Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Mother Of All Prize Fights

Writen by Lenn Millbower

"Our education system ignores the role of emotion in learning and decision-making." Antonio Damasio

I don't understand prizefighting. Why anyone would – whether a thriller in Manilla, a rumble in the jungle or happen' in the hood – want to watch two human beings pound each other senseless is beyond me. And yet there is one prizefight that fascinates me. I look for it. I revel in it. This one is not between individuals. It is rather within each of us. And it is truly a matter of life or death.

In This Corner

Occasionally a study comes along that makes me stand up and take notice. As you faithful readers know, I have for years championed the idea that Emotion creates Memory and that effective learning requires that the facilitator Evoke Emotion. That tenet is in fact one of my eight Learnertainment® principles.

A new study was reported in the August 6, 2006 USA Today www.usatoday.com. The study was conducted by the Benedetto De Martino of University College London. He and his colleagues found that emotion rules decision-making.

Quoting the article directly:

"The brain images revealed the amygdala, a neural region that processes strong negative emotions such as fear, fired up vigorously in response to each two-second (on average) gambling decision. Where people resisted the framing effect, a brain region connected to positive emotions such as empathy, and another that activates whenever people face choices, lit up as well, seeming to duke it out over the decision."

Also quoted in the article was neuroscientist Antonio Damasio of the University of Southern California. He stated, "People who lack emotions because of brain injuries often have difficulty making decisions at all. The brain stores emotional memories of past decisions, and those are what drive people's choices in life. What makes you and me 'rational' is not suppressing our emotions, but tempering them in a positive way."

As I reported in my book Show Biz Training, regions of the right hemisphere are concerned with the negative aspects of emotion where other regions in the left hemisphere are more likely to process positive emotions. Fortunately for educators, the negatively focused right hemisphere is also easily pleased and distracted by entertaining content.

The implications of this information for learning are huge. If these experts are correct, and I believe they are, people cannot learn in the absence of emotion. And, given that emotion is always present in the healthy person, and indeed determines what decision that person makes, then emotion cannot be ignored in the classroom. It follows that it is incumbent on all learning professionals to put forth a positive emotional environment in learning. Stimulating content, enjoyable moments, eye catching visuals, warm and emotive auditory cues are all vital tools for soliciting these moments.

Come Out Fighting

Entertainment techniques are extremely helpful for learning because they encompasses the application of emotion, comedy, props, suggestion, music, multiple perspectives, storytelling staging and acting. For, when the brain's negative seeking emotive center aren't positively engaged, then, as this study suggests, the negative emotional impulses, which are always present, will fight for and win supremacy. Learning professionals should pour all their energy into insuring that positive emotion is in their corner. For, considering the stakes, this truly can be called the mother of all prizefights. It is our very own battle in the brain.

Lenn Millbower, BM, MA, the Learnertainment® Trainer is an expert in applying show biz techniques to learning. He is the author of the CLOUT Trainer Assessment tool, Music as a Training Tool, focused on the practical application of music to learning; Show Biz Training, the definitive book on the application of entertainment industry techniques to training; Cartoons for Trainers, a popular collection of 75 cartoons for learning; Game Show Themes for Trainers, a best-selling CD of original learning game music; and Training with a Beat: The Teaching Power of Music, the foremost book on the application of music to learning. Lenn is an in-demand speaker, with successful presentations at ASTD and SHRM; a member of NSA, a creative and dynamic instructional designer and facilitator formally with the Disney Institute; an accomplished arranger-composer skilled in the psychological application of music to learning; and the president of Offbeat Training®, infusing entertainment-based techniques into learning to keep 'em awake so the learning will take!

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