When you’re distrustful of something, you might say that it's "fishy.” Now, writes Popular Science’s Alexandra Ossola, that term may take on a new meaning — new research shows that the smell of fish not only makes people more suspicious, but may boost critical thinking skills.
Ossola reports that the new study used a common logical error, some math problems and the not-so-sweet smell of fish oil to achieve its results. In an attempt to discover how fishy smells influence the way humans process information, researchers conducted two tests: exposing people to incidental fishy smells, then seeing how well they identified semantic distortions and debunked their own false hunches.
First, researchers asked people a question that demonstrates what’s known as “The Moses Illusion,” a cognitive slip-up that occurs when people are asked a deceptively simple question. The illustion gets its name from the most common example of the trick:,when people familiar with the Bible are asked how many animals of each kind Moses took on the ark, they usually answer “two of each” — even though it was Noah, not Moses, who rescued animalkind in the Biblical tale.
When participants were exposed to the Moses question in a booth that had been sprayed with fish oil, they caught the error more frequently (41 percent of the time as opposed to only 16 percent in a booth that didn’t smell fishy). The results were similar when people were asked to test their own false mathematical hypothesis while under the influence of eau de fish.
What’s the point of uncovering people’s distrust while caught in fishy situations? To researchers, the tests illustrate not only that a skeptical mindset can help people make better decisions, but that smell could be used to improve or even impair decision-making. It’s your call whether to take a whiff of fish before you make your next big decision, but in this case at least, it might not hurt to follow your nose.
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About Erin Blakemore
Often adolescents hold strong opinions, but they don’t always know where and how they came to those beliefs. When a teacher pushes them to think critically about why they feel the way they do, it's easy for students to ignore them. But, when video conferencing with a teenager from another country who genuinely wants to know the answer, students often respond more thoughtfully.
HOW IT WORKS
A teacher interested in using Generation Global must register the school with the program first. Then he or she can access free lesson plans to introduce the basics of dialogue. Davis said one of his favorite elements of the product is its flexibility. Teachers can modify the lesson plans easily while still maintaining the spirit of the lesson.
“They trust that you know your students best,” Davis said. “The lessons are designed so you can get at the heart of the meaning of the lesson without following the lesson prescriptively.”
Students practice dialogue skills like active listening and speaking from the “I” perspective with one another in class. Thus, not only do students have the ability to dialogue about the personal experiences, values and beliefs of peers across the world, but in the lead-up they do the same with students who they’ve sat next to for years, but still might not know very well.
After students have been introduced to the skills involved in productive dialogue, the teacher can set up various types of interactions with classes in one of the 20 countries where schools have signed up for Generation Global. This can be done through the site and is painless, according to Davis. Teachers can choose a one-to-one dialogue with another class or they can choose to participate in a multipoint dialogue, where up to four classes are participating. All the dialogues are moderated by a trained facilitator who keeps the conversation moving, helps move past the awkward beginning and makes sure that everyone feel safe within the dialogue. The dialogues are all in English.
Additionally, Generation Global has a secure online dialogue feature that allows two classes to commit to a longer dialogue on a series of questions. The site groups students for a more intimate experience and they respond to one another in writing. Teachers and facilitators can see all these interactions, and the technology offers teachers a dashboard on their students’ participation, too.
“The great thing about dialogue is it enables you to get inside someone else’s perspective,” said Ian Jamison, head of education for Generation Global. “So you explore not knowledge, but experiences, values and beliefs.”
He stresses that the dialogue topics are usually not about specific curriculum because, while there is some overlap in the curricula of different countries, it can also vary widely. Instead, the program staff at Generation Global are interested in how students can build empathy for one another by learning about personal experiences of culture and the world.
The goal is to make the exotic familiar. “One of the side effects of familiarity is it makes it very hard to hang on to prejudice,” Jamison said. He described one video conference he facilitated between a class in Pakistan and a class in the U.K. In the course of the conversation one of the students in Pakistan said that Islam was illegal in the U.K. He was surprised to hear from a U.K. student of Pakistani descent that actually he was himself a Muslim and attended a mosque in Birmingham.
“That’s the kind of misinformed comment that doesn't help people get on with one another,” Jamison said. But when the students could look one another in the eye and hear a different narrative about a place they’d never been, it started to change their views about the world.
“One of the things we often take for granted is we often think of ourselves as ordinary and the other as exotic,” Jamison said. But every person can be exotic to someone living in a different culture, and these global dialogues can have a huge impact on the many biases and stereotypes that get passed around almost unconsciously.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
Generation Global takes safety and security seriously both because its staff know that students must feel emotionally safe to open up about personal experiences, but also because they know parents worry about student safety online. The schools that participate have been vetted by Generation Global and the video conferences and online chats take place in a secure environment that is never shared.
In many ways this program asks students to do something that many adults aren’t modeling well -- how to be respectful of someone with a different lived experience and opinion. The dialogue skills are particularly important when people disagree strongly.
“As a teacher it was so refreshing to have a facilitator make sure that safe space for dialogue and conversation was kept,” Davis said. Conversations can still get heated, but if a student gets worked up the facilitator will stop the conversation, ask participants to take a moment, and then work to re-establish safety before continuing the conversation.
Jamison sees the online dialogue as an equally important element of helping adolescents to develop positive habits around interactions online, something that again many adults do not model well for students.
“What we want to end up with are young people who are able to take part confidently in dialogue,” Jamison said.