Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Conversation overheard in a NYC lobby between a four year old and her mother:

Girl: Mom! Mommmm!
Mother: Yes dear...?
Girl: What is 'arm' without the 'r'?
Mother: 'Am.'
Girl: Nooo. It's 'm.' I said 'arm'!
Girl again: What is 'arm' without the 'r'?
Mother: 'Am'.
Girl: Nooo- I said 'arm'! The answer is 'm' mom!

This cycle went on for another two rounds, each campaigner sticking to her initial answer. The mother eventually stopped answering and the girl eventually stopped asking. It's interesting/maybe sad that the mother appeared too worn to have the perspective that both fresh ears and a bit of developmental/social psychology afforded me to disambiguate the misunderstanding.

My first guess when the girl said, "what is arm without the 'r'?" was the same as her mom: 'am.' Then I realized, through the girl's answer, that her mom and I had something in common that we did not have in common with the girl- we could both read. The girl's answer relied on phonetics as opposed to spelling. What the not-yet-literate girl was really asking was "What is arm without the 'ar' (sound)?" Her answer, 'em' (m), then, was based on sound, not spelling. However, the mother was unable to take the perspective of her child to realize a difference in approach to solving the riddle. I was going to point this out to the mother, but just enjoyed catching the conversation bit.

This episode quickly reminded me of something in psychology called the Stroop Effect.

Answer this in your head: What is the color of this text: green

If you are reading this, then you're literate, and like other literate people you likely initially thought 'green,' if you didn't actually say it as well. Yet most young children are quick to correctly indicate the color of a word that does not match the word itself. For instance, to write the word 'green' in pink lettering (above). Why? Not-yet-literate children have little problem identifying the word as being pink in color (the letters g-r-e-e-n mean nothing to them), but literate people get caught on the discrepancy between what their logical brains are reading and the color stimuli itself. This confusion slows down their answer of 'pink,' and often adults will also mistakenly say 'green.'

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Often a change from the original to the new is easier than from the new back to the original.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Smiling and being serious are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the former may put at ease the introduction of serious topics that might otherwise go unvoiced.