How a simple marshmallow can predict your future

Teachers could learn to teach the ability to self-regulate, says Stuart Shanker, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology and Philosophy in York’s Faculty of Health, director of the Milton & Ethel Harris Research Initiative and a leading figure in neuroeducation, in a story about a well-known clinical experiment called the Marshmallow Test, in one of a series of stories on the brain in the Toronto Star Nov. 2.

His research on children shows that learning self-regulation is a primary task of newborns. But the later years matter greatly. Shanker is amused when he reads about a five-year-old who has strong executive function skills. It doesn’t mean that child will have them at six or 16 or even 66. Those more complex executive function skills must be learned as you age.

Shanker says perhaps as many as half of North American children have poor self-regulation by the time they get to school, citing a study of nearly 3,600 teachers in the US in 2000. It manifests in high rates of attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity, among many other problems.

He and others trace some of this to the increase in neurotoxins – such as mercury, air pollution and now-banned PCBs – passing through the umbilical cords, making some children hypersensitive (and others not sensitive enough) to touch, sound or sight.

“The message to teachers is that they need to be a bit of a scientist too,” says Shanker. “What we want teachers to understand is that there’s no such thing as a lazy child or a bad child. There’s always a biological story. The key is to ask why, why, why?”

Is that realistic for a teacher who has 30 kids in a classroom? “We don’t have a choice,” says Shanker. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘What was the goal of universal education?’…. Realistically, if the goal of education is to help each child maximize potential and we are nowhere close to achieving it, then what do we change?”

Shanker stresses that learning executive function skills is not the same as complying with someone’s orders. Self-regulation comes from within. It is self-directed. “Compliance is a terrible indicator of success,” he says, adding an authoritarian stance at home or at school is a doomed policy. “Zero tolerance? Are you insane?”

Ideally, says Shanker, it’s not only the pupils who have good self-regulation. It’s also the teachers, the principals, the community leaders. “Students do well with teachers who self-regulate. And teachers do well with principals who self-regulate.”

  • Many parents and teachers believe…the education system should unearth and ignite their children’s passion, their intrinsic desire to learn, the deep joy of discovery, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 31.

It is a vision completely at odds with the goals of much of the modern education system. And neuroscientific findings are telling us that the brain learns – or forms strong neural connections – when the child is in a calm, emotionally regulated state.

“That’s telling us that education must be holistic,” says Stuart Shanker, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology and Philosophy in York’s Faculty of Health and a leading figure in neuroeducation.

  • What if, for the first time, teachers were to use radical new findings about how the brain actually learns, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 31. Would teaching look different? Could every child, regardless of family wealth, race, sex or country reach his or her full potential? Could it transform society?

Yes, says Stuart Shanker, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology and Philosophy in York’s Faculty of Health.

Flu pandemic poses marketing nightmare

Ottawa faces a formidable communications dilemma – balancing the need to raise awareness of the flu vaccine without inciting panic, said Alan Middleton, marketing professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, in a story by The Canadian Press Nov. 2.

The current marketing strategy, which is heavily dependent on traditional media like newspapers and television, is working for adults, but not for youth. “You’re dealing with a population that is not good at necessarily cognitively assessing risk,” Middleton said.

A dictatorial message runs the risk of alienating youth, either by making them fearful or by raising the spectre of a “Big Brother” figure interfering in their lives, Middleton said.

Canadians under the age of 21 should be told to get informed rather than to get vaccinated, and the message needs to be delivered primarily through modern media tools like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. There are no specific plans in the works to target youth, a perplexing fact considering that younger Canadians are considered especially vulnerable to swine flu.

Middleton suggested Ottawa establish a central online clearing-house of flu-related information, including symptoms and treatments, then use social-networking tools like Facebook to distribute word of the resources available online. Resources like Twitter can be deployed more extensively in the event the pandemic gets significantly worse.

A government-controlled source of information would let youth make informed decisions about vaccination, while minimizing the risk of sowing fear, Middleton said.

Problem is, it’s an approach that’s not likely to find favour with government communications strategists, who are often beset by a lack of technical savvy and governed by the bureaucracy that surrounds them. “There is a tendency in all public sector advertising to focus on what looks good in the boardroom and to the minister, rather than what is likely to work out in the real world,” said Middleton.

York University task force aims to reduce false fire alarms, bomb threats

York University has formed a task force in an effort to crack down on false fire alarms and bomb threats that have plagued midterm examinations this year, wrote the National Post Oct. 31.

The school has been hit with numerous incidents during the current midterm period, including one on Tuesday that caused the evacuation of two of York’s busiest buildings, Vari Hall and the Ross Building. Buses also had to be diverted from the area for the afternoon.

“The qualitative impact on the community, faculty, staff and students has been high because of the level of stress such occurrences cause everyone. Even worrying that one might occur has been identified as a concern by students,” said task force chair and University Registrar Joanne Duklas in a bulletin. “As a community, we stand together against this criminal behaviour and will respond accordingly when individuals are caught.”

The trouble with ‘Mr. Big’

The recent acquittal of Kyle Unger has attracted some much-needed attention to the RCMP tactic that was used to elicit the apparently false confession that contributed to his original conviction, wrote Timothy Moore, psychology professor at Glendon, in the Ottawa Citizen Nov. 2 in a commentary about the case of a man whose murder conviction was recently overturned.

Sometimes the Mr. Big technique produces probative evidence of a suspect’s guilt. For example, when a confession leads to the discovery of new evidence, its probative value is significantly enhanced.

However, in light of the invasiveness of the technique, its coercive nature and the strong inducements held out to elicit confessions, there is a real concern that the technique may cause innocent people to falsely confess, giving rise to a risk of wrongful convictions.

The fictional circumstances surrounding the confession have the effect of minimizing or eliminating the perceived risk of negative consequences to the target from claiming responsibility for the offence.

The risk of wrongful convictions may be particularly pronounced in cases where there is little or no evidence to support the confession and where the facts of the confession do not fit the known circumstances surrounding the offence. Lying about a murder to a gang of criminals could be a gamble that the suspect is prepared to take, compared to upsetting them, inviting their wrath and squandering a connection to the criminal organization.

New generation’s ‘civil’ rebellion arises in Iran

“You have to distinguish between the general student body and the ones who took over the embassy,” says Saeed Rahnema, a political science professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, and former activist in Iran, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 31 in a story about the Iranian revolution and protests against the current regime.

“The student body was very diverse, with many secularists, leftists, leftist Islamists and others. The students who took over the embassy were supporters of [Ruhollah] Khomeini, and quite different from the rest.”

Home bidders get personal: ‘Our baby loves your house’

Potential purchasers are going to extremes to get attention from vendors, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 31 in a story about the real estate market and efforts by buyers to personalize their appeals.

The concept of putting a face to a bid isn’t so crazy, says Alan Middleton, a marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University. “This is the classic strategy in all selling. Try to develop an emotional connection with the person you’re pitching to. It allows for space in the negotiation, so it becomes something more than price.”

The big question when making a personal pitch, says Middleton, is: “How much value does this emotional connection have? Is it enough to move the vendor?”

Seeing double, and thinking twice

The Power Plant show is called Same Same and its reason for being is Factum, a work-in-progress commissioned by the gallery, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 1. For it, Candice Breitz interviewed seven sets of Toronto twins separately (and one set of Edmonton triplets) about their relationship with the other. Suzanne Carte-Blanchenot, a performance artist and assistant curator at the Art Gallery of York University, will speak about the Breitz exhibition today at 2pm at The Power Plant. Factum is buffered by Breitz’s earlier work, which serves as much to fill the space as to provide some background reading for the worthwhile payoff Factum provides. Nobody likes homework, but it’s always best to get it out of the way first, so let’s do that.

The art and science of big business

The Schulich Executive Education Centre at York University offers Canada’s first in-depth seven-module certificate program in enterprise risk management, reported the Toronto Sun Nov. 1.

Run in partnership with the International Council for Operational Risk Management, the Master’s Certificate in Enterprise Risk Management teaches how to effectively assess and address a firm’s vulnerabilities and the risks associated with its people, processes and systems.

Geared towards executives, and general, senior and division managers, the program takes place over a four-month period. It provides an in-depth understanding of the key differences between financial, strategic and operational risk, a solid grasp of how to integrate ERM into all aspects of an organization, and the knowledge to foster greater corporate innovation and resilience.

Fire claims historic home near Glendon

A historic Bayview Avenue mansion that was built by a prominent Toronto businessman is in ruins after being ravaged by a four-alarm fire, wrote the Toronto Sun Nov. 1 in a story about a fire at the property known as Chedington, near York’s Glendon campus.

Toronto historian Mike Filey said the home was owned by influential financier Edward Rogers Wood, who lived from 1866-1941. He lived on what was then 1st Concession Rd. – later renamed Bayview Avenue.

Wood, who formed Dominion Steel Corp. 99 years ago, built his second mansion for beloved daughter Mildred and her husband Murray Fleming when they married. Wood used his influence to have the 1st Concession/Bayview rerouted around Chedington, which Filey fears may have to be demolished due to the extensive damage.

Wood’s widow, Agnes Euphemia Smart, donated their adjacent mansion, Glendon Hall, which they moved into in 1924, to the University of Toronto in 1950. It is now part of York University’s Glendon campus.

  • Although the cause of the blaze is still unknown, Capt. David Eckerman of Toronto Fire Services said there is no evidence to suggest that arson was involved, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 1. He estimated the damage to the 12,000-square-foot heritage home may be in the millions.

The home, which sits next to York University’s Glendon campus, was built in the 1920s and has been owned by the same family since the 1940s.

Soldier to speak at Canadian Club

On Nov. 11, Remembrance Day, former Orillian and York grad, Captain Matthew Lennox (BFA Spec. Hons. ’05), will speak on his recent and first experience serving with the military in Afghanistan, wrote the  Orillia Packet & Times Nov. 2.

Lennox was born (1980) and raised in Orillia, attending Hillcrest, Park Street, and Twin Lakes schools. In 1999, he went to York University to pursue a bachelor of fine arts in film production (he was very active in the performing arts in his youth here).

At York he was introduced to a schoolmate in a Canadian Forces uniform – a member of the Reserves – returning from a field training exercise. This chance meeting stirred his interest (his grandfather had served in the Second World War in France) [and he enlisted].

Having now returned to Canada, he is employed with Joint Task Force Central and doing a master of fine arts in creative writing. Lennox also has a book of short stories coming out in November.

Lions field hockey goalkeeper picked to all-star team

York University’s fifth-year goalkeeper Brittney Blount of Ottawa was selected to the Ontario University Athletics women’s field hockey first all-star team for the second time, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Oct. 31.