Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Vigilance decrement during pronunciation work?

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I knew there had to be a scientific term for why students lose interest in pronunciation work occasionally . . . and a cure! The term is used in relation to yet another study that discovered that gum chewing can be good for things "cognitive." In this case, in the study by Morgan, Johnson and Miles of Cardiff University, summarized by Science Daily, it was found that "Gummies" were able to persist longer on an audio recognition task than the "gum-less." The Gum-less started out stronger but were overtaken and passed by the Gummies near the end. And the reason that the Gummies did better? They were more immune to "vigilance decrement" during the task. I have yet to read a cogent explanation as to WHY gum works the way it does. (If you know of that research, please link it here.)

Because of surgery a few years ago cutting out a saliva gland, I have to chew gum to function effectively. I had never done gum before and very much dislike it now, but I do have some "haptic' felt sense of what they are talking about, how it combats "vigilance decrementia." It at least gives me something to do during interminable harangues during faculty meetings.

My guess, however, is that it has something to do with keeping the wiring that goes from the brain to the articulatory equipment energized, in effect working in the opposite direction, very much like haptic technology drives feedback back to the brain through the hands. Not sure I'm in for having students do gum during work that is basically oral production-oriented, but next time your class has to just sit and do nothing but listen, give it a try. "Gum up the work a bit, eh!"

Journal reference (compliments of Science Daily): Kate Morgan, Andrew J. Johnson and Christopher Miles. Chewing gum moderates the vigilance decrement.British Journal of Psychology, 8 MAR 2013. 

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