Mark’s Blog

I’m very interested in how the brain works, how we learn skills and how we apply those skills when we’re ‘back on the job’ and confronted with what I call ‘real world situations’. So here’s a blog on something that combines the three. 

Chicken sexing, learning and the subconscious.

‘Chicken sexing’? 

Yes, that’s right. ‘Chicken sexing’ is real.  And on one level it’s pretty basic. You just look at a chicken and work out if it’s male or female. But most people can’t tell the sex of a chicken until it’s more than five weeks old.

Yet a special group of people called  ‘chicken sexers’ can do it when a chicken’s only a day old. It’s amazing. But what’s even more amazing is they can tell the sex of as many as 1,200 chicks an hour. And they get it right 99% of the time.[1]

How do ‘chicken sexers’ pass on their skills?

As if it’s not amazing enough for ‘chicken sexers’ to be able to tell the sex of 1,200 chicks an hour and get 99% right, here’s something else. ‘Chicken sexers’ can’t tell us how they do it. That’s right. They just seem to ‘know’. So if they can’t tell us how they do it, then how do they help other people learn to be ‘chicken sexers’?

What they do is get would-be ‘chicken sexers’ to simply guess. And after each guess, the experienced ‘chicken sexers’ tell them if they’re right or wrong. And eventually, most of the new ‘chicken sexers’ get the hang of it. And again, without them being able to tell us how they do it.

So what does the skill of ‘chicken sexing’ tell us?

The short answer is plenty. To start with, it tells us (or reminds us if you like) of just how much stuff goes on in our heads we’re not aware of. And not only are we bot aware of it, it has a major affect on us. It affects what we think, what we believe and ultimately, what we do. Many of us would like to think we’re a lot more in control than we probably are. But such is life.

‘Chicken sexing’ also reminds us how we can learn all sorts of things even though we don’t know we’re learning or how we’re learning. And it also tells us our brain propels us in ways we don’t really understand.

But it’s not all plain sailing. 

As exciting as it is to have our brain picking up on things without us knowing it, there can be a downside. And some of us have probably already thought about it. But this is enough for this blog. We’ll look more at the subconscious, how we learn and the effect it can have on our skills and behaviour later.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the story on ‘chicken sexing’. And I hope you’ve enjoyed my other blogs as well.

All the very best,

Mark.

[1] Horsey R. The art of chicken sexing. University College London Working Papers in Linguistics, 2002.

Copyright © Mark McPherson 2014. You are welcome to reproduce or share this blog provided you: 1) Reproduce it in full; 2) Clearly state it has been reproduced and/or shared; 3) State the author is Mark McPherson and give proper acknowledgement to him; and 4) State the source; and 5) Give the website address http://markmcpherson.com.au

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