Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ah-HAH!

Mark Zuckerberg Calls the 'A-Ha!' Moment a Myth

Yeah? And what does Mark Zuckerberg know that psychology doesn't?

For sure, if you own, work with, or are beset by children or animals, you know all about this experience.  It's that click that makes the light bulb come on.  There's an entire book about it, called, appropriately, Click!

The Brafman book is about social connections, but the mechanism is the same.  The Brothers Brafman describe high and low self-monitors as categories of minds that pay attention to the reactions they're eliciting in others.  The same categories apply to animals, most of which fall into the high self-monitoring group.  It's always in an animal's best interests to know how the other creatures surrounding him feel about him.  Their intentions towards him could mean the difference between life and death, between eating a meal and being one.  Babies are high self-monitors. They mirror their parents' facial expressions in an effort to match the expression to the intention in their tiny, pre-verbal brains and determine whether danger is afoot or cuddling can be expected.

Learning to bow in a silent space

That Mark Zuckerberg can't pinpoint the moment when the idea for Facebook came together in his mind isn't surprising.  If we were always aware of those moments, we'd be in a constant state of arousal and startlement.  Most of them slide by unnoticed.

Sometimes, however, they're so obvious we just have to shout (mentally, at least) "Ah-HAH!"

The mechanism is both stunning and elegantly simple.  It's the moment when the brain finds the connection between the present situation and something already stored away in memory.  Like pieces of a puzzle, there's a distinct snap into place, and suddenly it all makes sense.

What keeps us from noticing the sudden awareness is noise.  Noise doesn't have to be auditory.  It's a constant flood of stimulation, of sensory and mental signals that drown out more subtle signs.

We can make the moments more noticeable by reducing "noise".  If you're attempting to solve a major problem and can't quite seem to grasp the ends of the knot, that's not the time to be multi-tasking.  All those extra thought processes are just noise, not contributing to the solution and definitely preventing the awareness from being focused.  Years ago, research showed that boys were better able to concentrate with music or some other white noise in the background while they worked.  Girls not so much.  But that was long before the Electronic Age.  If you really want to get the job done, silence the phone, turn off the  notifications on your computer, and tell other humans surrounding you that you need uninterrupted time.

Working with animals, we're very much in control of the noise level.  If you want the animal to attend to the cue you're teaching, stop talking so much.  All that babble may seem calming to you, but it occupies the animal's mind with efforts to sort out important information from the stream of unimportant stuff.  Keep your cues to single words that can't be confused with other cue words, and don't add anything unnecessary.

In canine obedience class, we were taught to say the dog's name and only the dog's name preceding any cue involving movement (or non-movement, like "stay"). That formed a clear line of demarcation.  If she heard her name, Gert knew cues were coming.  All cues were accompanied by a hand gesture.  Simple and clear.

In the classroom, the best learning happened when there were fewest distractions.  Being able to close the shades over the windows was a plus in some rooms where I taught.  Keeping the lessons simple and to-the-point was key.

The same works for horses and other animals.  Since animals are so aware of non-verbal communication, this is a good time to follow their lead.  Be non-threatening.  Make sure the surroundings aren't full of chaotic movement and chatter.  Repeat the stimulus-response pair until you feel that connection.  Give the animal a chance to connect with you while s/he's connecting the behavior to something s/he's already learned.  Build from the bottom up, and do it with as little noise as possible.

Keep it simple.  Keep it clean.  Keep it quiet.  You and the animal will both be more likely to notice the click!  It's a terrifically exciting experience, so try not to miss it while you're videoing it for your BFF.  Get small and close and silent.  It's an amazing place to be.

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