The other day in class we looked at a possible correlation between the amount of chocolate a country consumed and the amount of Nobel prizes won per country. This was especially curious to me, and our class was able to identify some confounding variables that could explain the correlation, including the country’s wealth, population, and education.
I love chocolate, and was really interested to find out if consuming more chocolate actually could make someone smarter, so I decided to research this new correlation and write a blog about it!
The Daily Express ran this headline claiming that a 40 year-old study declared that chocolate could actually make us smarter. The study affirmed that the individuals who brandished more impressive scores on various tests consumed the sweet stuff at least once a week. (U.S National Library of Medicine, 2016) The researchers concluded that the habitual consumption of chocolate could be responsible for results, indicating an increased intelligence. The key word in this conclusion is “could” , and that is what I think is something particularly important to focus on.
A recent article from the UK News went into depth about the Daily Express’s report, including details regarding how the experiment was conducted. This experiment was completed with 1,000 participants- an important detail we should always take into account, as we learned in class Tuesday. (Here is another site that also details the importance of having an acceptable test subject population.) 1,000 participants really isn’t a lot of people, so we should be cautious when accepting broad conclusions based off of small groups of people. 1,000 people is a relatively small sample size, because it is still possible that the results the scientists gathered could be due to some fluke, or chance. The more participants, the more accurate the study is, and 1,000 test subjects may not quite cut it for a conclusion that applies to the entire population. (Science Buddies, 2016)
Before you reach for some chocolate before an exam, keep in mind that researchers haven’t really discovered the true mechanism behind this correlation. (According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and what we learned in class, a mechanism is the reason why one factor affects another factor.) Researchers weren’t able to discover the mechanism behind the correlation of chocolate consumption and intelligence because there are many possible confounding variables, such as gender, age, race, and overall health. (U.S National Library of Medicine, 2016) Consuming chocolate is not solely responsible for the increased cognitive capacity hinted at throughout the experiment.
This relates to what we have been studying in class; correlation does not mean causation! (Wikipedia, 2016) There is no way to prove a direct correlation because a reverse correlation is equally possible. In this particular study, the reverse correlation is that people that are more intelligent eat more chocolate. However, the researchers could not confidently label the correlation, and supposedly the media ran the story with an interesting title to promote more clicks.
Articles with catchy and appealing headlines always get us excited, but its important to note that the science behind the headlines is not as accurate as we would like to believe. Even though we want to believe eating chocolate hand-over-fist will make us smarter, the mechanism is still unidentifiable.
How about some kale instead?