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The most important life skills, according to Americans
The Pew Research Group conducted a survey on the most important life skills to several thousand Americans. Here's what they said.
- People are obsessed with learning about what skills they need the most to get ahead in life.
- To try to answer this question, the Pew Research Group surveyed several thousand Americans to identify what most believed were critical life skills.
- Here, we discuss the top three life skills, what their characteristics are, and how to improve them.
Nobody can deny that the world is changing, and it seems to be changing faster and faster. The life skills we'll need in order to navigate this world are changing too. But at the same time, there are certain skills that will always be relevant and necessary. How can we best untangle the world around us and identify which skills we should be cultivating?
The Pew Research Center conducted a survey to answer that very question. They asked a randomly selected, national sample of 3,154 Americans what they thought were the most important skills to have. "Regardless of whether or not you think these skills are good to have," they asked, "which ones do you think are most important for children to get ahead in the world today?" Here's how the results broke down.
1. Good communication
Photo by Nik MacMillan
By far, good communication was considered be the most important skill to have. It's something of a nebulous concept — who can't communicate well, and how would one go about getting better at it anyhow? But people do differ in regard to how well they communicate, and good communicators have better lives in almost every way.
Research has shown that good communicators have better marriages (duh). They also make more money, and communication skills are the number one skill that employers look for in candidates. After all, it's hard to complete a project if you don't understand the requirements and can't explain its benefits. Good communicators like themselves more, are more likely to be successful entrepreneurs, and are better at thinking critically about media and parsing questionable sources.
Unsurprisingly, psychotherapists have much to say on this subject. They've identified four basic types of communication styles.
- The assertive style: Assertive communicators are clear, direct, and explicit. They stand up for themselves, but don't violate others' rights when communicating, even if they're communicating something difficult or unpleasant. It's the style that we should aspire to.
- The aggressive style: Where assertive communicators are direct but respectful, aggressive communicators are just direct. The aggressive communicator is often misunderstood because people pay more attention to the rude or hostile messenger and don't hear the message.
- The passive style: Passive communicators don't open up about themselves. They don't discuss their wants or needs, and so it's not surprising when others take advantage of them or ignore them.
- The passive-aggressive style: Rather than simply failing to communicate, passive-aggressive communicators express themselves in confusing and roundabout ways that not only hurt others but also leads to increased resentment on the communicator's part, creating a vicious cycle of passive-aggression.
2. Strong reading abilities
Like communication, reading seems like a skill that nearly everybody already has and doesn't really need to be improved further. This isn't entirely true. Many of us spend time reading in high school and college, but that practice often falls off in adulthood. In fact, about one-quarter of American adults claim that they haven't read a book in the past 12 months. What are we missing out on when we don't keep our reading skills sharp?
For one, reading makes you more intelligent. A study on 1,890 twins found that whichever twin had the stronger reading ability also scored higher on general intelligence tests, even in nonverbal domains. Reading ability has also been shown to protect memory, to promote self-esteem, and to encourage greater life-satisfaction.
But these benefits aren't gained from the majority of content that we read today. The fast-paced nature of internet articles encourages us to just read the headline and skim the first few paragraphs, but this doesn't provide the total immersion that occurs 10 or 20 minutes after getting into a good book.
Experts can offer us some practical advice as to how we can really upgrade our reading routine. First, reading with intention is an excellent way to dive deeper into whatever work you've chosen. This could look like deliberately setting aside a reading time, taking notes, highlighting, or just telling yourself that "Now I'm going to read for a little while." A lot of people cite a lack of time as the main thing that stops them from reading. But as reading comes to take a larger place in your life, you'll make time for it. Setting small, achievable goals is a great way to start making that time. Just reading for a few minutes at the same time every day, say, five minutes before bed, is a great way to build a habit.
3. Math know-how
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Even though math skills are clearly more tangible than reading or communication, it's still undervalued compared to other, more clearly work-related skills, even ones that involve math like engineering, chemistry, or business. There is no math class in the history of math classes where the question "When am I ever going to use this?" hasn't come up. In reality, possessing strong math skills is at least as beneficial and as ubiquitously needed as possessing strong communication and reading skills.
In fact, research has found that having strong math skills at an early age is the best predictor for later success. Part of this is because of the technical and prestigious fields that a strong math education can lead to, but another part is that mathematics relies on strong executive functioning, like the ability to suppress distracting thoughts and sensations, to mentally hold and work with information, and to think in a flexible manner.
One persistent belief about mathematics is that some people are just born with the right kind of head for it, and others don't have the innate spark that makes some people gifted in this regard. Like any skill, this is only partially true. Researcher Tanya Evans conducted brain scans on groups of children to identify what was going on in the heads of kids who were particularly gifted at math. Evans found that having more gray matter in certain regions of the brain predicted math performance, but that the connections built over time between these regions were extremely important as well. Even identifying these kinds of characteristics in the brain couldn't predict whether a child would be successful at math 100% of the time
"There's a remarkable amount of heterogeneity in how each kid can end up," Evans told The Boston Globe. "That's pretty promising for parents. Just because at this age my kid is not performing as well as I'd like them to doesn't necessarily set them on a path to do poorly."
These three skills — communication, reading, and mathematics — are what Americans believe to be the top three most important life skills for individuals to cope with and thrive in our dynamic world. It's often tempting to look at one of these domains and say that we're just not cut out for it, but this defeatist attitude excludes us from the benefits that even a little work would provide. Not everybody is going to be an orator, a literature professor, or a theoretical physicist, but we can all benefit from learning how to improve our interpersonal communication, from honing our sense of empathy through books, and from thinking about the world in a more precise and rigorous way.
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Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.
- Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
- One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
- EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
What's dead may never die, it seems<p>The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called Brain<em>Ex</em>. Brain<em>Ex </em>is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.</p><p>Brain<em>Ex</em> pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.</p><p>The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if Brain<em>Ex</em> can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.</p><p>As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.</p><p>The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.</p><p>"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told <em><a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/04/pig-brains-partially-revived-what-it-means-for-medicine-death-ethics/" target="_blank">National Geographic</a>.</em></p>
An ethical gray matter<p>Before anyone gets an <em>Island of Dr. Moreau</em> vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.</p><p>The Brain<em>Ex</em> solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness. </p><p>Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death. </p><p>Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?</p><p>"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/science/brain-dead-pigs.html" target="_blank">the <em>New York Times</em></a>. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."</p><p>One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.</p><p>The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01216-4#ref-CR2" target="_blank">told <em>Nature</em></a> that if Brain<em>Ex</em> were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.</p><p>"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.</p><p>It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.</p><p>Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? <a href="https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/after-death-youre-aware-that-youve-died-scientists-claim" target="_blank">The distress of a partially alive brain</a>? </p><p>The dilemma is unprecedented.</p>
Setting new boundaries<p>Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, <em>Frankenstein</em>. As Farahany told <em>National Geographic</em>: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have <em>Frankenstein</em>, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."</p><p>She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.</p>
Starting and running a business takes more than a good idea and the desire to not have a boss.
- Anyone can start a business and be an entrepreneur, but the reality is that most businesses will fail. Building something successful from the ground up takes hard work, passion, intelligence, and a network of people who are equally as smart and passionate as you are. It also requires the ability to accept and learn from your failures.
- In this video, entrepreneurs in various industries including 3D printing, fashion, hygiene, capital investments, aerospace, and biotechnology share what they've learned over the years about relationships, setting and attaining goals, growth, and what happens when things don't go according to plan.
- "People who start businesses for the exit, most of them will fail because there's just no true passion behind it," says Miki Agrawal, co-founder of THINX and TUSHY. A key point of Agrawal's advice is that if you can't see yourself in something for 10 years, you shouldn't do it.
After a decade of failed attempts, scientists successfully bounced photons off of a reflector aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, some 240,000 miles from Earth.
- Laser experiments can reveal precisely how far away an object is from Earth.
- For years scientists have been bouncing light off of reflectors on the lunar surface that were installed during the Apollo era, but these reflectors have become less efficient over time.
- The recent success could reveal the cause of the degradation, and also lead to new discoveries about the Moon's evolution.
A close-up photograph of the laser reflecting panel deployed by Apollo 14 astronauts on the Moon in 1971.
NASA<p>The technology isn't quite new. During the Apollo era, astronauts installed on the lunar surface five reflecting panels, each containing at least 100 mirrors that reflect back to whichever direction it's coming from. By bouncing light off these panels, scientists have been able to learn, for example, that the Moon is drifting away from Earth at a rate of about 1.5 inches per year.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Now that we've been collecting data for 50 years, we can see trends that we wouldn't have been able to see otherwise," Erwan Mazarico, a planetary scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/laser-beams-reflected-between-earth-and-moon-boost-science" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">said</a>. "Laser-ranging science is a long game."</p>
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)
NASA<p>But the long game poses a problem: Over time, the panels on the Moon have become less efficient at bouncing light back to Earth. Some scientists suspect it's because dust, kicked up by micrometeorites, has settled on the surface of the panels, causing them to overheat. And if that's the case, scientists need to know for sure.</p><p>That's where the recent LRO laser experiment comes in. If scientists find discrepancies between the data sent back by the LRO reflector and those on the lunar surface, it could reveal what's causing the lunar reflectors to become less efficient. They could then account for these discrepancies in their models.</p>