Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tappers and Listeners Great sensitizing concept

I've been reading an interesting book on stickyness of information. (bought the ebook on my iTouch)
The book is Make to Stick: Why some ideas Survive and others die by Chip and Dan Heath. Early in the book they reference Elizabeth Newtons 1990, PhD dissertation, Overconfidence in communication of intent, heard and unheard melodies. In an experimental situation subjects were asked to tap out a simple and familiar song for others to guess. They were asked to estimate how many of the songs that the others would guess and they estimated 50%. The actual rate of correct guessing was 1 in 40. The tappers could not believe that the listeners did so poorly, they thought they did a great job. The book goes on to describe the implications of this for leadership communication skills especially when linked with the "Curse of Knowledge" phenomenon, the notion that the more you know about something the less likely you are to be able to make your messages clear about the topic.

So the take away is this. We think we are communicating way better than we actually are.

Lots of interesting social psychology on the concept of overconfidence much of it nicely summarized in an article by Dunning, Heath and Suls (2004).They have an excellent section on the implications of overconfidence for the field of education. One of the issues for education they describe is that we have a system of bulk upload mass education that exacerbates this problem. The system is good at transmitting a message but is not so good for long term retention of information or transfer to application.

All very interesting and it sparks lots of interesting ideas for me.

As I have been trying to put all this together for myself, a side issue has appeared Where is Elizabeth Newton? I want to read her actual dissertation for myself but I can't find it anywhere. Doesn't seem to have been published elsewhere. Is she still being held hostage by her PhD committee? I see that the Heath's of Made to Stick are faculty in Newtons school and I am very pleased that they have given her a citation in their book but it seems a little odd that she has such a low profile. I'll have to keep digging although I'm unlikely to be willing to pay the Stanford fee to read the dissertation if is even available. None of the databases I use has access to the Stanford collection or am I doing it wrong.

Dunning, D., Heath, C., & Suls, J. M. (2004). Flawed Self-Assessment. Society, 5(3), 69-106.

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2007). Made to stick:Why some ideas survive and others die. New York: Random House.

Newton, L., 1990. Overconfidence in the communication of intent: Heard and unheard melodies. unpublished doctoral dissertation, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

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