TITLE: Persuasion, Teaching, and New Practice AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 14, 2007 7:25 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I have written three posts recently [ 1 | 2 | 3 ] on various applications of Bruce Schneier's The Psychology of Security to software development and student learning. Here's another quote:
The moral here is that people will be persuaded more by a vivid, personal story than they will by bland statistics and facts, possibly solely due to the fact that they remember vivid arguments better.
I think that this is something that many of us know intuitively from experience both as learners and as teachers. But the psychological evidence that Schneier cites give us all the more reason to think carefully about many of the things we do. Consider how it applies to... ... "selling" agile ideas, to encouraging adoption among the developers who make software. The business people who make decisions about the making of software. The students who learn how to make software from us. ... "marketing" CS as a rewarding, worthwhile, challenging major and career path. ... "framing" ideas and practices for students whom we hope to help grow in some discipline. Each of these audiences responds to vivid examples, but the examples that persuade best will be stories that speak to the particular desires and fears of each. Telling personal stories -- stories from our own personal experiences -- seem especially persuasive, because they seem more real to the listener. The listener probably hasn't had the experience we relate, but real stories have a depth to them that often can't be faked. I think my best blogging fits this bill. As noted in one of the earlier entries, prospect theory tells us that "People make very different trades-offs if something is presented as a gain than if something is presented as a loss." I think this suggests that we must frame arguments carefully and explicitly if we hope to maximize our effect. How can we frame stories most beneficially for student learning? Or to maximize the chance that developers adopt, or clients accept, new agile practices? I put the words "selling", "marketing", and "framing" in scare quotes above for a reason. These are words that often cause academics great pause, or even lead academics to dismiss an idea as intellectually dishonest. But that attitude seems counter to what we know about how the human brain works. We can use this knowledge positively -- use our newfound powers for good -- or negatively -- for evil. It is our choice. Schneier began his research with the hope of using what he learned for good, to help humans understand their own behavior better and so to overcome their default behavior. But he soon learned that this isn't all that likely; our risk-intuitive behaviors are automatic, too deeply-ingrained. Instead he hopes to pursue a middle road -- bringing our feelings of security into congruence with the reality of security. (For example, he now admits that palliatives -- measures that make users feel better without actually improving their security -- may be acceptable, if they result in closer congruence between feeling and reality.) This all reminded me of Kathy Sierra's entry What Marketers Could Do For Teachers. There, she spoke the academically incorrect notion that teachers could learn from marketers because they: "Manipulate someone's thoughts and feelings about a topic." Sounds evil, or at least laden with evil potential. Sierra acknowledges the concern right up front...
[Yes, I'm aware how horrifying this notion sound -- that we take teachers and make them as evil as marketers? Take a breath. You know that's not what I'm advocating, so keep reading.]
Kathy meant just what Schneier is trying to do, that we can learn not the motivations of marketing but their understanding of the human mind, the human behavior that makes possible the practices of marketing. Our motivations are already good enough. -----