Friday, June 26, 2015

P(fff)FT! Bubble Up Theory! Improve your accent by not thinking about (it)?

According to Passive Frame Theory, (or as I like to call it: Bubble Up Theory) the answer to the question "What was I thinking?" is probably: "I wasn't!"--literally. (Spoiler alert: Some slightly "fishy" metaphors follow.)

Occasionally you stumble onto an idea or model that seems just a great fit for some aspect of your work but, unfortunately, doesn't have quite enough empirical or popular support . . . yet. "Passive Frame Theory," proposed by Morsella of San Francisco State University, attempts a very different characterization of how everyday consciousness works.

For example, as you read this any reaction you have to this post such as "This is really goofy!" is just a brief, near random, unconsciously generated image bubbling up from someplace "in there" that is not much related to what we might have earlier referred to as conscious, logical thinking. About all your consciousness is really capable of, apparently, is something like navigating you into Starbucks safely and deciding on a tall or grande.

There are two recent reviews of that model, one by Science Daily and another more "colourful," readable and entertaining version by the Daily Mail. (Full citation of the original research report below.) Do a quick read of the latter! Citing the Science Daily version:

"According to Morsella's framework, the "free will" that people typically attribute to their conscious mind -- the idea that our consciousness, as a "decider," guides us to a course of action -- does not exist. Instead, consciousness only relays information to control "voluntary" action, or goal-oriented movement involving the skeletal muscle system."

That would certainly help explain a lot the conversation I hear around the office every day--but more importantly, it may also suggest why changing pronunciation can be so challenging--and how to do it more effectively. Without spending too much time thinking about "Passive Frame Theory" (which would be counter to the theory anyway), what "tools" would it provide us in pronunciation teaching Very simply put, it would argue that asking learners to "self-monitor" their speech to avoid pronunciation problems is not only futile; it is counterproductive. (That basic position has been around for decades, of course.) That is not what our fleeting consciousness is for after all. But how do you set up your brain's subconscious circuitry with models to be bubbled up from effectively?

As many "older" models had recommended, especially those in public speaking methodology, rapid improvement must be based on serious previous, focused practice on the specific problematic sounds or processes for the learner--prior to going "live" in conversation. Production "issues" (physical actions and the sounds they create) will then be recognized when one is uttered and the response "from below has bubbled up." In other words, we should allow--in fact encourage--recognition to be noted but only in passing, and then left to be integrated and "re-bubbled" as necessary, trusting the "team" in the bubble factory downstairs to handle it--or perhaps practiced later explicitly in isolation.

The term we in haptic pronunciation teaching use for that is "post hoc monitoring", just acknowledging or quickly noting bubbled up messaging--based on targeted earlier preparation. And we are also, understandably, on board with the idea that consciousness can at least manage " . . .  goal-oriented movement involving the skeletal muscle system . . ." which is the essence of Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation approach (EHIEP) methodology.

And what is the roll of classroom explanation and explicit correction in that model? At least to persuade students with insight and rationales for practice (and drill) and provide them with some opportunities to do so in class or as homework.

Bottom line: physical, experienced practice counts.

An interesting, potentially useful model and metaphor. Certainly worth thinking about!

Full citation:
Morsella, E., Godwin, C., Jantz, T., Krieger, S., Gazzaley, A. (2015). Homing in on consciousness in the nervous system: An action-based synthesis. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2015; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X15000643

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