Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
The hit show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? asks contestants questions with answers that can be found in elementary school textbooks. During the game show, five grade-school cast members – who have been provided with study materials, by the way – can help their “classmate” by choosing subjects and providing assistance. As contestants answer questions correctly, they earn money.
Only two people have ever taken home the $1,000,000 grand prize: one of them a superintendent of public schools in the state of Georgia, and the other a literal Nobel Prize Winner and UC Berkeley professor. As the show is revived on Nickelodeon in 2019 with new host John Cena, it’s anyone’s guess whether we’ll see a third grand prize winner.
Watching reruns of the show with prior host Jeff Foxworthy, we here at Sporcle Live are occasionally surprised to learn we are not, in fact, smarter than a 5th grader! The game show format has some similarities to our own unique trivia format: ten questions in ten subjects plus a bonus final question, so it’s easy to compare Sporcle Live to Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?. But there’s one key difference between contestants on the show and our pub trivia players: the consumption of alcohol.
(N.B.: Not everyone who plays pub trivia drinks alcohol, and there’s never any obligation to do so at our shows.)
Beer makes you smart. We know it’s true because we saw it on a bumper sticker. But does science support that bumper sticker’s claim? Let’s find out…
Does Drinking Make You Better at Trivia?
Many scientists have looked into the effects of alcohol on cognitive function, and the results are mixed. In many cases, it depends on how you define “smart.”
Researchers at the University of Illinois in Chicago found that “at 0.07 blood alcohol, people were worse at working memory tasks, but they were better at creative problem-solving tasks.” There are a few things we can conclude from this study. After a few beers, are you better than a 5th grader at remembering things? Probably not. Are you better at problem-solving? Maybe! Which one is more important for success at bar trivia? Likely the former.
So if alcohol doesn’t help during trivia, is there any time it would help? Research suggests that alcohol may help during the studying process. If you learn something new, then have a few drinks afterwards, odds are better that you’ll remember what you learned compared to those who did not drink. “The causes of this effect are not fully understood, but the leading explanation is that alcohol blocks the learning of new information and therefore the brain has more resources available to lay down other recently learned information into long-term memory,” Professor Celia Morgan at the University of Exeter said. “The theory is that the hippocampus – the brain area really important in memory – switches to ‘consolidating’ memories, transferring from short into longer-term memory.”
What Makes You Better at Trivia?
We’ve determined that a few drinks won’t magically allow you to pull a correct answer out of the proverbial hat of your mind. But there are some things that help your brain remember, recall, and recollect. Good sleep, since we store memories during sleep. Good food, because your brain needs fuel. Practice – as they say, use it or lose it. And believe it or not, competition, as the excitement puts your brain into overdrive.
We encourage you to rest up, eat well, and practice during our weekly competitive trivia events! Find a location near you at sporclelive.com/locations.
Further reading: How To Learn Trivia