I do love me some citizen science! This is a test put out by researchers at Johns Hopkins University to collect data on participants' number sense. The test presents blue and yellow dots on the screen and then asks participants to quickly judge which there is more of. It is accessible as a free download for educators and scientists who may want to use the test in their own research. The test is also available as an online application you can take 10 minutes or so to complete. That's where the "citizen" in this citizen science comes in: you can add your data to the pool that will help these researchers interpret an "inborn" element of number sense (go here for the article from Scientific American that describes the test and the research goals). You can get to the test and the downloadable application by going to Panamath directly. After you take the test, you will receive your results compared to the best and lowest performers. I did... poorly. Derp.
I heard about this test on one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff to Blow Your Mind (from the Discovery Chanel). The podcast episode was devoted to reading fiction, and some of the studies that have linked fiction-reading to abilities in empathy. The studies suggest that people who read and are interested in fiction are better able to empathize with others. There is, of course, room for different interpretations: perhaps people who are really good empathizers are also into fiction because they can get deep into the characters. It's definitely a worthwhile topic, and one that got me motivated to put more fiction in my literary diet. In this podcast episode, the hosts quickly mention a test for a person's ability to empathize. When I looked it up, I was somewhat surprised to find out that the test was created as part of the research of Simon Baron-Cohen, the Director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. For people with Autism Spectrum Disorders, empathy and theory of mind are distinct areas of struggle. This difficulty isn't just for Autism Spectrum Disorders, however, some neuro-typical people also have a hard time reading non-verbal cues like facial expressions. The Mind in the Eye test uses static images of different eyes and asks the participant to guess what the person in the picture is feeling. It's pretty hard, when I took it, I ended up doubting and rationalizing my choices a lot, which seems like the opposite of a natural reading of people's expressions. I did well on this test, though, I got a 31, which is on the high end of the scale. If you're interested in reading about Simon Baron-Cohen and other researchers' findings on the test and it's relation to Autism, you can download their article from the Jornal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry here.
Every so often, I wonder about myself. I am definitely a socially-liberal person, at least in the way I present myself. But I was raised in a place and by a family that embraced certain values. How much of what I value is culture and what is natural? Was I born with a disposition for these particular sets of values and opinions, or was I born with no dispositions, a tabula rasa open to whatever I was exposed to? I play those imaginary scenarios where I wonder what I would have done if I were in a historical situation. Would I march for civil rights in the 1960's? Would I participate as a Nazi soldier in WWII? Those scenarios are dependent on an infinite number of variables. The question becomes then, is there something fundamentally unique about me that leads me to feel the way I do about issues of race, gender equality, gay rights, animal abuse, etc.? Or am I truly a product of my environment and my experiences? These are BIG questions that no blog post or online test can answer for me or anyone. But, Harvard University has put out an online application, Project Implicit, that can help test-takers identify their biases. I like this test because it reveals a sense of a bias not based on actions, but based on how well you judge your own inner thoughts. This is about inner dispositions and not outward actions, both of which account for a person's beliefs and behaviors, whether they are congruent or not. Take the test and surprise yourself. Also remember that your reactions are conditioned and so they can be reconditioned.
And then, of course, there is the personality test. I really like personality tests. I remember when I used to have a subscription to Seventeen Magazine, and I would always flip around to the tests that were like "What kind of sexy are you?" or "What's your flirting style?". They were kind of limited in their scope, but they filled a deep-rooted desire to figure out what person I was turning out to be. I was curious about that a lot as a teenager, and I'm still curious, but now I'm more interested in who I am in a psychological/ neurological way. The Myers-Briggs test was created by Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Meyers during WWII as a sort of psychological-based aptitude test for women entering industrial job roles during the war. It was based on the psychological theories of Carl Jung, created to describe different characteristics for approaching the world. The Myers-Briggs test evaluates test takers based on a scale among 3 regions, attitude: Introverted/ Extroverted; functioning: Sensing/ Intuition, Thinking/ Feeling; and lifestyle: Judging/ Perception. The tests consists of simple statements and options to agree or disagree whether the statement describes the test taker. Results are presented in a 4-letter code indicating where the test taker lies on the scale, as well as a percentage breakdown to show how extreme those characteristics are. My Myers-Briggs has always been consistent from when I first took the test in High School, to when I took it just now for this post. I am ENFJ: Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging. I'm usually in the middle for the functions characteristics - I'm not extreme on intuition over sensing or feeling over thinking, but I lean more one way than the other. I'm always extreme extrovert, though, so that definitely says something about me. I love tests! They keep me busy when I'm at work and there are no birthdays or Tot Days to work on :) Er, I mean, they are enlightening and will help me live a more fulfilled life that is motivated toward success and oriented on my strengths. That's what I mean.