How many capitals of countries of the world can you name?
(Let me pause a moment so you could count that up. (Silly me. You’re reading this. Of course you can pause.))
Okay, here’s my next question: how many of these countries are in Europe or the Americas? (And as additional questions, how many of the ones in the Americas are in North America, and how many of the ones in Europe are in Western Europe?)
How many of these countries are in Africa? Africa has more countries than Europe, so if your geographical knowledge of the world is balanced, you should know more African capitals than European capitals (this is before considering the case of multiple capitals in African countries).
Okay, and how about Asia?
If you’re like most Americans, the capitals of the world that you know are vastly disproportionate: you know many in the Americas and Europe, much fewer in Asia, and barely any in Africa.
Just to take a step further, how well do you do on this for Pacific Island nations? If you know one, I think you’re qualified to give yourself a pat on the back already in comparison to the general public. (It really isn’t that hard to just remember one. Fiji and Samoa have four-letter capitals.)
Here’s what the results of the corresponding Sporcle quiz look like. As of now, the first African capital down the list (Cairo) is 13th most frequently gotten, with 10 American and European capitals preceding it. To get to the second most remembered capital, you’d need to move down to position 55, with Tunis, ranking behind Reykjavik, a city with one-eighth the population and one-umpteenth the spellability of Tunis. You need to go ever further, to position 66, to reach Nairobi, the most frequently answered Sub-Saharan African capital. Among Pacific Island countries, not a single capital makes the upper half (or even the upper two-thirds). In fact, only one of them (Port Moresby) is answered more frequently than the least frequently answered European capital (Podgorica). If you performed a rank-sum test on the answering frequencies of European versus Pacific Island nations, your p value for the one-tail test would be 0.00000005.
But maybe Africans and Pacific Islanders just pick strange cities for their capitals. Maybe they’re like the United States, where the country’s capital is by far not the largest city and the majority of states have a capital that is not their largest city (as well as arguably not the most historically significant).