Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Priming yourself to be smarter

In my continuing fascination with how our brains work, I decided to pick up Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (new window), after reading his earlier book, The Tipping Point (mentioned in the post: Knowledge and Relationships).

Once again I am highly recommending this book. This book is just as, perhaps more, fascinating than The Tipping Point.

To the point: Gladwell suggests that we can be prepared or primed to think in a particular way with some simple and subtle suggestion.

From Blink by Malcolm Gladwell:
[T]he effects of priming aren’t trivial. Two Dutch researchers did a study in which they had groups of students answer forty-two fairly demainding questions from the board game Trivial Pursuit. Half were asked to take five minutes beforehand to think about what it would mean to be a professor and write down everything that came to mind. Those students got 55.6 percent of the questions right. The other half of the students were asked to first sit and think about soccer hooligans. They ended up getting 42.6 percent of the Trivial Pursuit questions right. The “professor” group didn’t know more than the “soccer hooligan” group. They weren’t smarter or more focused or more serious. They were simply in a “smart” frame of mind, and clearly, associating themselves with the idea of something smart, like a professor, made it a lot easier – in that stressful instant after a trivia question was asked – to blurt out the right answer. The difference between 55.6 and 42.6 percent, it should be pointed out, is enormous. That can be the difference between passing and failing.
The implications here are wild! To me, it seems that before any sort of testing situation, it is possible for us to prime ourselves to think in that “smart” frame of mind.

Rather than thinking about hooking up with that cute guy/girl right before the exam, our thoughts should be of greatness and intelligence. It may help to think of someone you think of as smart, or what it means to be smart.

And hey, even if it improves your mark by only 1%, it’s a free percent that takes only minutes before an exam. Two minutes for one percent? I’ll take that any day.

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At 4:29 PM, Anonymous Jessica said...

I'm going to think of you, hehe

At 10:25 PM, Anonymous Jason G. said...

Greetings Mr. Jong-Il,

First time reader, long time commentator. Your blog seems to do a good job of reminding me how useless I am. I hope you're happy.

Ugh, now I've gotta go study or something to wash away the stink of incompetence.

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Amanda said...

Is a prime still a prime if it's conscious? If you tell yourself that you're intelligent before an exam, does this imply that you've primed yourself, or psyched yourself up for the exam (which is a different psychological phenomenon)?

At 11:05 PM, Blogger Joshua Hwang said...

Hello Amanda,

I'll be frank and say that my expertise on psychology is a little lacking. It may be that consciouslly psyching yourself up is not quite priming, as it is conscious.

I did what I usually do in situations like this: I checked wikipedia.

They say that while it is usually thought of unconscious, it may also be conscious. But for all you know I could have just changed it myself. You'll have to take my word that I didn't ;)


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