A Nutritious Read

By Cherie Winner | Posted on March 2, 2009

Categories: Biological Sciences

Testing 1 2 3

While working on my WSM story about memory research, I came across online versions of tests that are similar to those that Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe used in her study of different aspects of memory. Maureen couldn’t give her tests to me directly, because she pays for their use and they are copyright-protected. But I wanted to see what they were like, so I Googled some of the tests mentioned in her most recent journal article and spent a happy hour trying them. Here are a couple of my favorites.

The trail-making test (PDF) resembles a connect-the-dots game. It looks like this:

Trail-making test

Part A has numbers only, 1 through 25, which you connect in numerical order. The time it takes you to do that provides a baseline for the more challenging Part B, which has numbers 1 through 12 and letters A through L. Your task there is to connect the numbers in order and the letters in order, while alternating between numbers and letters; the line you draw will go 1-A-2-B-3-C and so on. This tests your ability to switch tasks while still doing each one correctly. It was an interesting sensation, feeling the switching going on in my brain as I did this.

To really feel the gears mashing, try the interactive tests at this site from the University of Washington (shout-out to the Huskies!). Each test presents your brain with contradictory information you sort out as quickly as you can. In the color/word interference test, you first read a list of color names. Each name appears in the color it describes; the word “red” is red, the word “blue” is blue, and so on. The site tells you how long that took. Then it gives you another screen, on which the names appear in other colors; the word “red” may be blue or green or yellow, for instance. In this case, your job is to say what color each word appears in, not what color it names. It’s surprisingly hard. Once again, you’re timed. There’s no penalty for stumbles, other than the time it takes you to correct yourself.

Another test starts with pictures of animals with the name of the animal superimposed on it. A penguin has the word “penguin” written across it, for instance. The next part of the test scrambles the pictures and names, so the penguin may have the word “tiger” written on it. Your job is to name the animal pictured, regardless what label it bears.

The site has more tests in the same interactive format. Don’t go there unless you have a few minutes to tarry!

discovery logoThe Discovery blog was a magazine commentary that ran from 2009 to 2012 chronicling the creative and intellectual excitement of discovery found in the many investigations and discussion at Washington State University. The site was unfortunately depreciated and is no longer maintained.