On Deceptive Headlines

by F.

Over at the BPS Research Digest Blog, there’s a story with the headline We Become More Ambidextrous As We Get Older. What does this mean? Here are two possibilities:

  1. Our non-dominant hand gets more skillful as we age until it more closely approximates the level of skill of our dominant hand; or
  2. Our dominant hand gets less skillful as we age until it more closely approximates the level of skill of our non-dominant hand.

I thought (1) after reading the headline. I think the word I picked up on was “more:” we get “more ambidextrous.” “More” suggests increase. But actually the point of the article is (2):

Overall, performance [in a dexterity task] tended to be poorer with increasing age, especially for the right hand. In other words, it seems we become more ambidextrous as we get older because our dominant hand loses its superior dexterity and becomes more like our weaker hand.

So we suck more with our right hand as we get older, which makes us more ambidextrous. That’s not what I expected the story to be about.

Compare this sort of headline with the following: By 2010, Nigeria’s economic growth rate will be about the same as China’s. To me, that sounds like Nigeria will experience a high growth rate. But what if the story under the headline said. “Experts predict that China’s economy will implode in 2008, bringing it down to the level of Nigeria.” That’s essentially what the above headline does, as far as I can see, because of the word “more” which suggests “improvement” or “better.”

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