Program for International Student Assessment ranks U.S. students 24th in Science Achievement

2 Oct

(Hat tip to BoingBoing)

Memory champion Jonas Von Essen: Recursion edition

29 Sep

When you are interested in memory improvement, you become the object of amusement whenever you forget something.

In this video Memory champion Jonas Von Essen admits to forgetting things he has not specifically used his memory techniques on. This point was brought home to me when I realized that I had already posted this video a couple of years ago. Very humbling.

Is William Shatner an unrecognized genius?

27 Sep

All the talk in the media about “Rocket Man” has made me reflect about William Shatner, whose cover you can see below. I remember, years ago, hearing an interview with Shatner where he asserted, without any trace of irony, that his music would someday be appreciated as genius.

Clearly this has been the case for some artists; rejected in their life times, only to be recognized years later. Could Shatner be right? What are the probabilities that he will be extolled in the future? My guess is that such a reappraisal is rather unlikely.

But, you be the judge:

Howard Eichenbaum

25 Sep

My friend Enrique Guerra-Pujol (who blogs at alerted me to the recent death of Howard Eichenbaum, who did important work on the role of hippocampus in memory.

A number of Eichenbaum’s lectures are available on line. But they are somewhat technical. Here is a good overview of the hippocampus.

Does praising children for being smart promotes cheating?

22 Sep

So says this paper just published in Psychological Science:

Praise is one of the most commonly used forms of reward. It is convenient, is nearly effortless, and makes the recipient feel good. However, praising children for being smart carries unintended consequences: It can undermine their achievement motivation in a way that praising their effort or performance does not (Cimpian, Arce, Markman, & Dweck, 2007; Kamins & Dweck, 1999; Mueller & Dweck, 1998; see Dweck, 2007). In this study, we investigated whether the negative consequences of praising children for being smart extend to the moral domain, by encouraging cheating.

There is some prior work suggesting that evaluative feedback can influence children’s moral behaviors (Fu, Heyman, Qian, Guo, & Lee, 2016; Mueller & Dweck, 1998; Zhao, Heyman, Chen, & Lee, 2017). Telling 5-year-olds (but not younger children) that they have a reputation for being good leads to a reduction in their cheating, presumably because they are interested in maintaining this reputation (Fu et al., 2016). We propose that telling children that they are smart, a form of ability praise, may have the opposite effect by motivating them to cheat to appear smarter. In a study consistent with this possibility, Mueller and Dweck (1998) found that 10-year-olds exaggerated how well they had performed after receiving ability praise. However, little is known about whether ability praise can influence young children’s moral behavior. The present research addressed this question by comparing the effects of ability and performance praise on preschool children’s cheating.

Dominic O’Brien: Eight Time World Memory Champion

20 Sep

Here is a video of Dominic O’Brien memorizing a deck of cards and talking a bit about his career.

Of the popular memory improvement books, I think O’Brien’s are among the best.

Why are there so many languages?

18 Sep

A piece in Quartz explores this question:

In many cases, you could stand at the edge of one village and see the outskirts of the next community. Yet the residents of each village spoke completely different languages. According to recent work by my colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, this island, just 100 km long and 20 km wide, is home to speakers of perhaps 40 different indigenous languages. Why so many?
We could ask this same question of the entire globe. People don’t speak one universal language, or even a handful. Instead, today our species collectively speaks over 7,000 distinct languages.

I learned a number of interesting things about the dispersion of human languages from this article.

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