How Trivia Experts Recall Facts | One Ant Species Sent Ripples Through A Food Web

Episode 714,   Feb 27, 09:00 PM

How can some people recall random facts so easily? It may have to do with what else they remember about the moment they learned the information. Also, in Kenya, an invading ant species pushed out ants that protected acacia trees. That had cascading effects for elephants, zebras, lions, and buffalo.

A ‘Jeopardy!’ Winner Studied How Trivia Experts Recall Facts

When contestants play “Jeopardy!,” it can be amazing to see how quickly they seem to recall even the most random, obscure facts. One multi-time “Jeopardy!” contestant, Dr. Monica Thieu, noticed something interesting about the way that she and her fellow contestants were recalling tidbits of information. They weren’t just remembering the facts, but also the context of how they learned them: where they were, what they read, who they were with. Hypothesizing that for trivia superstars, information was strongly tied to the experience of learning it, she put that anecdotal evidence to the test. The results of her research were recently published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with Dr. Thieu, a psychology researcher at Emory University, and Dr. Mariam Aly, assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University, and a co-author of the new study. They discuss the psychology of trivia, how to get better at it, and why some people seem to be much more adept at recalling fun trivia facts than others.

See if you can beat a "Jeopardy!" champ on our website!

How One Invading Ant Species Sent Ripples Through A Food Web

When people talk about the interconnectedness of nature, the usual example involves a little fish that eats a bug, a bigger fish that eats the little fish, and an even bigger fish at the top of the chain. But in reality, the interconnected relationships in an ecosystem can be a lot more complicated. That was certainly the case in a recent study, published in the journal Science, which describes how the arrival of an invasive ant species changed the number of zebras that get eaten by lions on the Kenyan savannah.

The unwelcome ant is known as the big-headed ant. It’s on a list of top 100 invasive species around the world. When it arrived on the African savannah, the ant newcomer muscled out a native ant species known as the acacia ant—which, though tiny, was able to help defend acacia trees from being grazed upon by elephants (picture getting a trunkful of angry ants while snacking).

With the trees undefended, hungry elephants feasted, resulting in fewer trees on the savannah and more open space. That made the hunting environment less favorable to stealthy lions, and more favorable to fleet-footed zebras. But to the surprise of the researchers involved with the study, that didn’t mean hungrier lions. Instead, the lions shifted their hunting from targeting zebras to targeting buffalo instead.

Dr. Jacob Goheen and Douglas Kamaru of the University of Wyoming join guest host Sophie Bushwick to describe their research, and how a small ant can have a big effect on an ecosystem.

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