The power of visual information

You see it all the time at staff meetings.  There’s a pile of evidence on the table calling for a change in habits and strategies,  a change in beliefs, but your teachers or colleagues are not taking it in. They hold fast to their personal opinions, regardless of the facts, much as you see people do in heated political discussions.

What should you do to open their minds to the facts? Should you:

  • Explain yourself in simple-to-understand words?
  • Show them a chart?
  • Praise them for their open-mindedness and then explain the facts to them?

The correct answer is: Show them a chart.  Researchers Brendan Nyhan from Dartmouth University and Jason Reifler from Georgia State recently conducted a fascinating study on how best to correct political misconceptions.  Their conclusion:  Use visual information, the brain’s native language,  to help people see the truth.

The researchers ran experiments in which they presented people with information that contradicted their political attitudes, deliberately choosing topics that were highly emotional and highly polarizing.

People who’d opposed President Bush’s 2007 “surge strategy” in the Iraq war were presented with evidence that the strategy had in fact reduced violence in Iraq.  People who disapproved of Barack Obama’s handling of the economy were shown evidence that jobs had increased during the first year of his presidency.

Our brains favor visual information over any other kind and devote more processing power to it. Studies have shown that we understand images more quickly than words and remember them longer. According to neurological experiments, the brain has to work much harder to process words than pictures, increasing the likelihood that information will be corrupted, manipulated, modified or misunderstood.

How can you use this insight as an educator?  Bring visuals to your interpretation of data.  Our brains quickly grasp visual information even though they might struggle with words and numbers. Instead of illustrating your point with visuals, make your point with visuals.

Bring this strategy to the classroom, too, especially the math classroom.

Two recent webinars explore how you can leverage the power of visual information.  Stephanie D.H. Evergreen  discusses using visuals to emphasize the significance of your student data. Marian Small explores teaching math concepts with visuals. Here is more information if you are interested:

Be More Persuasive With Data: Improve How You Communicate Visually

Visual Teaching of Math Concepts

 

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