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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Smart thinking to be born first

I am the oldest of seven siblings, so naturally I agree with new evidence reported by Benedict Carey of the New York Times that eldest children develop higher IQs. Aside from getting a big head over this news, what I find intriguing is the assertion by Robert Zajonc, a psychologist at Stanford University, that the main source for intellectual stimulation comes from tutoring — a natural role for the oldest.

“Explaining something … solidifies your knowledge and allows you to grow more extensively.” -- Professor Robert Zajonc

That’s why when I teach workshops for Stat-Ease on-site I suggest that students work in teams of two, with the more advanced ones paired up with those that may be just beginning. Both partners learn more as a result of this tactic to encourage tutoring. Also, this purposeful pairing reduces the odds of two slow learners dragging back the class relative to a more dynamic duo. If students are allowed to select their own partners, it seems inevitable that the range between teams of two will be maximized, making it very difficult to achieve just the right pace for presentation.

An editorial cartoon by Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune (pointed out to me by Pat Whitcomb) provides an alternative explanation for why younger siblings end up a bit slower mentally: They get regularly rapped on the head by their elders! If you are the oldest, like me, you will get a kick out of emailing Sack’s cartoon to your family.


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