The question sounds absurd: Can people’s expectations alter what we can do physically? Specifically, can people’s expectations change whether a blind person can see?
On a recent edition of the podcast “This American Life”, Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller, hosts of the new program “Invisibilia”, revealed the results of their research into the subject and those questions. (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/544/batman)
The episode is titled “Batman”, not because it has anything to do with the comic crime fighter, but because the person they investigate mimics a bat’s use of sonar to “see” where he is going. Batman in this case study is Daniel Kish, blind from childhood. He had his eyeballs removed due to cancer, so his new ones are prosthetic. He has no hope of vision. Or does he?
What Kish does is use clicks with his tongue as a way of understanding what is around him. This is called echolocation. The tongue clicks bounce off of things in his environment, resulting in a sonic representation of what’s around him. I recommend you listen to the podcast. His abilities will blow your mind.
So what does this have to do with expectations? Well, let me back up to their initial interview with research psychologist Bob Rosenthal. He had a lab full of ordinary rats collected for experimentation. He arbitrarily marked some rats as super intelligent, and some as incredibly stupid. Then he watched to see how the treatment each was given affected the results of the tests they were used in. Listen to what Alix Spiegel says:
“So what Bob figured out was that the expectations that the experimenters carried in their heads subtly changed the way that the experimenters touched the rats, and that changed the way that the rats behaved. So when the experimenters thought that the rats were really smart, they felt more warmly towards the rats and so they touched them more gently.”
She then relates studies showing the effect on human subjects:
Research has shown that a teacher’s expectations can raise or lower a student’s IQ score, that a mother’s expectations influences the drinking behavior of her middle schooler, that military trainers’ expectations can literally make a soldier run faster or slower. So my question was, how far does this go?
And this led them to Daniel Kish. His experience has not only enabled him to do what most of us would consider is impossible for the blind (i.e., riding a bike! In traffic!) It has resulted in him teaching young children to be independent. His story of teaching a ten-year old boy to climb a sixty foot tree is worth the whole show.
Do our expectations influence how we act? How we expect others to act?
Have a listen to the podcast and think about it. Then share your feedback with me here at Whatdoyouexpect.ca.
© Brian F. Reynolds BFRspace 2015
“What do you expect? The question you need to ask!” is now available in paperback for $20 (Can) from Scarlet Cord Press – www.scarletcordpress.com