Monday, December 26, 2016

Passionate about teaching pronunciation? Amygdala for your thoughts . . .

Tigger warning*: The following contains neuro-science-related material that may be perceived by some as being mildly political . . . This research by Kaplan, Gimbel and Harris of USC, summarized by SciencDaily, is just too "target rich" a piece to pass up.

The research question was something like: Why is it so difficult to get people to change their opinions on things like religion and politics? (The same problem is evident in changing attitudes toward pronunciation--and in many ways, perhaps, for the same reasons, I think.) In essence, here is what they did:
  • Found 40 self-identified, political liberals and then  . . .
  • Had them respond to statements that seemed to contradict either their political beliefs or their beliefs about non-political things such as who is smartest guy who ever lived, etc. 
  • Connected them up to fMRI technology to observe how their brains lit up in each condition
What they found was that:
  • On nonpolitical challenges, most expressed some change in position, however slight--and the brain response was relatively unemotional.
  • On the political issues, however, there was virtually no change in position, accompanied, however, by a stronger emotional response in their collective amygdalas. 
  • And their conclusion (get ready): " . . . when we feel threatened, anxious or emotional, then we are less likely to change our minds." (In part because our core identity and "deep" thinking responses have been threatened or intruded upon.)
Caveat emptor: The subjects were all political liberals, self-professed, no less--from Southern California. Why so? Why was it not a "balanced" design, say with political conservatives from the Napa Valley of California, or . . . Texas? Was it that that group tended to be more emotional in reacting to challenges to their beliefs? (Liberals, more reactive or conservatives, less, in general? Nah!) Was it that it was impossible to find 40 conservatives in Southern California? The researchers do not comment on that . . (I will leave that rabbit trail to the interested reader . . . ) But see earlier research on this topic!

As research on teacher cognition has repeatedly demonstrated, beliefs about pronunciation tend also to be emotionally charged. Based on this research, I may have to go back and review the subject pools of that earlier research to check for political orientation of the teachers/subjects/researchers, too! Who knew?

The study may, however, as the researchers suggest, give us some additional insight into how (carefully and circumspectively) we might go about persuading others to do more pronunciation work in class.

But by allowing teachers to avoid pronunciation entirely for fear of triggering emotional reactions and violating safe identities, have we just been too "conservative" on this issue--or not conservative enough in interpreting the research in the first place?  As is evident now in most contemporary stress reduction systems, inoculation and gradual introduction of problematic stressors has been proven to be far more effective than either avoidance or relaxation/coping methods.

So, Just do it, eh!

Tigger warning (used on this blog in lieu of "trigger" warnings)
Translation of "Amygdala for your thoughts . . ." in the title.

1 comment:

Bill Acton said...

Here is another link to the same research:

Post a Comment