I’m not talking about political views on education and training, but rather eye movement as it relates to learning. Believe it or not, Liberals see gaze cues much differently than Conservatives do.
What does this have to do with training and development? Read on.
In that study, researchers measured a person’s tendency to shift attention in a direction consistent with another person’s eye movements, even if it’s irrelevant to their current task. Any surprise that there was a big differences between the two groups?
The study reported that “Liberals responded strongly to the prompts, consistently moving their attention in the direction suggested to them by a face on a computer screen. Conservatives, on the other hand, did not.”
Why? It appeared participant values on personal autonomy might make them less likely to be influenced by others, and therefore less responsive to the visual prompts. To those conducting the study, they thought political “temperament” might moderate the magnitude, but didn’t expect the conservatives to be completely immune to the cues, while the liberals tended to follow the “gaze cues.”
Is it because Liberals tend to be more responsive to others as the study suggests? According to Kevin Smith, UNL professor of political science nd one of the study’s authors, ”This study basically provides one more piece of evidence that liberals and conservatives perceive the world, and process information taken in from that world, in different ways.
UNL’s study is significant to its researchers for “understanding exactly why people have such different political perspectives and where those differences come from may help us better understand the roots of a lot of political conflict.” It shows the potential role of cognitive biases as a relevant area of future research. In addition to shedding light on the differences between the two political camps, researchers said “the results add to growing indications that suggest biology plays a role determining one’s political direction.” It should be noted that earlier research has delved into the physiology of political orientation, showing that those highly responsive to threatening images are likely to support defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism and the Iraq War.
So, what does this mean for the training world. One or more aspects to consider in analyzing our audience. Knowing the political inclinations can affect the willingness of the student or trainee to learn, or to even attend to what we say. It seems to indicated the liberals are more open, which means more of a sell to the conservatives especially on “what it means to me.”
Remember it is the obvious we usually look at. We don’t often think of the cognitive aspects. We know about impressions we make and the immediate impressions an audience makes. We can’t exactly go out and ask our audience their political affiliation; I would suggest making such inquiries quite discreet, if necessary, or asked with a touch of humor. I doubt if it is absolutely necessary although if we make sure we put in enough connections of what the training or subject matter means to our participants we’ll have a positive training result regardless.
This brings to mind other cognitive differences or behavioral nuances that can be considered. Clothing stereotypes have been shown to determine that people may or may not be the “people” they portray through their clothes. Perception of others can often be based on clothing choices alone. I did two studies, one in undergrad psychology and one in graduate school where I showed individuals pictures of clothing and asked them to assign character traits–even political and religious affiliation. The results in both studies were conclusive that people do stereotype based on clothing alone.
Maybe we all watch too much television, but we know a “pimp” when we see one. Just kidding, but I think you get my point. How our audience perceives us based on our clothing relates to how they will listen to us. After all, they think they know something about us; hence, the necessity for conservative professional business attire when appropriate or something close to what our audience is wearing. We will be perceived as we appear. Bios can affect that perception, but you know what they about first impressions being the lasting ones. Of course, there is the obvious. Do our own political views affect our approach in training an audience of opposing views or similar views, and should it? It is perhaps just as important to acknowledge our personal differences if only to ourselves and be aware of who we are and how that may affect our training audience.
For more on gazing: I wrote an article on it recently called the Power of Gazing in Training, Love and Other Matters that touched on the basics. Just so you know, the reviews expressed here are my own and you should feel free to disagree and express yourself. I love opposing views especially if you can provide more information on a subject. Also, if this topic or another is your particular expertise, we can always use guest writers. Check the link at the top for the form and fill it out for us. For more on Jack Shaw, see my website for more articles on training, communication and theatre. Happy training.