Previously on Seth’s Blog: A few weeks ago, during a brief test, I did simple arithmetic (e.g., 3+8, 4*0) substantially faster than usual. The next day, under the same conditions, it happened again. I thought of four possible reasons for the improvement:
- 30 g of butter I’d eaten a few hours earlier.
- A cobblestone mat I’d stood on earlier for 5 minutes.
- Walking for 10 minutes before the test.
- Standing (rather than sitting) during the test.
I guessed it was the walking.
Since then I’ve been gathering data to choose between these possibilities. I’ve been eating butter regularly to see if there’s a chronic speed-up. And I’ve been doing pairs of tests 20 minutes apart. The first test provides a baseline against which to judge the results of the second test. To measure the effects of the cobblestone mat I stood on the mat between the tests. To measure the effect of walking, I walked during the time between the tests. To measure the effect of standing, I stood during the second test but not the first.
The results so far suggest, to my surprise, that two of the four factors helped: butter and standing. How wrong I was!
At Berkeley, one of my students did a self-experiment that compared different ways of studying. She measured how long she stayed awake while studying foreign vocabulary. Worst turned out to be the conventional way: sitting at her desk in silence. Best was lying on her bed listening to hard rock. My new results are sort of a bigger version of the same thing: conventionally we avoid butter and sit while doing intellectual work.