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Neuroscience For Kids

Stick to Standard Spoons
October 26, 2010

If you are sick, you sometimes need to take liquid medicine. But don't use a kitchen spoon to measure the amount of medicine because you are likely to make a mistake! That is the conclusion of an experiment that tested the ability of people to measure liquid in spoons of different sizes.

Drs. Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum at Cornell University had 195 students measure one teaspoon (5 ml) of cold medicine in three different spoons: a teaspoon, a medium-sized tablespoon (15 ml capacity) and a large-sized spoon (45 ml capacity). When students used the medium-sized spoon, they poured an average of only 4.58 ml of medicine; when they used the large spoon, they poured an average of 5.58 ml of medicine.

The medium-sized spoon, therefore, caused the students to measure 8.4% LESS medicine, while the large spoon caused the students to measure 11.6% MORE medicine. The students were unaware that they had made these mistakes and felt confident that they had measured the correct amounts.

Although the dosing mistakes seem small, a large error in the total amount of medicine may result if a person continues to make incorrect measurements over a few days.

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