Imagine a world where popcorn protects your mind from dark forces trying to penetrate it and rob you of your free will!  Does this sound like a ridiculous parody of a science fiction storyline? Well, it seems that this is not entirely science fiction.

In fact, a research publication called The Journal of Consumer Psychology  has recently reported findings of a research group at the University of Berlin that advertisers and TOK students may find fascinating – though for very different reasons.

Want to prevent advertising—or, at least advertising a new product name—from entering your brain?  Eat popcorn!  Or chew gum.  Or eat or chew just about anything.  Why? It seems, according to this research, that we are geared to learn new words by subconsciously activating those muscles in and around the mouth that we would use to pronounce a much repeated new word.  Interfere with those muscles by chewing (or even talking, it seems), and you also interfere with the ability to learn that new word.

Advertisers may be quick to take note of this study and its implications.  Like psychologists, they are interested in how the mind works — though their motivation is assuredly different.   Just imagine!  Could we be on the eve of a tug-of-war between cinemas (which want to make a profit on popcorn) and advertisers (who want nothing to interfere with the profit they hope to achieve eventually through their messages)?

The thoughtful TOK student might be equally quick to notice this study — and inclined to make a few deductions about its implications.  Next time you’re trying to learn some Language B vocabulary or some biology terminology, you just might find it easier to do so if you put those snacks aside! Who knows?  This could be the beginning of a new way of making your memory work for you.

That same thoughtful TOK student might also want to frame this study in terms of larger knowledge questions of the course.  For instance:

  • What methods does psychology use to investigate factors that influence memory as a way of knowing?  (How are some of the methods of psychology – or, more broadly, the human sciences – illustrated in this study of the influence of eating popcorn?)
  • How do human scientists distinguish between correlation and cause?  (How is an aspect of their methods illustrated by this popcorn study?)
  • To what extent is memory inseparable from sense perception and other ways of knowing?  (How is their interaction illustrated by this study?)

Last of all, that same TOK student might want to develop a bit more personal knowledge of the topic of this study.  Could there be a better excuse for abandoning the school books to watch a movie — with a giant bag of tasty popcorn?