Category Archives: MI in Everyday Life

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

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.

Developing Good People


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

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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.”




Emotional Rudder

The Intrapersonal intelligence is spotlighted in this article that describes the neuroscience research of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang.  I highly recommend this article because it does a fine job summarizing the excellent research of Dr. Immordino-Yang.

“As teachers, we can help students become aware of how emotions steer thinking, and help them develop well-tuned intuitions… If teachers are not attending to the inherent role of emotions in thinking, then the emotions that are being recruited in the classroom may not be facilitating the kind of deep thinking you want. The key is to set up the class so that the students have conductive emotions about the actual ideas that you are working on.”



Intrapersonal intelligence is spotlighted in this article that describes the neuroscience research of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang





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Generation Z Learners Prefer YouTube







Education Week,  September 12, 2018

By Lauraine Genota

“The preference for Youtube and videos signals a shift in learning styles, Pearson’s director of global research and insights said. The role of video and visual learning is “essential in rising learners and the generation to come, “ Broad said. Pearson has also found that there is growing interest in other video-based learning platforms like Khan Academy. Some teens are turning to YouTube because they find it’s easier to understand something when they watch someone explain it visually. It also helps that they can pause and rewind a video if they don’t understand it right away.”

So… the visual-spatial intelligence is important for learners of all ages.

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Thinking about Thinking about Howard Gardner

Gary Stager.… has an interesting blog worth checking out. His commentary on Howard Gardner is thought provoking – “Is Howard Gardner the most misunderstood and misappropriated educationalist (his preferred term) in the world today or he just the only theorist most educators have heard of?”

Also I very much appreciate his shout out to my book, MI@25 which he describes as ‘an incredibly important and sadly overlooked anthology”.

Thinking about Thinking about Howard Gardner


MIDAS in India – FindYourFit

A recent article by Jitendra Sandu in Silicon India StartUP City magazine describes how his company, FindYourFit uses MIDAS to help employers find the right people.

“FindYourFit is a social recruitment company focused on connecting international jobseekers with suitable employers. In addition to technical capabilities, it emphasizes the alignment of an employee’s personality, values, and interests with an organization’s culture, goals, strategy, and values.”

Read full article here. Silicon India_Best_Start_Ups


The Tug of War is Over!

The war of words between psychologists over the nature of human intelligence is over

Branton Shearer < excerpted 12/12/17 >

A scientific puzzle is solved. The debate is over. For 35 years teachers, students and parents have been stuck in the middle of the war of words between psychologists regarding the nature of human intelligence. Neuroscience evidence now builds a coherent bridge between IQ and multiple intelligences. This battle among theorists has resulted in confusion and unhappy compromises as teachers struggle to serve two masters. On the one side are IQ-ists who argue that intelligence is unitary and only associated with academic skills (reading, math and such). These folks advocate for a standardized curriculum emphasizing basic skills development. On the other side are advocates for personalized instruction based on the idea of multiple intelligences. They argue that human intelligence cannot be summed up with a single number and that student learning will increase with differentiated instruction that emphasizes strength-based activities.

Multiple Intelligences theory describes eight forms of intelligence possessed by all people but with varying levels of skill and ability. The eight intelligences are Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical (associated with general intelligence and academic success), Visual-Spatial, Kinesthetic, Musical, Naturalist, Interpersonal and Intrapersonal [3]. Since 1983, schools and teachers around the world have been striving to find the best ways of using MI theory to enhance education.

Of particular concern are the large numbers of students who are marginalized as a result of being stigmatized by simplistic labels such as “merely average,” or “below average,” or “not very bright.” On the flip side are students with highly developed skills that go unrecognized, unappreciated, or denigrated because they don’t fit into the academic hierarchy. No room for creativity on tests of intelligence or math skills.

This debate is not merely an arid academic question among ivory towered grey beards. Millions of dollars are paid out to the winners. Careers are wrecked or made; egos bruised or acclaimed. This conflict is most keenly felt in the schools and classrooms as teachers plan lessons and curriculum designers organize their priorities. Students and parents are casualties of the conflict, too. Parents preside over the “homework wars” as students wrestle with worksheets and perplexing projects.

There is something appealing about the simplicity of the IQ score (as a measure of general intelligence, also called g by psychologists). Unfortunately, like most simplistic labels it is simply not true that a person’s intellectual potential can be neatly fit into the box like someone’s shirt size. The human brain resists being carved up into neat categories because it is a massively interconnected and always changing and growing organ.

Five investigations involving more than 500 neuroscience studies lead to the conclusion that each intelligence possesses its own unique neural architecture. What is the relationship between IQ and MI? In 1983, Howard Gardner explained that general intelligence is comprised of the Logical-mathematical and Linguistic intelligences. This theory is supported by the neuroscience evidence because IQ is associated with nearly the exact same neural structures as those two intelligences.

The debate is not MI vs. IQ but rather how can we use a multiple intelligences understanding of each student to build the academic skills associated with IQ? MI does not minimize the importance of skills such as reading, attention to detail, logical thinking, and mathematics. Of course, those are important skills. But for artists they are no more important than imagination, spatial awareness, and intuition. Only when we understand each person’s unique profile of strengths can we devise strategies to maximize their development and build or manage weaknesses. IQ-based limitations are not to be avoided but instead creatively addressed by leveraging strengths in the service of whole brain development. This is not a dry theoretical argument but instead a practical approach to developing human potential.

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Smart Phones stunting speech?

An article in The Week highlighted research into young children’s use of smartphones and the impact on speech development.

“Young children who use smartphones and tablets are more likely to suffer speech development delays….”

“Parents aren’t talking to their children….You learn speech from parents.”

“The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under 18 months be given NO SCREEN time at all, apart from video-chatting with family, and that 18 – 24 month olds be limited to “high-quality programming.”

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