Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Can what you listen to affect your SAT score?
Maybe you listened to the radio or read the newspaper in the past week and heard that a study had been done that compares the music you listen to on your ipod to your SAT score. Are you ready to change your playlist to add a couple hundred points to your score? If so, you'll want to add some Beethoven. The author of this study says the smartest people listen to Beethoven.
But before you start to listen to the Beethoven channel you might want to look a little closer at the study.
According to the author, there is a correlation between what people listen to and their SAT scores. To start with, a correlation means that two things seem to move together, like the fact that my family eats a lot more ice cream when it's hot outside. Does that mean that if we eat more ice cream in the winter it will get hotter? No, so don't reach for the Beethoven yet (although I really like his piano concertos and would recommend them to anyone who likes classical music).
But you should also look at the data before you decide a study means what it claims to mean. In this case, the study took the average SAT scores at numerous colleges and compared those to Facebook.com's college network statistics on peoples' favorite music. It chose the top ten music favorites and decided this would do. A few things to look at when considering what to believe: Was the sample representative? Are the top ten music preferences really indicative of the average preferences of all the students at that college? Did all the students at each college list their favorite music on Facebook? In this case, the samples are almost certainly not equal.
While we try to teach students to look judiciously at what they read on the Internet, it's also important to remember that radio and news reporters don't always check deeply into the facts of a study before they report on it.
If you want to see more of this type of correlation (keeping in mind that Facebook isn't a scientifically valid sample for this type of study), you might also enjoy looking at the same author's study of Books that Make you Dumb. Just remember, not every bit of research is well done. Most people will find that they enjoy music and books that correlate with lots of different SAT scores.