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I’ve written before about Malcolm Gladwell’s citing a study that showed students who were asked to take five minutes and write everything they knew about a professor (not a particular professor — just the qualities, responsibilities, etc of one) scored higher on a test they then took (see Getting Into A “Smart” Frame Of Mind on Test-Days). He says this is called ‘Brain-Priming.”

A new study has come-out and reached the same conclusions.

Both studies, though, raise the same question in my mind — both “primed” two groups: one to think about a professor, and the other to think about a less academically successful person. I wonder why neither had another group that wasn’t “primed” at all?

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. I agree about having a “non-primed” group. What ever happened to the idea of a control group? Seriously, I’m no researcher but even I know that makes for better data.

    But it’s very interesting stuff, regardless. Do you think you will try “priming” your students on test days?

  2. There could be several reasons for the lack of a control group.

    (A) The researchers didn’t think of it. Using control groups in educational research is far less common than in the hard sciences.

    (B) Having a control might have been too cumbersome or expensive. If there were two researchers, for example, and each used just his/her own students, they might have decided getting in a third person wasn’t worth the effort.

    (C) The study was first of several planned on the general topic. The authors will publish a follow-up, which will improve their publication record. See (D)

    (D) The study was done only for tenure purposes. If the authors’ goal is to publish and a poorly designed study can be published as readily as a well-designed one, then the authors may not care about bad design.

    Of course, there’s always the famous option E, all of the above.

    Call me cynical, but I’ve seen enough education studies to know not all research is done in the advancement of knowledge.

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