|"Remember, man: You too must die." |
More than 80% of American college students can't name, in order, the past 10 U.S. Presidents.
Try it right now. It's really easy -- or at least it should be.
“By the year 2060, Americans will probably remember as much about the 39th and 40th presidents, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, as they now remember about our 13th president, Millard Fillmore,” predicts study co-author Henry L. Roediger III, PhD, a human memory expert at Washington University in St. Louis.
In each test, participants were provided a numbered list with blank spaces and asked to fill in the names of all presidents they could remember in the order in which they served. If they could remember names but not the order, they were instructed to guess or to put the names off to the side. Thus, the results could be scored for recall of presidents with or without regard to correct order.
Among the six presidents who were serving or had served most recently when the test was first given in 1973, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald R. Ford are now fading fast from historical memory, whereas John F. Kennedy has been better retained. The study estimates that Truman will be forgotten by three-fourths of college students by 2040, 87 years after his leaving office, bringing him down to the level of presidents such as Zachary Taylor and William McKinley.
The rate at which college students forgot the order of recent presidents remained remarkably consistent over time and across different groups of college students. In 1974, nearly all college students recalled Johnson and his ordinal position (36), but by 1991, the proportion remembering him dropped to 53 percent and by 2009, it plummeted to 20 percent.
When asked to name the presidents in the order they served, we as a nation do fairly well at naming the last few presidents, but our recall abilities then fall off quickly, with less than 20 percent able to remember more than the last eight or nine presidents in order, the study finds.
"Out of the 150 college students we tested in 2009, only four of them were able to recall virtually every president and place each in the correct position,” DeSoto said. “It’s possible that these individuals used a mnemonic like a song or rhyme that they learned for the purpose of remembering the presidents.” [Or, they know a lot about American history.]