Monday, January 19, 2015

How does your audience feel?

Last year Physics Today had an interesting article
Psychological insights for improved physics teaching
Lauren Aguilar, Greg Walton and Carl Wieman

It generated a lot of letters in last months issue.
I think it raises some issues that are not thought or talked about enough. Here, I just want to suggest that psychology does play a role in research seminars and conference seminars too. Speakers and their messages are not just judged on their scientific merits. In particular, our views are sometimes influenced by our emotions, positive or negative.

Over the past year I think I have heard talks that have evoked in me responses such as

negative- boredom, confusion, frustration, anger, feeling inadequate, ....

positive- excitement, intellectual stimulation, curiousity, feeling clever, ....

The former can come from talks that are obscure, too technical, poorly prepared, patronising, or full of hype...

I have to confess, that as much a I try to be objective, I think my negative evaluations are amplified by the emotions.

Positive emotions can come from actually learning or understanding something new. Here I have an anecdotal observation. I think I have noticed that some of my colleagues evaluations of speakers, job candidates, and Ph.D candidates is greatly embellished when they learn just one thing from a talk, even if it is something really basic, that they did not know or understand before.

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