- Apr 2022
The way technologies like fMRI are applied is aproduct of our brainbound orientation; it has not seemed odd or unusual toexamine the individual brain on its own, unconnected to others.
In part because of modalities of studying the brain using methods like fMRI where the images are of an individual's head, we focus too much and too exclusively on single brains bound to individuals rather than on brains working in concert.
Greater flexibilities in tools and methods should help do studies of humans working in concert.
Link this to the anecdote:
I recall a radiology test within a medical school setting in which students were asked to diagnose an x-ray of a human patient's skull. Most either guessed small hairline fractures in the skull or that there was nothing wrong with the patient.
Can you diagnose the patient?
Almost all the students failed the question, and worse felt like idiots when the answer was revealed: the patient must be dead because the spinal column and the rest of the body are not attached. Compare:
the brain stores social information differently thanit stores information that is non-social. Social memories are encoded in a distinctregion of the brain. What’s more, we remember social information moreaccurately, a phenomenon that psychologists call the “social encodingadvantage.” If findings like this feel unexpected, that’s because our culturelargely excludes social interaction from the realm of the intellect. Socialexchanges with others might be enjoyable or entertaining, this attitude holds, butthey’re no more than a diversion, what we do around the edges of school orwork. Serious thinking, real thinking, is done on one’s own, sequestered fromothers.
"Social encoding advantage" is what psychologists refer to as the phenomenon of people remembering social information more accurately than other types.
Reference to read: “social encoding advantage”: Matthew D. Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect (New York: Crown, 2013), 284.
It's likely that the social acts of learning and information exchange in oral societies had an additional stickiness over and beyond the additional mnemonic methods they would have used as a base.
The Western cultural tradition doesn't value the social coding advantage because it "excludes social interaction from the realm of the intellect" (Paul, 2021). Instead it provides advantage and status to the individual thinking on their own. We greatly prefer the idea of the "lone genius" toiling on their own, when this is hardly ever the case. Our availability bias often leads us to believe it is the case because we can pull out so many famous examples, though in almost all cases these geniuses were riding on the shoulders of giants.
Reference to read: remember social information more accurately: Jason P. Mitchell, C. Neil Macrae, and Mahzarin R. Banaji, “Encoding-Specific Effects of Social Cognition on the Neural Correlates of Subsequent Memory,” Journal of Neuroscience 24 (May 2004): 4912–17
Reference to read: the brain stores social information: Jason P. Mitchell et al., “Thinking About Others: The Neural Substrates of Social Cognition,” in Social Neuroscience: People Thinking About Thinking People, ed. Karen T. Litfin (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), 63–82.
solo thinking isrooted in our lifelong experience of social interaction; linguists and cognitivescientists theorize that the constant patter we carry on in our heads is a kind ofinternalized conversation. Our brains evolved to think with people: to teachthem, to argue with them, to exchange stories with them. Human thought isexquisitely sensitive to context, and one of the most powerful contexts of all isthe presence of other people. As a consequence, when we think socially, wethink differently—and often better—than when we think non-socially.
People have evolved as social animals and this extends to thinking and interacting. We think better when we think socially (in groups) as opposed to thinking alone.
This in part may be why solo reading and annotating improves one's thinking because it is a form of social annotation between the lone annotator and the author. Actual social annotation amongst groups may add additonal power to this method.
I personally annotate alone, though I typically do so in a publicly discoverable fashion within Hypothes.is. While the audience of my annotations may be exceedingly low, there is at least a perceived public for my output. Thus my thinking, though done alone, is accelerated and improved by the potential social context in which it's done. (Hello, dear reader! 🥰) I can artificially take advantage of the social learning effects even if the social circle may mathematically approach the limit of an audience of one (me).
the development of intelligent thinking is fundamentally a social process
How can social annotation practices take advantage of these sorts of active learning processes? What might be done in a flipped classroom setting to get students to use social annotation on a text prior to a lecture and have the questions and ideas from these sessions brought into the lecture space for discussion, argument, and expansion?
- social animals
- cognitive bias
- thinking tools
- social encoding advantage
- orality vs. literacy
- flipped classrooms
- discussion sections
- lone genius myth
- orality and memory
- active learning
- individuals vs. groups
- active reading
- annotation for learning
- networked thinking
- social annotation
- conversations with the text
- thinking with peers
- Sep 2021
Social learning does not mean learning without tension or argument. In “Thinking with Peers”, Paul shows that argument and conflict are useful ways to focus attention and strengthen ideas, so long as the arguing is done with a certain amount of openness to new ideas. She approvingly quotes Stanford Business School professor Robert Sutton’s formula for productive conflict: “People should fight as if they are right, and listen as if they are wrong.” The brain, it seems, likes conflict. Or, at least, conflict helps strengthen attention.
I wonder how this may be leveraged with those who are using Hypothes.is for conversations in the margins in classrooms?
cc: @remikalir, @jeremydean, @nateangell
Could teachers specifically sow contention into their conversations? Cross reference the idea of a devil's advocate.
I love the aphorism:
“People should fight as if they are right, and listen as if they are wrong.” — Robert Sutton, Stanford Buisness School professor's formula for productive conflict