This issue of PILOTed is about how the mind works in mysterious ways.
The first example comes from a 6 minute video on subliminal messages. It is well worth spending the time to look at the video, before reading on. In fact, the other Derren Brown videos are fascinating as well, for example, How to take someone's wallet, just by asking.
As a summary of the subliminal messages video, two advertising executives, on their way to a meeting, were exposed to the entrance to a zoo, various images of angel’s wings and harps, and a picture of a bear. They were then asked to develop an ad campaign, and lo and behold, the campaign incorporated all of the images that they’d seen on the way to the meeting.
It is tremendously powerful. If you can scaffold the right images into a student’s experience, can you better prepare the student to learn? How could this be incorporated into learning materials?
This link came from Stephen Downes’s OLDaily.
The second example is around Amy Sutherland, who originally published a column in the NY Times about how she learned how to train her husband by watching animal trainers. This also came from Stephen Downes’s OLDaily. Successful animal trainers respond to and reward behaviors that they want, and ignore behaviors that they do not want. The theory is that behavior that elicits a response is behavior that gets repeated; even negative feedback can serve to reinforce a behavior. When a subject does something wrong, you apply least reinforcing syndrome (LRS), or show no response. She has expanded these topics in a book, What Shamu Taught me About Life, Love, and Marriage.
Of course, first she had to understand what her husband liked. She also had to understand that she needed something for him to do; you don’t train animals not to do something, you train them to do something else instead. And, she had to understand that you cannot build a new behavior in just one step, she had to figure out what actions meant progress.
Sutherland used to nag her husband. Now she ignores him when he is performing in ways that she disagrees with, and rewards him when he acts in ways that agree with her.
I wonder about the application of this in schools. Obviously, when you are dealing with a classroom of students, there are a whole raft of negative behaviors that a teacher cannot just ignore. But, what about in eLearning? Is there a way that we can better motivate students and provide more positive feedback? Are there ways that eLearning can find positives even in wrong answers?
Could someone mention to my wife that positive feedback is even possible? I’m sorry, what I meant to say is, “thank you dear for all your attempts to communicate with me, even when I’ve been distracted.”
The third example comes from a WNYC Radiolab podcast on deception. This podcast takes about an hour, and there are four parts. The first deals with a snake capable of lying. The second is a story about a person who has defrauded dozens of people, and the experiences of those who know her. The third explains how the brains of pathological liars—those who seem compelled to tell lies—are different from those of the rest of us; they have more highly developed connections or white matter in the pre-frontal cortex regions of their brains.
It’s the fourth segment that is more applicable to education. This segment focuses on the times we deceive ourselves. It seems that people who are better at deceiving themselves are more productive and effective and are happier than those who have a more accurate view of reality. Some swimmers, for example, are able to believe that they are unbeatable every time they race. Even when they start out a season doing the same times as others, the ones who have deceived themselves into the belief that they cannot be beaten end up with faster times.
Can we help student learn to think about themselves and the world in a way that helps them succeed? Perhaps they don’t need to really deceive themselves in order to reach peak performance, perhaps they just have to choose a point of view that spurs them toward success.
One current rage is the book and video, The Secret. The secret to The Secret is the law of attraction: that which we think about, happens. A more scientifically based exposition of this general philosophy can be found in Carol Dweck’s book, The New Psychology of Success. If we can inculcate students with the growth mindset as Dweck terms it, can we help them achieve more?
Can this be embedded in our teaching materials? Can schools deploy it?
Derren Brown creates an entertaining video and shows how one can employ subtle messaging, messaging that isn’t even consciously seen, in order to influence behavior. Amy Sutherland uses animal training techniques, specifically positive reinforcement and least reinforcing syndrome to pattern desired behaviors in her family. Two psychologists are out at a bar one night and come up with a way to test whether people are prone to deceiving themselves, and then other psychologists apply that test to determine that those who are capable of deceiving themselves are also capable of higher levels of achievement and happiness.
Here are three techniques with the capability to change student performance that were not designed with education in mind.