The Conversation – What Makes Haunted Houses Creepy and What Motivates Students?

Yes, those are two very different questions in the title of this post. I put them together here because they are both thoughtful, scholarly yet accessible recent articles at the remarkable site The Conversation.

I’ve written about The Conversation previously and the more I read it the more I’m impressed by the quality and especially the timeliness of the articles published by it. According to the home page, the mission of the site is for “academics and researchers [to] work with journalists to provide evidence-based, ethical and responsible information.”

The article entitled “Evolutionary Psychology Explains Why Haunted Houses Creep Us Out” answers the question: If I’m a reasonable, mature adult, why do I get the tar scared out of me if I visit a place like Ohio’s Haunted Hootchie? According to Frank T. McAndrew, Psychology professor at Knox College:

From a psychological point of view, the standard features of haunted houses trigger feelings of dread because they push buttons in our brains that evolved long before houses even existed. These alarm buttons warn us of potential danger and motivate us to proceed with caution.

McAndrew then describes the human “agent detection” mechanisms which provoke the creeping sense of anxiety and dread we feel when we are in haunted houses – real or made-up.

Another anxiety-producing question for teachers is: How do I motivate my students? Turns out, according to another excellent article at The Conversation, it isn’t money. You can read the details of the study the author conducted. Basically, his team wanted to see what would get a sample of 300 fifth to eighth graders in an urban district to attend free, after-school tutoring sessions. The study discovered:

 We found that the students who were offered up to $100 for regular attendance were no more likely to attend sessions than if they were offered nothing at all.

In other words, money made no difference.

Alternatively, when students received a certificate of recognition for attending tutoring sessions regularly, the differences were dramatic. The students in the certificate group attended 42.5% more of their allotted tutoring hours than those assigned to the control group.

Take a look at the article itself to discover the full conclusions and the suggested actions for teachers and policy-makers to implement. After reading this, I think I’ll go and find those Google Doc certificate templates…

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