Study: To Get Top Scores, Go Last?

"I don't know if I can give you a satisfactory answer," she says, but she was willing to take a stab at it. She thinks that when someone is judging, whether it be a skating competition or a blind date, they want to see what's different about each successive candidate.

"So if they are figure skaters, for example, and the first one has a great figure eight, you give that person a nice score. And the next one could have a great pirouette. So you say, 'that one is different, the first one didn't have that,' so you give the last one a better score," she says.

Conversely, if the later one does an unscheduled belly flop, that's also different from the earlier competitors, and the score plunges. So being last can also be a disadvantage if whatever you've done that's different is a big fat negative.

However, Bruine De Bruin, who published her study in a recent edition of the journal Acta Psychologica, says that in the competitions she studied, on average, those who competed last got the best scores.

For those of us who are not likely to be hitting the ice any time soon, at least not as figure skating competitors, there's a message here, she says. When faced with an important decision, be aware of the possibility that your mind may play a trick on you.

You may fall victim to the "serial position effect."

Lee Dye's column appears weekly on A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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