Saturday, 12 March 2005

The last shall be the first?

I'm always fascinated by simple rules of thumb you can use in everyday life which are based on scientific principles or research - such as the mathematically-proven Colley's Rule on how to make the best choice in situations where there is no going back on your decision.

Another possible rule of this kind is: in contests where each person takes a turn to do their thing (like a talent show), it's generally best to go last.

That seemed to be the case when Carnegie Mellon University researcher Wändi Bruine de Bruin looked at competition scores, finding that those who went later generally had incrementally improved chances of getting better scores - according to an article in the latest New Scientist magazine (12 March 2005). (I've found other articles online about this too, e.g. in the Telegraph, the Sunday Times). Correlation doesn't necessarily mean cause and effect, but there are possible explanations for these findings, e.g. that judges remember the performance of later contestants more clearly, or some other similar factor affecting their decision making.

I might perhaps be more inclined to start maneuvering for the last place in any contest I enter, if there's more research confirming this "rule" having studied results from a greater number of competitions of many more different types. In this case, they studied - wait for it - figure skating championships and the Eurovision Song Contest...

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