Thursday, May 15, 2008

Metacomprehension Accuracy

Say what? I volunteered to participate in a study at the university, for which they needed geezers. It was in the psych department, where I no longer know anyone, since all my friends from there are now dead or retired. I was met by a graduate student who was about the age of some of my socks, who took me and an oldish man (looked to be a whippersnapper of around 70) to the "Cognitive Learning Lab." The study purported to be about memory, and since I still know my name and address, I figured I would be a good subject.

We were shown to a small room containing 2 computers. After filling out a couple of forms (to avoid lawsuits on our part), we were told to start the programs, which involved reading a series of articles and after we had finished with all of them, there would be some tasks on comprehension, using key words and answering some questions about each of the articles. The old guy had never used a computer, so there was some brief instruction for him on mouse clicking.

The first article, which was just a "test" article, was basically about the methods used to do lab experiments with human subjects, the scientific method, basically. It was written totally in academic jargon and was a real snoozer. I have no idea why we had to read it because we were not asked to do the tasks on it. The main effect of plodding through it was a feeling of gratitude that I do not ever have to read anything like it again.

Well, that was only the beginning of the deadly boring next 2 hours. The next article was on the naval battles in the Atlantic during WWII. That was followed by an article on stress, the reading of which was completely stressful, since it read like an overachiever's term paper. Then there was another really exciting piece on the Vikings - not a sports team, but the real deal and how they sailed around and had bloody battles and took over where the Romans left off back in the day. Next came a really aggravating exploration of the different ways men and women communicate. Real earth shaking stuff, there.And no sex either. The last was on the effects of ethanol on sleep. Guess what? It has an effect, which one could have said in about one sentence.

All of this was written in the most painfully boring manner possible, the sort of interest (if at all) only to academics attending the obligatory professional meetings. After we had plowed through this we had to list 5 key words from each article (a time lag being crucial to the research). We also had to answer questions from each article that only someone with Asbergers would even think about.

When this was all done we had another thing to do which was to make up definitions for word pairs used in a little short story. We were encourages to use our imagination, which had been effectively killed by the previous activity.

Most of the research done in this area has been done with college students and the material is aimed at college level people, so I don't know what this study will show using geezers, and there was no requirement that participants have a college degree. The grad student said they have accounted for that - how, I cannot imagine. I told her that one variable they may not have considered is that profound boredom could skew the results, in that the temptation to skip over much of it was great. In fact, knowing that I could not skip made it all the more painful.

However, I got paid $20 for my trouble and will remain on their guinea pig list. I expect that this study is underwritten by a grant, so no tax money is being used. If anyone wants more information, just Google "Metacomprehension Accuracy" and you'll find, right on top, a brief description of the original study. Oy veh!

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