Educating Wasps and Readers

Not only are wasps smart, but they might also be even better at deducing logic than some humans, recent research at the University of Michigan reveals. The intriguing experiment involved educating wasps on the sequence of five colors assigned an alphabetical hierarchy by the researchers, and to avoid an electric shock, the wasps needed to learn which of two colors was “better”.

The kind of “reasoning” required of the insects is known as “transitive inference”, in which the insect need to take two separate pieces of information and draw conclusions. How did that work? One the wasps understood that colors higher up in the letter ranking were associated with the shock (choosing B over D or A over E avoided a shock), they needed to extrapolate that knowledge and apply it to other pairs of letters.

As a blog content writer, I was very interested in this quirky piece of Mental Floss content on several counts. At Say It For You, I often remark that in blogging for business, teaching is the new selling. Since customers have access to so much information, they want to know that you and your organization have something new to teach them. Even more important, you need to help readers absorb, buy into, and use the information you provide through your blog. Given the lack of time and the enormous competition for eyeballs, business bloggers need to help readers do that “transitive inference” bit, showing them ways in which individual pieces of information are related, perhaps in ways they hadn’t considered.

The report on the wasp-teaching experiment triggered a memory I have about a visit ten years ago to an indoor golf training center. Computer simulation technology was used to allow a player to consistently hit the ball straight. In contrast with traditional golf instruction’s focus on correcting a player’s faults and weaknesses, this training focused on having the student experience success. Compared to setting the learner up to learn through “transitive inference”, this style of teaching focused on offering a glimpse of a successful end result. When you’re composing business blog content, I tell writers, imagine readers asking themselves “How will I use the product (or service)?” “How will it work?” “How will I feel?” In your content, I teach, empathize with readers’ pain or problem, but give them a vision of a feel-better result.

There’s a lot to be gleaned from the teaching of wasps in teaching blog readers!