When I was nine or ten years old I was given an individual IQ test by a family friend who was getting her PhD in child psychology, and having to administer the test to a certain number of children was part of her training. No one told me the name of the test (my guess is that it was the WISC), but it took quite a while to take and was rather fun, because unlike pencil-and-paper tests it involved a lot of give-and-take between us.
It’s funny how well I remember the test after all these years. Part of the strength of the memory was the fact that the test didn’t resemble any others I’d ever taken before. In later years I recognized some of the question types—for example, those thought problems where you had to ferry some combination of potentially incompatible things or animals across a river in a boat, and you could only make a certain number of trips.
I don’t think in those days they actually informed kids of their IQ scores, although I have some vague recollection of having been told I’d done very very well indeed on the entire exam, every single part of it—that is, except for one subset of the test. I don’t know what that part was called, but I know it involved cartoons.
Cartoons were already my nemesis. I didn’t like them, although they were ubiquitous on TV. I didn’t like watching the creature being flattened and then springing back up again. I didn’t like the characters walking off cliffs and not realizing it for a moment, and then falling. I didn’t like the pummeling and the mayhem; I felt it as more real than I knew it should be perceived. And in some strange way I sometimes even had trouble following the plot.
Was that because I wasn’t interested? Or was it because I was repelled, or because I was particularly cartoon-challenged? Probably a combination of all three, because the phenomenon persisted into adulthood and involved even some cartoons whose content didn’t especially repel me. I used to like animated Disney movies, but have never liked Pixar, in part because the images seem “wrong” to me in some difficult-to-define way.
Sometimes there’s too much going on visually in cartoons, too; I get distracted. I sometimes fail to get the joke in non-animated cartoon squares (like the ones in a magazine) because I focus on the wrong detail or misinterpret details in odd ways.
This problem doesn’t seem to beset me in life or in any other form of humor; it seems limited to the world of the cartoon. I probably “get” most of them in the end, but it can take longer than I think it should. I tend to lose patience with them, too.
My difficulty on that subset of the long-ago IQ test didn’t surprise me in the least even then, because I’d already perceived those questions on the exam as having taken me longer to answer than the rest, and/or I’d resorted to guessing. That section also had contained more exercises that I’d finally decided to give up on because they seemed insoluble to me. The format was that I was given a series of small stacks of cartoon drawings, each set containing perhaps five drawings in all, and I was supposed to put each pile in chronological order as in a comic strip and then tell the tale of what was happening.
The pictures started out easy, but after a short while the each group seemed very confusing. What was I supposed to pay attention to? Was the man coming or going, and why? Was he sitting first and then standing, or the other way around?
On thinking about it now, I did a search for the phrase “IQ test put pictures in order” and sure enough, up popped something similar to what I remember. And sure enough, it also gave me a headache almost immediately just to look at the page and make the effort, even all these years later.
According to the text, this cartoon-ordering test is solved by college students on average in about a minute. Not by me. How about by you?
There’s something so off-putting about it that I almost can’t look at it, the pictorial equivalent of trying to unscramble a series of nonsense words or listening to an orchestra tuning up for too long.
All of the preceding was a very roundabout way of explaining why it was that this New Yorker article about how we perceive cartoons was of special interest to me, especially this part of it:
“It’s a holistic thing,” Restak said. “You can’t just look at one part of this picture. If someone has what’s called simultagnosia, they look at this and say, ‘Oh, it’s a boy trying to steal a cookie!’ ” He described the parts of the brain that help people comprehend such things. “The occipital, that’s where the cartoon is seen. The parietal gives you the ability of seeing the whole picture. And here’s the important part for the cartoon: the temporal pole. It contains perhaps hundreds of thousands of scripts, or schemas…. This is the occipital area; this is the where. In the diagram I showed you, the picture of a kitchen, it gives you the whole totality of it; it tells you what the things are: the dishes, the water, et cetera. The dorsal, which is this part on top, is important for scanning the cartoon, what scripts are being evoked, what’s coming out of the temporal pole. This all occurs before reading the caption.”
I looked up “simultagnosia,” and I don’t have it. Fortunately, I’m not that bad. But something’s going on, although I had no difficulty understanding any of the cartoons in the article.
I’ve always rather liked those single-frame type of cartoons, though (unlike comic strips or animated ones), especially if they have captions. Captions seem to cue me with words on where to place my focus and attention. I have no difficulty appreciating art, either, so it’s not some general pictorial problem.
Years ago the New Yorker had one of its cartoon caption contests. I can’t find a picture of this one online, but it gave the entrant choices. The square consisted of the standard cartoon subject of couch and psychiatrist sitting behind it with notepad, and then a series of other characters (I recall a dog, a screwdriver, a woman, a man, and there were probably a few more as well) from which you could choose. You could place any one of the characters anywhere on the drawing, and then come up with a caption.
I had a sudden inspiration. I took the dog and placed it lying down on its back on the floor, facing away from the shrink, leaving the couch empty (the dog was drawn in such a way that you could easily do this, because each character was designed to recline). The dog was saying to the psychiatrist, “No, not the couch; there’s still too much guilt!”
I didn’t win, but I still like that cartoon.
And Google being the handy thing it is, a search revealed these. I still prefer mine, but they have a similar idea: