your scores.