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Which Way Do Tails Wag in Math Classrooms?

Richard Davidson, Affective Neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, needs to visit mathematics classrooms. His research in brain lateralization has led to the conclusion that happiness seems to lie in the left brain hemisphere.

And now, others have extended his research to show the same results in animals...as exemplified in the way a dog wags its tail. The new study "Asymmetric Tail-wagging Responses by Dogs to Different Emotive Stimuli," by Giorgio Vallortigara etal (Current Biology, March 2007) documented that dogs' positive feelings are displayed by wagging their tail to the right side, while more negative feelings are shown by wagging their tail to the left.

Focusing on thirty family pets, researchers tracked the angles of tail wags when dogs were shown four stimuli: their owner, an unknown human, a cat, and an unknown, aggressive dog. Consistently, the dogs' tails "wagged to the right when they saw their owners, and then less and less so as the stimuli progressed, ending with definitive left-sided wagging for the angry, unfamiliar dog." The wagging tails reflect the dogs' brain asymmetry--the left side (controls right side of body) is linked to positive feelings while the right side is linked to a need to flee or depression.

By bringing these researchers into math classrooms, perhaps we can determine similar visual signals amongst students...and how this signal changes progressively as the students face a particular teacher...a math book...or even different types of math problems. The dilemma: Even if we know which way the proverbial "tail is wagging," what do we do about it?

Source: Sandra Blakeslee's "If You Want to Know if Spot Loves You So, It's In His Tail," NY Times, 4/24/07