The Spirit of Elijah Will Spare the World from the Curse . . . of Low Test Scores

As seen at Marginal Revolution, a study of turning the hearts of the children to their fathers:

An initial study involved 80 undergrads spending five minutes thinking about either their fifteenth century ancestors, their great-grandparents or a recent shopping trip. Afterwards, those students in the two ancestor conditions were more confident about their likely performance in future exams, an effect that seemed to be mediated by their feeling more in control of their lives.

Three further studies showed that thinking or writing about their recent or distant ancestors led students to actually perform better on a range of intelligence tests, including verbal and spatial tasks (in one test, students who thought about their distant ancestors scored an average of 14 out of 16, compared with an average of 10 out of 16 among controls). The ancestor benefit was mediated partly by students attempting more answers – what the researchers called having a ‘promotion orientation’.

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

7 thoughts on “The Spirit of Elijah Will Spare the World from the Curse . . . of Low Test Scores

  1. Very interesting. I just taught a lesson on this in our course 12/13 Sunday School this last Sunday.

  2. Correlation is not causation, but this is nonetheless interesting. Chinese philosophy has long held that their ancestors are “watching” the current generation, so you don’t want to do anything to embarrass your ancestors. I wonder if there is some link to that kind of idea.

  3. Chinese philosophy has long held that their ancestors are “watching” the current generation

    I believe that our ancestors are not only watching, but that they participate in the guidance and inspiration that we receive. In the most radical sense, they are our fathers and mothers in heaven.

  4. So what if thinking about the organization of your family helps you organize your own thoughts better? What if remembering long known but rarely reviewed information about your family helps you remember other information that you need to recall from the deep recesses of previously learned material? What if recalling that your ancestors have successfully navigated various perils can help reassure you as you navigate your own life? What if remembering the way your ancestors handled problem reminded you of ways to handled the problems you face? What if remembering historical details in a more personal context (your family tree) helps you recall them better? What if remembering stories about your ancestors primed your verbal abilities? What if imagining the world in which your ancestors lived, the streets they walked, the clothes they wore, the region of the world they live, makes you more prepared to do other spatially related activities? AND, what if thinking about shopping trips instead makes you think about immediate gratification of needs and wants instead of higher functions (although if the focus was recalling locations in the mall instead of what you bought, I wonder if that may also help with spatial abilities).

    I do believe in the Spirit of Elijah, but I’m hesitant to attribute this phenomenon to it.

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