Yes, but the monkeys aren't hung over
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I found this today at Reuters.com and it got me to thinking.
"Monkeys performed about as well as college students at mental addition, U.S. researchers said on Monday in a finding that suggests nonverbal math skills are not unique to humans." (See Monkeys and college students as good at mental math for the full article.)
If I may propose an alternative conclusion: College students today are monkeys.
Look, I know there're a lot of bright kids out there, and a lot of them doing terrific work in our institutions of higher learning. Still, there's a reason for the beer-guzzling-frat-boy-party-animal stereotype, and it's not all due to Animal House. It existed when I was in college last decade, and it existed when I was still living in the same college town two years ago (Indiana University, Bloomington, #1 party school, 2002 — whooo!). So while there are tons of smart youngsters yearning for intellectual betterment and working hard to achieve it, there are also a good percentage who merely see college as a four-year exercise in drinking, sex, sleeping and wasting Mom and Dad's money (not necessarily in that order).
There's also an interesting fact these studies usually don't state: their pools of respondants. I was a psychology major, and so I took many an introductory psychology course. And introductory psychology courses are also populated with the general student populate looking to fullfill a science credit because biology is too hard. And a class requirement in all introductory psychology courses is the participation in at least two studies currently being performed by researchers in the psychology department. This is standard in all major universities.
So let's look at this a little closer: On the one hand, we have human subjects who don't really want to be there, don't really care about the study, or (as in this study are being paid) just want their money and class credit. While these studies are generally designed to take into account respondants who like to make "joke answers" and whatnot, we're talking about an extremely large pool of uninterested subjects. On the other hand, we have primates who work with the researchers on a daily basis and, interestingly, have to be trained to perform the task at hand. I wonder what the results would be if a student had to sit in the lab for a couple days performing the same actions over and over. I bet they could do some things by rote pretty well.
I'm not actually trying to be critical of the findings of this study. I'm just wondering how valid they are. After all, check the last line of the article.