Category Archives: what science says

Day 305 – Really hard, follow up

Precisely the kind of thing my colleague and I were talking about yesterday. And then I found this.

Watch “Why Facts Don’t Convince People (and what you can do about it)” on YouTube:


Day 224 – Trying not to kill curiosity in our schools

I have to confess I was a little stuck today. I wasn’t sure what to write about so I went to YouTube and searched for “curiosity”. The first couple of pages were full of stuff about NASA and Mars. I didn’t really want to get into that today, so then I searched for “curiosity lecture” and came to “The Hungry Mind: The Origins of Curiosity” by Susan Engel, a psychology professor at Williams College. Since part of my work is teaching in the classroom (groups a bit older, though, than the kindergarteners and 5th graders she studied), I thought that would be useful and could be interesting.

Some points I took away from her 20-minute talk:

  • Before they go to school, children ask between 25 and 50 questions per hour about how things work. Once they get to school, that number drops to about two per hour.
  • In studying why this is, Engel and her assistants came to the conclusion that teachers feel so much pressure (presumably from the education system) to solve certain kinds of problems that they don’t feel they can allow children to deviate from the given task.
  • In situations in the lab where teachers and pupils being studied were told to “Have fun learning about science” they were much more likely to go off track and explore, exhibiting more curiosity (and creating more chances for real discovery) than groups told to “Have fun filling out the worksheet”.
  • Clearly, teachers’ behaviors matter to how much curiosity is lived in a classroom.

I believe that not only children, as Engel says, “… learn best when they’re trying to get the answer to their own question ….” I also learn better that way. In fact, as I have gotten older I have become far more resistant to learning what other people think I should, when they think I should. I want to follow my own topics in my own way. Sometimes, like schoolchildren, however, I do need to read up on something assigned. Recently, for example, I was expected to read up on a company, their history, organizational structure, and product lines, before running a workshop for them. Of course it makes perfect sense that I should know something about that if I’m working for them, but it was a real slog–slow and requiring a lot of discipline.

Question to be answered (maybe) later: Is there a way to develop curiosity intentionally about things we need to learn to make learning them more interesting (a balance of exploring and ending up where we should)? If there is, how could we develop or  foster that?

Day 208 – The Physicality of Openness

A few days ago I rediscovered something that I used to feel regularly when I was going to tai chi classes regularly, namely, that openness feels different in my body than being closed. I first noticed it in my face, especially the eye region. It was almost as if I went from squinting to looking out into the world in a relaxed way. Then I started to feel it around my breastbone, as if that area was opening up. Then I felt it in other parts of the body as relaxation. My hands opened up, my shoulders dropped, my legs felt more solid but less tense.

Amy Cuddy and her colleagues at Harvard Business School (here is the TED talk) have discovered that our body language not only communicates with others. It communicates with us, too, and can change the way we feel. For example, the use of what they call “power poses” (the Wonder Woman pose is a well-known one) for only two minutes can reduce the level of stress hormones in the body and increase the level of testosterone. From that, I am tempted to believe that opening and relaxing my body may help me encounter the world more openly or with greater curiosity. Something (else) to test.

Day 181 – Additional benefits of using maps rather than GPS

Many people have already heard about the study that showed that London taxi drivers (the ones who had to learn to navigate without GPS) have larger hippocampuses than a control group. (The hippocampus is the part of the brain believed to be responsible for memory and navigation processes.) Now there is a study that suggests that using maps rather than GPS to navigate can be healthy for our brains, especially as we age, and not just good for our curiosity practice.

Read more here, if you are curious 😉 about the study:

Day 124 – New Year’ Resolutions, follow up

This morning I got around to reading an article about change management that appeared in Saturday’s paper. I would have said change management, including the related topic of changing habits, was something I know a lot about. This article reminded me of something that had gotten buried under all the more sophisticated stuff, namely that the German-American psychologist, Kurt Lewin, prescribed a simple (although not necessarily easy) process of change. The change, he said, must become the routine, and it does so by following a three-stage pattern: unfreezing, the change itself, freezing (apparently not “re-freezing” as I originally learned).

In my quest to encounter what comes in everyday life with more curiosity, this means I (would) need to keep practicing until my common reaction of closing up becomes one of suspending judgment and exploring. This is certainly what I’m trying to do with my Inquiry practice.

Sadly, the article did not say how long it takes, although the estimate of three weeks that is sometimes bandied about seems only possible for a change superhero.

Ah, well. Onward!

Day 083 – Curiosity and learning

Today I was thinking about curiosity and how I prefer to learn, and I thought of David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, a well-researched model that explains how we use our experiences to learn to do things better (rather than how we learn, for example, the capital cities of the world).

It looks like this:


What do all those big words mean? Simplified they mean that we experience something, reflect on it, create ideas about what might work better, try those ideas out, end up with a new experience that we reflect on, and so on. For example, I might sing a song in a concert (concrete experience). If I want to get better at singing, I will likely go home, analyze what happened, make some decisions about what I could do better next time, and then try out those ideas the next time I sing. That way I get feedback on how well my ideas worked and start the cycle over again for continual improvement and learning.

No doubt laid out like this it seems pretty logical and obvious to you, which raises the questions: Why would someone spend a good part of his professional life testing and refining this model? And why should we care? The answer is: Because seeing the distinct stages laid out like that makes it possible for us to check and see if we are really moving through all four. This helps because usually people are drawn naturally to certain stages and spend more time on those while neglecting others, which can keep them from learning really effectively.

An example: I personally love analyzing what happened (the Reflective Observation stage) and also like developing ideas to try out next time (the Abstract Conceptualization stage); but I have to make a big, conscious effort to go out into the world and try those ideas out (the Active Experimentation stage). (That revelation must come as a complete surprise to those of you who have been following this blog faithfully. ;-)) This keeps me from learning as fully as I could from my experiences. Other people love experimentation but find reflection tedious or senseless, and that keeps them from learning as fully as they could. According to Kolb, though, none of the stages is senseless, and once we know which stages we would rather skip we can make that big, conscious effort to move through them properly, too.

What does this have to do with curiosity? It can help explain, to some degree, what kinds of curiosity we find easy and may open doors to focusing more consciously on the other kinds—just out of curiosity to see what happens, of course. 😉

Day 079 – More on curiosity and science

The link to this TED talk on a new understanding of cancer was sent to me by a friend who is a reader of my blog, writer of her own blog on biology and the life sciences, and cancer researcher. She sent it with the comment, “Not being a scientist is not an excuse not to watch it! She talks a bit about curiosity as well. ” In my commitment to curiosity this year I decided to expand my horizons even though when someone says “science” I usually think “Oops! I’m not going to understand a word.”

Well, I didn’t understand everything when I watched it. I like to believe that given more time I could have understood at least how the experiments she describes led to the conclusions they drew, but I don’t have the time. (And it’s not one of my “unique obsessions”. ;-)) Nonetheless, I found a couple of points that drew my attention.

Working in the diversity sector, I was perhaps most interested in what she had to say about the effect that coming from a different field (chemistry as opposed to biology) played in her ability to make contributions to cancer research. Her background made her pursue answers to questions that the biologists she worked with didn’t even think to ask. Things they accepted as givens didn’t make sense to her and she followed up on that, which led—gradually—to an entirely new approach and understanding for everyone.

It led only gradually to results because at first no one in the field would believe that she was onto something significant. What she was proposing didn’t fit in with accepted knowledge and wisdom so it was initially rejected. Perhaps this is one reason she tells her students: “Don’t be arrogant because arrogance kills curiosity ….”

She doesn’t talk explicitly about how for someone who is curious an answer almost invariably leads to another question, but her final comments bring out that point beautifully. Having laid out what she and her team have learned in their lab about the study of context and architecture in cancer research, she introduces one of the next possible fields of study: “We know nothing about the language of form.” One thing leads to another. The search goes on.

Anyone looking for a research topic in the life sciences? 😉