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Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV

Updated: Jul 14

I was going to write about something else, but when this started popping up all over the media, I couldn’t let it go.

If you’ve been tuned into the news lately, you must have seen Donald Trump pathetically bragging about his outstanding performance on a cognitive test, reported as being the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, or MOCA.

Apparently, he was able to correctly identify pictures of a lion, a rhinoceros, and a camel. He said he didn’t think that part of the test was challenging. So far so good. He didn’t disclose whether or not he was able to draw a clock showing ten past eleven correctly, count backward from 100 by 7’s, or complete several other tasks included in the test.

The one thing he focused on, and repeatedly bragged about, was his ability to remember five words: person, woman, man, camera, and TV. He described the astonishment of his test giver(s) at his remarkable memory.

Here’s the problem (I’m surprised I haven’t seen this mentioned in reports): those five words are not part of the MOCA test. The actual words are: face, velvet, church, daisy, red. As I understand it, there are several variations of the test (which I haven’t seen) so repeat takers won’t be familiar with it. However, I doubt if person man, woman, camera, and TV appear on any. You may wonder why, and what difference it makes.

Let me explain why the exact composition of the word list is hugely important. Any reasonable test of useful memory would include five unrelated words, like those in the MOCA test which I listed above. Another such list might be: drum, river, nose, curtain, farmer.

However, person, woman, and man are closely related to each other and therefore easy to remember together. If the test-taker remembers person, then the two following associated words are easy to come up with. After that, the list requires recalling the word camera which is not as closely related to the previous three words, although one might think of a person, man or woman, holding a camera. The connection of camera to TV is obvious. This list would be analogous to memorizing the list: pitcher, bat, base, car, lock.

The real question is: was Donald Trump really asked to memorize the strange list as he claims? If so, did he indeed memorize it on the spot, or is he lying about it (we know he’s a serial liar)? It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine he practiced and memorized this simple list after he took the test, unable to remember a more difficult one.

I think Mary Trump summed it up best on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert recently when she said, “His talking about it the way he’s talking about it is failing the test.”

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