Study: To Improve Your Score, Try a Little Pre-Test Ancestor Worship
David Berreby is the author of "Us and Them: The Science of Identity." He has written about human behavior and other science topics for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Smithsonian, The New Republic, Nature, Discover, Vogue and many other publications. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Paris, a Science Writing Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory, a resident at Yaddo, and in 2006 was awarded the Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship for the first edition of "Us and Them." David can be found on Twitter at @davidberreby and reached by email at david [at] davidberreby [dot] com.
I admit I was creeped out by this new paper, from the European Journal of Social Psychology, which reports that people primed to think about their ancestors performed better on intelligence tests than did people who didn't. I'm just a little squicked that a study performed in Austria commends pride in one's "genetic origins" as performance-enhancer, given how in the past they've had some trouble with that sort of thing. More importantly, the experimental procedure (as reported here) seems to have tested only one hypothesis: The 80 undergraduates in the study either contemplated ancestors or they thought about shopping. So the experimenters haven't shown that ancestral identity has more effect than another kind, like "student at this prestigious university" or "member of the chess team."
As I've written here, other researchers have boosted test performance by reminding people of their status as elite-university students. Others have found that simply getting students to think about their values was enough to erase typical gender and racial gaps in test scores.
There's plenty of work suggesting that people's achievement scores can be improved by getting them to think about one of their many identities in a positive way. Why privilege ancestry?
The "ancestor effect" paper:
Fischer, P., Sauer, A., Vogrincic, C., & Weisweiler, S. (2010). The ancestor effect: Thinking about our genetic origin enhances intellectual performance European Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.778
Other interventions that have boosted test scores are
Reminding volunteers of their identity as elite university students:
McGlone, M., & Aronson, J. (2006). Stereotype threat, identity salience, and spatial reasoning Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 27 (5), 486-493 DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2006.06.003
Getting subjects to focus on values before the test:
Cohen, G. (2006). Reducing the Racial Achievement Gap: A Social-Psychological Intervention Science, 313 (5791), 1307-1310 DOI: 10.1126/science.1128317
Miyake, A., Kost-Smith, L., Finkelstein, N., Pollock, S., Cohen, G., & Ito, T. (2010). Reducing the Gender Achievement Gap in College Science: A Classroom Study of Values Affirmation Science, 330 (6008), 1234-1237 DOI: 10.1126/science.1195996
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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