Author Archives: karahogue

Is Spelling Truly Important?

As I was scrolling through Facebook a couple weeks ago, I came across this post.

This has tired me out

Posted by Awesome Inventions on Tuesday, February 6, 2018

I found this post intriguing since we were learning about word recognition in class. How was my brain able to sift through this mess relatively quickly? I’m going to be honest- I’m still not completely sure. Our brains are so incredibly complicated and amazing that it’s impossible to fully understand them.

I believe that this phenomenon has lots of different mechanisms at work. Since the post said that it was created by research at Cambridge University, I started looking for the original post since we all know Facebook isn’t exactly 100% reliable. What I found was an article by Matt Davis, who works at Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK. Read his research on this subject here. He was able to break down the brain processes behind this phenomenon a bit more with lots of relevant studies. The main effect that came to mind when I first saw the Facebook post was the Word Superiority Effect that we discussed in class. It is because of this effect that we recognize letters more easily when they are in words than on their own. Davis generalized this effect to this exercise, saying “Following brief presentations of written words, people are often better at guessing what word they saw, rather than guessing individual letters in that word.” If we were to spend an excess amount of time with one of these words we may second guess ourselves or see other words that could be made by these letters.

This is not the only mechanism at work here. Obviously the context comes into play. You are less likely to decipher “mtaetr” by itself than in the post where it says “it dseno’t mtaetr…” Although the word superiority effect comes in to play, it works better when paired with meaningful context. You may not have caught it while reading the post- but the function words are still in tact. Words such as “the,” “a,” and “not” cannot be jumbled while keeping the first and last letter the same. This helps us to read the passage easier since some words are still the same. Similarly, short words such as “what” are barely jumbled and quite easy to decipher.

So is the post correct? Do we only read words as a whole? Does spelling matter? According to the research, this is true to an extent. It is easier for us to read words as a whole, but we are still able to distinguish between “salt” and “slat.” According to the Facebook post, our minds would not know the difference between these words. Obviously there is more happening here than just looking at the first and last letter. Spelling matters to an extent.

I thought this was so cool to try for myself and really dig into. The research behind exercises like this is incredible and so intriguing (to me at least.) We will never truly know every aspect and mechanism of cognition, but the more we know about how we learn and read the better we can shape our learning. Since I am studying to teach elementary kids this was completely relevant to me. There is a lot of debate on spelling tests now and I was interested to see how this study would be relevant. I think I’d rather have my kids free write and correct them as they go rather than doing spelling tests. As we saw earlier- context is important! If you’d like to learn more about the word superiority effect or see it in action yourself, try out this lab!




Trump’s Cognitive Testing



Last week Trump was given a cognitive test that he specifically requested. Since some people have questioned his mental fitness, he wanted to put the questions to rest. His doctor, Dr. Ronny Jackson, used the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, also known as the MoCA. The assessment is comprised of various memory and mental tasks, including the naming of animals pictured, remembering certain words, and reciting numbers backwards. To pass the exayou must score a 26/30, but Trump got a perfect 30/30 score. His doctor said that this rules out any cognitive impairment and there is no need for any further tests.

Obviously we should take this article’s report with a grain of salt, as it is CNN. Every news channel has an angle and bias towards almost anyone in politics. I went back to the actual press conference and CNN didn’t seem to embellish anything drastically. They only reported his results without tying in any outside research, so I didn’t have to critique that. We first need to review a few principles before looking at their representation in the test.

In the first chapter of our text we discussed the digit span task, and even gave it a shot in class. This activity had us hear a series of numbers and repeat them back, If we got them correct more numbers were added. This would measure our number span. We also discussed parts of the working memory, which means information that is being processed now. When asked how we remember a seriesof numbers for the digit span task, many people say by repetition. This means that they utilized their articulatory rehearsal loop. They repeated the numbers in their inner voice, also called the “subvocalization.” but could still complete other tasks while doing it. These principles were shown in Trump’s testing.

The MoCA utilized a few span tests, using both numbers and letters separately. The words that were used in one span test were to be recalled at the end of the test. Trump was warned that he would be asked to repeat them again, and utilized his articulatory rehearsal loop to remember the words. He could continue on with other tasks while repeating those words in his inner voice. This allowed him to remember them perfectly at the end of the test.

Do you think this test is an accurate portrayal of Trump’s cognitive abilities? Could someone with cognitive impairments have easily passed this test? I felt suspicious of the test after reading sample questions and activities. This doesn’t mean that I necessarily think that Trump is cognitively impaired in any way, but the test seemed to focus mostly on working memory, which is just a small part of cognition. I think it would be interesting to see how Trump did with other activities that maybe had more critical thinking skills involved. After looking up the MoCA and reading more about it, it is to be used as a brief screening tool. I definitely believe that people can pass this test even if they are cognitively impaired. Again, I’m not saying that I think Trump is (and in fact I don’t believe he is,) but I think to say with certainty that he does not have any cognitive impairments a more thorough, diverse test would need to be done.

Read the CNN report here