Contest Results and the Curse of Knowledge

First, congratulations to the winners of the contest and all those who entered. The top three scorers with prizes were:

  1. Marjorie MacKay with 12 correct
  2. Ines Gaschot with 10 correct
  3. Monica Upton with 9 correct

I will be contacting you three about the books very soon. Congratulations!

Three others, Barbara Bacci, Sharon Wachsler and P. Hodge also got 9 correct, but I received Monica’s entry first.

Carol Nottenburg tied for first with 12 right but exempted herself from prizes.

There were seven competitors in all, and two others who sent in entries but weren’t competing for prizes.


Now, before you look at the labeled photos below, I must apologize.

If I trained my dogs like I created this contest, they would leave the room.

I know now that I set the criteria way too high for it to be fun for most people. In the spirit of my blog, I’ll tell you what happened. There is a cognitive bias known as the Curse of Knowledge. Please go look at the definition; it’s brief and well explained. In short it means that the person with information (often the teacher) is unable to put herself mentally  in the place of the person without the knowledge (often the student). The information in her head seems obvious and ubiquitous and she can’t imagine not knowing it.

I believe most good teachers are good at least in part because they can surmount the Curse of Knowledge. But I succumbed to it bigtime in setting up this contest.

For starters, I knew all those photos very well, knew what was cropped out, and of course know and observe Summer all the time. I knew that it would be hard and that some of the photos are downright misleading/impossible, but I didn’t get just how hard and demoralizing it would be. I couldn’t put myself in the place of the person looking at the photos without the context that I have. Also I got to know the photos so well in working with them that I knew them all. Keeping them all in your head at once would make the contest much easier.

Second, I didn’t try taking the test myself or get a volunteer. That’s a remedy for the Curse of Knowledge. If I had gotten a volunteer I would also have realized immediately that the mechanics of the contest were very bad. To do a matching game with any sort of fluency, you really need to be able to see all the photos and all the descriptions at once. I wonder how many people looked at the first 2 or 3 and just quit since there was not a comfortable way to do it? Ideally to do the contest online it should have been set up with some kind of Java script where you could move photo icons around and try different matches with the descriptions, and have more of it visible at one time.

If I were to participate in this kind of test and take it seriously, I would have printed out all the photos on a color printer, cut them up separately, then done the same with the descriptions. But golly, that’s a whole lot of work. Did anybody do that? Even if you were the type of person who enjoys this particular type of puzzle, just the work entailed to get the puzzle ready would be off putting.

Yesterday I sat down with a friend and watched her try and I felt like banging my head against the wall. We quit after three. This could have been really fun, if I had had, say, 12 or 15 photos, with the descriptions scrambled but visible on the same page. A challenge, but doable. I hate it that I used up all these great photos this way; it’ll be a while before I can do another one and make it right.

Also I think many of the stress photos were too similar. Add to that that Summer sometimes looks stressed when playing or asking me for something, and that she can look almost relaxed when stressed (see below), well, I’m sorry. I think those photos make for really interesting discussion, but they are lousy for a contest.

Finally, true confessions, I was too enamored of the photos. I did reduce the number from 43 (!) to 31 on the advice of my friend Marge, but I just loved looking at all those different faces of my dog so much that I didn’t set better criteria for inclusion. No doubt she would have told me the same thing again if I had asked after my cuts, but I didn’t give her a chance. Too many varmint pics! Too much thunder! Mea culpa.

Discussing a Few Photos

The two photos that I thought would be almost impossible to get (and I think no one did get them right) were #16 Asking to Train and #19 Playing with Zani. In #16 Summer looks very worried; in full blown appeasement. But that’s how she acts sometimes when she wants something.

Almost everybody guessed that #27 was asking to train. In that one Summer is sitting on a mat staring at me. Not a bad guess, since lots of our dogs do that I think when they want something. But what she wanted, in my experience, was for Cricket not to be there. We were already training. And #19 is is a pretty anxious face for a “playing” dog. I didn’t really expect anybody to get that one. But there is a hint in the cropped version; you can barely tell she may be in a play bow. From the two play pics, you might get the sense that Summer is not very fun for another dog to play with. According to Zani and Clara, you would be right.

So there are just a few of the ones I knew almost no one could get. Again, great discussion material but not good contest material!

I think #7 is an interesting study (most people got it). Summer was on her mat at a particular fairgrounds for the first time and she was very stressed. Her expression is a bit similar to some of the ones where she is having a good time, but the “tell” is that the corners of her mouth (commissures) are very stretched back, and also her ears are pinned back. She was stress panting but you can’t really tell that from the photo.

The “Has been fussed at” photo, #3, was taken after she had pulled a bunch of books off the bookshelf and probably chewed some if I recall. If you look closely I think you can see that she is much younger in this photo than in all the rest. I was too, smile. I manage things better now with younger dogs, and I teach them the difference between my stuff and theirs, rather than leaving temptation like that around too early in the game. Yes, that could have been a “shaming” photo. But like most of those, the shame would be mostly on me. And I have never published it until now.


Below in the gallery I’ve juxtaposed the cropped photos with the photos they were cropped from, and put the correct labels on them. (At the bottom of this post there is also an answer key without the pics.) I intend to make some sort of permanent quiz version of this, or maybe divide it into two to make it more doable, as an online body language study.

Kudos to the stalwarts who made a submission, and my thanks for everybody’s patience with me.  Some of you may have been fairly irritated about the whole thing.

Bonus video: Here is a video taken during an event similar to Photo #1: Summer found a turtle. It’s only a minute long, and gives a sense of her excitement about and passion for turtles. (The turtle was on the other side of a chain length fence and not harmed.) Stay on until the end to hear her vocalizations. Sounds like she is cussing at the turtle.

Here’s the contest key:

  • First time she saw a TV  5
  • In costume  29
  • Looking for a varmint (squirrel, rat, possum, or turtle)   2
  • Looking for a varmint (squirrel, rat, possum, or turtle)    22
  • Looking for a varmint (squirrel, rat, possum, or turtle)    4
  • Found a varmint (squirrel, rat, possum, or turtle) 1
  • Found a varmint (squirrel, rat, possum, or turtle) 25
  • After a varmint hunt 20
  • Sitting uncomfortably close to another dog 27
  • Has been fussed at 3
  • Late in day at agility trial 26
  • At the agility field 24
  • Watching petals float through the air 23
  • My mom has her arm around her 11
  • Playing with Zani 19
  • Playing with Zani 21
  • Guarding a Nylabone 15
  • Being held in my arms 28
  • During a thunderstorm 9
  • During a thunderstorm 14
  • Home from vet after serious illness 18
  • Asking to train 16
  • Doing agility sequence 31
  • Just a photoshoot in the back yard 12
  • On a road trip in hot weather 13
  • Waiting to check the back yard 6
  • Immediately after fence fight with new neighbor dog 10
  • On a fun outing 8
  • On a fun outing 17
  • At the fairgrounds on her mat at a dog show 7
  • Being petted 30

Coming up soon:

Eileenanddogs on Youtube:

11 thoughts on “Contest Results and the Curse of Knowledge

  1. Well I have to say I am surprised! It was a challenge, but I really enjoyed the many faces of Summer. I agree, it would have been easier if the pictures and the descriptions were on the same page.

  2. I’ll be the first one to admit…I tried three times but I gave up. I did make a spreadsheet to sort the images and descriptions but I just wasn’t happy with my answers so I didn’t turn in! But I enjoyed this post, which came out of a challenging contest… It also made me think about my possibly confused students and reminded me not to assume that they know what I know. Thanks for sharing your thought on this!

  3. I am so glad that you said this as I have been beating myself up over not getting the energy up to attempt this. The not being able to look at all the photos at once was a big thing. There were also too many categories that were almost identical e.g. Seeing a opossum and seeing a rat.

    1. Thank you and everybody else for being so kind about it! Not one person emailed me with negative feedback. Pretty much the same day I posted it, I realized at the very least that there were too many photos. But once I got an entry, I couldn’t change anything. Any other suggestions for next time are welcome. True story: My advisor in engineering school purposely made tests that were impossible to score perfectly, or even highly on. One of his fields was measurement (e.g. of sound, light, stress, voltage) and his point was that the range of the measuring device (test) has to exceed the range of possible results (students’ answers/scores). In plainer language, if someone made 100 on a test, the teacher couldn’t know how much _more_ they possibly knew. Anyway, I remember what it felt like to take those tests. Excruciating. Hopefully y’all’s experiences were not that bad! Anyway if I host another contest, it’ll be doable, and hopefully fun.

  4. The only ones I thought that she even looked somewhat happy were 22, 23, 27 and 31 (maybe 30 too). In all those, her ears flopped forward, which in Jessie, is the only time she is really comfortable in the situation. The rest of the time, Jessie’s rose ears are either folded to the side or pinned well back on her head (when she is very stressed). That was my bias. When I saw that the number of relaxed to happy descriptions didn’t match to those, I gave up.

  5. Kudos to the people who go so many correct! One thing it shows is how hard it is to read body language from still pics, You really need to see the behavior in action.

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