Priming on math tests

To continue my thinking about getting math problems wrong for cognitive science reasons, I want to discuss priming.

Derren Brown is a mentalist (that is, a “psychic” who admits up front he is doing nothing more mystical than applied psychology) who is particularly good at priming. In this video he asks a teacher to read a story and think of an image; the story influences a teacher into thinking of a teddy bear through subtle cues.

For example, the title of the story is “Near” where the “N” is drawn to somewhat resemble a “B”, and placed next to an animal which resembles a bear.

Also, the story incldues the phrase “red beak to wear” where the “k” resembles a “r” if the top is removed, and the close proximity of the rhyming word “wear” also suggests a bear.

A group of children painted as they listened to the story, and came up with an image resembling a teddy bear simply through the priming in the story.

(Derren Brown has done this many times; try his Subliminal Advertising to see how far priming can go.)

Keeping the technique in mind, answer these two questions:

1.) What would happen if these two questions on a recent test of mine were reversed (that is, #4 was given as #5 and #5 was given as #4)?

2.) The following is a multiple choice question with the image removed. If a student were to ignore the math content of the answers (that is, guess), which would be the most common answer?

The conic section depicted can be categorized as:

a.) Parabola
b.) Ellipse
c.) Cone
d.) Plane
e.) Hyperbola

2 Responses

  1. Re: The Conic Section: Obviously since the test paper itself is a flat 2-dimensional object, the answer is “plane”!

    Love the #4 and #5 swap proposal. All hell would break loose while the students scrambled to interpret 24x^4 and 6x as cubes 😛

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