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The Importance of Eye Contact

from Branton Shearer blog, April 14, 2019

I am sharing this BBC article in full because it describes how eye contact powerfully impacts our interpersonal intelligence in everyday life.

By Christian Jarrett

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190108-why-meeting-anothers-gaze-is-so-powerful

8 January 2019

You’ve doubtless had the experience when, across a noisy, crowded room, you lock gazes with another person. It’s almost like a scene out of the movies – the rest of the world fades to grey while you and that other soul are momentarily connected in the mutual knowledge that they are looking at you and you at them.

Of course, eye contact is not always so exciting – it’s a natural part of most casual conversations, after all – but it is nearly always important. We make assumptions about people’s personalities based on how much they meet our eyes or look away when we are talking to them. And when we pass strangers in the street or some other public place, we can be left feeling rejected if they don’t make eye contact.

This much we already know from our everyday experiences. But psychologists and neuroscientists have been studying eye contact for decades and their intriguing findings reveal much more about its power, including what our eyes give away and how eye contact changes what we think about the other person looking back at us.

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For instance, a recurring finding is that gazing eyes grab and hold our attention, making us less aware of what else is going on around us (that ‘fading to grey’ that I mentioned earlier). Also, meeting someone’s gaze almost immediately engages a raft of brain processes, as we make sense of the fact that we are dealing with the mind of another person who is currently looking at us. In consequence, we become more conscious of that other person’s agency, that they have a mind and perspective of their own – and, in turn, this makes us more self-conscious.

You may have noticed these effects particularly strongly if you’ve ever held the intense gaze of a monkey or ape at a zoo: it is almost impossible not to be overcome by the profound sensation that they are a conscious being judging and scrutinising you. In fact, even looking at a portrait painting that appears to be making eye contact has been shown to trigger a swathe of brain activity related to social cognition – that is, in regions involved in thinking about ourselves and others.

Research shows that gazing eyes command our attention

Not surprisingly, the drama of realising we are the object of another mind is highly distracting. Consider a recent study by Japanese researchers. Volunteers looked at a video of a face while simultaneously completing a word challenge that involved coming up with verbs to match various nouns (to take an easy example, if they heard the noun ‘milk”, a suitable response would be “drink”). Crucially, the volunteers struggled much more at the word challenge (but only for the trickier nouns) when the face in the video appeared to be making eye contact with them. The researchers think this effect occurred because eye contact – even with a stranger in a video – is so intense that it drains our cognitive reserves.

Similar research has found that meeting the direct gaze of another also interferes with our working memory (our ability to hold and use information in mind over short periods of time), our imagination, and our mental control, in the sense of our ability to suppress irrelevant information. You may have experienced these effects first hand, perhaps without realising, whenever you have broken eye contact with another person so as to better concentrate on what you are saying or thinking about. Some psychologists even recommend looking away as a strategy to help young children answer questions.

As well as sending our brains into social overdrive, research also shows that eye contact shapes our perception of the other person who meets our gaze. For instance, we generally perceive people who make more eye contact to be more intelligent, more conscientious and sincere (in Western cultures, at least), and we become more inclined to believe what they say.

Of course, too much eye contact can also make us uncomfortable – and people who stare without letting go can come across as creepy. In one study conducted at a science museum, psychologists recently tried to establish the preferred length of eye contact. They concluded that, on average, it is three seconds long (and no one preferred gazes that lasted longer than nine seconds).

The drama of realising we are the object of another mind is highly distracting.

Another documented effect of mutual gaze may help explain why that moment of eye contact across a room can sometimes feel so compelling. A recent study found that mutual gaze leads to a kind of partial melding of the self and other: we rate strangers with whom we’ve made eye contact as more similar to us, in terms of their personality and appearance. Perhaps, in the right context, when everyone else is busy talking to other people, this effect adds to the sense that you and the person looking back at you are sharing a special moment.

The chemistry of eye contact doesn’t end there. Should you choose to move closer, you and your gaze partner will find that eye contact also joins you to each other in another way, in a process known as “pupil mimicry” or “pupil contagion” – this describes how your pupils and the other person’s dilate and constrict in synchrony. This has been interpreted as a form of subconscious social mimicry, a kind of ocular dance, and that would be the more romantic take.

But recently there’s been some scepticism about this, with researchers saying the phenomenon is merely a response to variations in the brightness of the other person’s eyes (up close, when the other person’s pupils dilate, this increases the darkness of the scene, thus causing your pupils to dilate too).

That is not to say that pupil dilation has no psychological meaning. In fact, going back at least to the 1960s, psychologists have studied the way that our pupils dilate when we are more aroused or stimulated (in a physiological sense), whether by intellectual, emotional, aesthetic or sexual interest. This has led to debate about whether faces with more dilated pupils (sometimes taken as a sign of sexual interest) are perceived by onlookers to be more attractive. At least some studies, some decades old and others more recent, suggest they are, and we also know that our brains automatically process the dilation of other people’s pupils.

Even staring at a portrait painting’s eyes triggers the kind of brain activity associated with social cognition (Credit: Getty Images)

Either way, centuries prior to this research, folk wisdom certainly considered dilated pupils to be attractive. At various times in history women have even used a plant extract to deliberately dilate their pupils as a way to make themselves more attractive (hence the colloquial name for the plant: ‘belladonna’).

But when you look another person deep in the eye, do not think it is just their pupils sending you a message. Other recent research suggests that we can read complex emotions from the eye muscles – that is, whether a person is narrowing or opening their eyes wide. So, for instance, when an emotion such as disgust causes us to narrow our eyes, this ‘eye expression’ – like a facial expression – also signals our disgust to others.

Yet another important eye feature are limbal rings: the dark circles that surround your irises. Recent evidence suggests that these limbal rings are more often visible in younger, healthier people, and that onlookers know this on some level, such that heterosexual women looking for a short-term fling judge men with more visible limbal rings to be more healthy and desirable.

Gorilla staring at camera (Credit: Getty Images)

Look into the eys of a gorilla, and you are aware you are being scrutinised by another intellect (Credit: Getty Images)

All these studies suggest there is more than a grain of truth to the old adage about the eyes being a window to the soul. In fact, there is something incredibly powerful about gazing deeply into another person’s eyes. They say that our eyes are the only part of our brain that is directly exposed to the world.

When you look another person in the eye, then, just think: it is perhaps the closest you will come to ‘touching brains’ – or touching souls if you like to be more poetic about these things. Given this intense intimacy, perhaps it is little wonder that if you dim the lights and hold the gaze of another person for 10 minutes non-stop, you will find strange things start to happen, stranger perhaps than you’ve ever experienced before

Dr Christian Jarrett edits the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog. His next book, Personology, will be published in 2019.

Hands-On Learning beyond Elementary School

From Branton Shearer, MIDAS Blog,  April 8, 2019

I want to share this interesting article from the ASCD Update newsletter with you because it nicely illustrates how to engage the kinesthetic intelligence to enhance learning in an important academic skill.

by Rachael Priore

Some people wonder how MI can be applied beyond elementary school when learning becomes more academic and textbook based. This is especially so for students in English Language Arts (ELA) who struggle to maintain attention, engagement and retention of material.

“Hands-on, movement-based learning represents a shift in the traditional style of learning in an ELA classroom, but from my experience, it is a shift that benefits all learners – not just those who struggle… weave multimodal learning into the instructional methods of your classroom.”

Priore offers several practical tips for activating more than the linguistic intelligence in the ELA classroom:

  • Activate Prior Knowledge (4 Corners Activity, Find Somebody Who…)
  • Model Content and Skills
  • Moving and Reviewing (Centers, Gallery walks)
  • Beyond Written Assessments (Conferencing, Socratic seminars, Peer Teaching)

Activating the kinesthetic intelligence in middle and high school classes may sound intimidating at first but a little at first can mean a lot to students. As you see students’ engagement increase you can be more daring in your use of movement to connect your content with the power of kinesthetic learning.

ASCD Education Update December, 2018

www.ascd.org/publications/newsletters/education_update/dec18/vol60/num12/Hands-On_Learning_in_ELA.aspx .

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The Gardener Parent vs. the Carpenter Parent

https://offspring.lifehacker.com/how-to-be-a-gardener-parent-1832461241

from Branton Shearer, MIDAS Blog, Mar. 2, 2019

by Kristen Mae

“According to Alison Gopnik, (a psychology and philosophy professor at the University of California), the carpenter parent believes they have the power to shape who their child will become. Much like a carpenter with his truckload of specialized tools, the carpenter parent believes that as long as they parent their child the “right” way, they can influence a particular outcome. That was me, trying to turn my son into a violin prodigy. You see how well that worked out.

The gardener parent, on the other hand, knows and accepts that many variables are out of their control. The gardener parent provides a nurturing environment but understands that you can’t force an outcome any more than a gardener can control when the sun shines or how big a plant will grow or whether it will yield fruit. “

I was struck by this article that embodies the spirit of an MI-inspired education (beyond the obvious connection of gardener and Howard Gardner!). This idea is embedded in The MIDAS process.

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Developing Good People

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From Branton Shearer, MIDAS Blog,  Feb. 26, 2019

Tom Hoerr, former principal of New City School, has published an excellent Commentary in Education Week entitled, How We Can Develop Good People. It is a piece full of common-sense wisdom as illustrated by this quote . . .

“regardless of what technology or the workplace may require – it’s the ability to know oneself and work with others, out human literacy, that is essential for success. . .  people with strong intrapersonal and interpersonal success skills will be better able to solve just about every problem.”

The online version of this article is called: The Five Success Skills Every Student Should Master

Education Week, Dec. 12, 2018

Click here:

https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/12/12/the-five-success-skills-every-student-should.html

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Empathy is Academic

+From Branton Shearer, MIDAS Blog,  Feb. 19, 2019

Empathy is Academic: Lessons from Lotus Slippers by Naomi Priddy.

This recent article in ASCD’s Education Update spotlights the importance of interpersonal intelligence.  

How can teachers draw students out of their point of view and break through cultural stereotypes when becoming familiar with other cultures?

This is a challenge not easily overcome by the standard lecture or reading the chapter in the text. Facts alone do not engage one’s interpersonal intelligence.

Priddy summarizes her approach in her book China Educator’s Toolkit this way:  

“I divide academic empathy in the social sciences into three categories: historical empathy, pushing students outside presentism to understand people living in other times; cultural empathy, engaging with contemporary cultures outside of students’ experiences and challenging students’ cultural biases; and social empathy, building activities in which students learn to listen to one another’s perspectives and collaborate to form new learning.”

Click:

http://www.ascd.org/publications/newsletters/education-update/dec18/vol60/num12/Empathy-Is-Academic@-Lessons-from-Lotus-Slippers.aspx

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MIDAS High Ability Students

from Branton Shearer at www.MIResearch.org

Gina Boyd, Teacher of Gifted Students, Tippecanoe Schools., Lafayette, Indiana wrote to me recently about her use of The MIDAS with her class of high ability students. It is always interesting to hear about the wide variety of uses for the MIDAS Profile. Gina agrees with other educators that MI helps gifted students to have more nuanced views of what it means to be smart. The MI framework allows students to appreciate themselves as well as different kinds of smartness in their peers.

“I teach 4th and 5th grade high ability students in a self-contained classroom.  During the first quarter of the 4th grade year, I teach a unit on giftedness in which the students learn about themselves as learners.

I use MIDAS with my class every other year because I have my students for 2 years, and I will be using it again in September of 2019.”

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MIDAS and Career Development

from Branton Shearer at www.MIResearch.org

I received the following update from Mayra Ruiz, MIDAS director in Puerto Rico. This initiative was instigated by a dynamic and inspirational group of instructors and has snowballed to all four campuses: Hato Rey, Mayaguez, Manati, Bayamon and Arecibo. It is gratifying for me to hear that the work continues despite the challenge they had recovering from devastating hurricanes.

Greetings Branton,

At the Career Institute of Puerto Rico (ICPR) Junior College, MIDAS is finally given the importance it deserves and for which I have fought for many years. It is in the plans of the President, Dr. Olga Rivera, to use MIDAS for 2019, as a tool to promote our Institution.

Over the years, ICPR has used MIDAS for:

  1. Teaching: Objective: Increase Retention and Graduation rates
  2. Training the Faculty: Objectives: 1. Influence how to offer classes. 2. Upgrade to the Faculty in Technology.
  3. Recruitment: Objectives: 1. Locate students in careers according to their intelligences. 2. Provide the Admissions Officers with the offers they should emphasize.
  4. Sales and marketing: Objectives: 1. Identify the best way to sell the programs, according to the prospect’s ability to solve their problems. 2. Advertising campaign regarding MIDAS.

For several years now, I have been working with MIDAS and to get the most out of it.

Sincerely, Mayra Ruiz, Career Institute of Puerto Rico (ICPR) Junior College

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What does it mean to be MIDAS Certified?

from Branton Shearer at www.MIResearch.org

With the help of colleagues in the Netherlands, Singapore and China we are now organizing MIDAS Certification training workshops. Certification ensures that MIDAS users are familiar with proper administration and interpretation procedures. MIDAS is different from most tests and assessments and so for students to get the most benefit from their profiles, it is necessary for them to receive the right guidance.

There are four levels of Certification: Foundations, Practitioner, Mentor & Master Mentor.  Feedback from MIDAS Practitioner, Dionne Heng Cheng Peng describes very well the goals of the training.

From Dionne Heng Cheng Peng, 11-7-18, Singapore

“After knowing MI, I have learnt to see my kids with a different lens, knowing that each one of them is unique and crafted differently. Individual has their different learning preferences as individual intelligences are scaled differently. I am excited and motivated to partner my students’ parents in bringing out the best of their child with the MIDAS report. Many parents are frustrated and having this power struggle with their kids due to a clash of their intellectual styles with their kids. Being able to work together with parents deriving the best way to communicate with their child and to guide the child finding their best study skill that intrigues their learning are my motivation for now!

I am definitely intrigued to know that even the most difficult or not recognized child is smart in their own way who can also contribute in their small ways to give back to society. Helping individuals to find their confidence, motivation and ownership to learning is so exciting. As a parent myself, I am so thankful that MI has opened my mind and changed my ways in responding to my own kids, helping them to take ownership of their learning as this is a life-long learning skill. I have learned to ask “How are you smart?” instead of “How smart are you?” now.”

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MIDAS Training in Singapore

from Branton Shearer at www.MIResearch.org

My thanks to Henry Toi and his colleagues at NurtureCraft for organizing two workshops for me. First, we trained a group of people to be Certified MIDAS Administrators at the Practitioner Level.  Second, I conducted at daylong workshop entitled, Neuroscience and the Art of Teaching. See group photo below.

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The Realities of Teaching

From:  Branton Shearer at www. MIResearch.org

The sun is rising, and teachers are arriving…ordinary men and women,” as educational reformer John Dewey put it, “...of whom we expect the extraordinary”.

The sobering realities of life as a modern-day teacher and educator in America, USA Today.

USA Today coordinated with reporters from 15 cites to describe how teachers are feeling about their profession and public attitudes towards teachers.

This is a touching and rather disturbing description of the state of teachers and public perception in America today. It provides a stark contrast with the situation in Denmark where teachers are well-educated, highly paid and very respected. Their educational approach is nearly the polar opposite of the US (no testing) but still their students score very highly on the PISA tests.

The article concludes:

Respect and disrespect

“Teachers hold our hands and wipe our noses, tell us we can be more than we are, maybe more than we think we can be.

In return, we tell pollsters that they’re underpaid, without being sure what they actually make; that we endorse collective bargaining, yet often resist higher taxes; that we even support their right to strike, preferably in someone else’s district.

A day with American public school teachers ends with this irony: These people, whom opinion polls show to be among the nation’s most respected, feel disrespected.”

Read article here:

https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2018/10/17/teachers-appreciation-pay-union-jobs-schools-education/1509500002/

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