Archive for ‘Education’

October 25, 2016

Einstellung Effect


nine dots problem

Einstellung [ahyn-stel-luhng] (German: ‘attitude’) is the development of a mechanized state of mind. Often called a ‘problem solving set,’ Einstellung refers to a person’s predisposition to solve a given problem in a specific manner even though better or more appropriate methods of solving the problem exist. The Einstellung effect is the negative effect of previous experience when solving new problems. It has been tested experimentally in many different contexts.

The Einstellung effect occurs when a person is presented with a problem or situation that is similar to problems they have worked through in the past. If the solution (or appropriate behavior) to the problem/situation has been the same in each past experience, the person will likely provide that same response without giving the problem too much thought. This behavior is heuristical (related to mental shortcuts), it is one of the human brain’s ways of finding solutions as efficiently as possible.

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October 19, 2016



An epiphany [ih-pif-uh-nee] (from the ancient Greek ‘epiphaneia,’ ‘manifestation,’ ‘striking appearance’) is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific, religious, or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. Epiphanies are studied by psychologists and other scholars, particularly those attempting to study the process of innovation.

Epiphanies are relatively rare occurrences and generally follow a process of significant thought about a problem. Often they are triggered by a new and key piece of information, but importantly, a depth of prior knowledge is required to allow the leap of understanding. Famous epiphanies include Archimedes’s discovery of a method to determine the density of an object (‘Eureka!’) and Isaac Newton’s realization that a falling apple and the orbiting moon are both pulled by the same force. The word epiphany originally referred to insight through the divine. Today, this concept is more often used without such connotations, but a popular implication remains that the epiphany is supernatural, as the discovery seems to come suddenly from the outside.

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September 21, 2016

Safe Space

pc principal

In educational institutions, safe-space (or safer-space or positive space) originally were terms used to indicate that a teacher, educational institution or student body does not tolerate anti-LGBT violence, harassment or hate speech, thereby creating a safe place for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. The term safe space has been extended to refer to a space for individuals who are marginalized to come together to communicate regarding their experiences with marginalization, typically on a university campus. It has been criticized for being contrary to freedom of speech.

In the U.S. the concept originated in the women’s movement, where it ‘implies a certain license to speak and act freely, form collective strength, and generate strategies for resistance…a means rather than an end and not only a physical space but also a space created by the coming together of women searching for community.’ The first safe spaces were gay bars and consciousness raising groups. Positive Space initiatives are prevalent in post-secondary institutions across Canada including McGill University and the University of Toronto.

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May 28, 2016

Pygmalion Effect

Clever Hans

The Pygmalion effect, or ‘Rosenthal effect,’ is the phenomenon whereby higher expectations lead to an increase in performance. The effect is named after the Greek myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved. By the Pygmalion effect, people internalize their positive labels, and those with positive labels succeed accordingly. A corollary of the Pygmalion effect is the ‘golem effect,’ in which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance.

Psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson’s first showed that, if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from children, then the children’s performance was enhanced. This study supported the hypothesis that reality can be positively or negatively influenced by the expectations of others, the ‘observer-expectancy effect.’ Rosenthal theorized that biased expectancies could affect reality and create self-fulfilling prophecies (predictions that directly or indirectly cause themselves to become true)

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May 18, 2016

Late Bloomer

ugly duckling by Heng Swee Lim

late bloomer is a person whose talents or capabilities are not visible to others or do not manifest until later than usual. The term is used metaphorically to describe a child or adolescent who develops slower than others in their age group, but eventually catches up and in some cases overtakes their peers, or an adult whose talent or genius in a particular field only appears later in life than is normal – in some cases only in old age.

A notable example of a child who overcame early developmental problems is Albert Einstein, who suffered from speech difficulties as a young child. Other late-talking children who became highly successful engineers, mathematicians, and scientists include physicists Richard Feynman and Edward Teller. Neuroscientist Steven Pinker postulates that a certain form of language delay may in fact be associated with exceptional and innate analytical prowess in some individuals.

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February 5, 2016

Adaptive Unconscious

Miyagi Wax by rubyred

lizard brain by  Deanna Halsall

In cognitive psychology the adaptive unconscious is thought to be a set of mental processes that influence judgment and decision making in a way that is inaccessible to introspective awareness, and thus linked to the unconscious mind. It is different from conscious processing: it is faster, effortless, more focused on the present, but less flexible. In other theories of the mind, the unconscious is limited to ‘low-level’ activity, such as carrying out goals which have been decided consciously. In contrast, the adaptive unconscious is thought to be involved in ‘high-level’ cognition such as goal-setting as well.

The term ‘adaptive unconscious’ suggests it has survival value and hence is an adaptation which was strongly selected in the past. Indeed, for much of vertebrate evolution, all mental activity was unconscious. No-one supposes that fish have consciousness. Thus our consciousness is added to an already-existing set of mechanisms which operate but whose operation is normally not felt by us.

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January 27, 2016


Daniel Levitin

The term infomania is used to describe a sometimes debilitating feeling of ‘information overload,’ caused by the combination of a backlog of information to process (usually in e-mail), and continuous interruptions from technologies like phones and instant messaging. It is also understood as distraction caused by the urge to constantly check on incoming information, which causes the person to neglect other, often more important things—duties, family, etc. (For instance, a typical symptom of infomania is that of checking email frequently during vacation.)

The term was coined by Elizabeth M. Ferrarini, the author of ‘Confessions of an Infomaniac ‘(1984) and ‘Infomania: The Guide to Essential Electronic Services’ (1985). Confessions was an early book about life online. In 2005, British psychologist Glenn Wilson conducted an experimental study which documented the detrimental effects of information overload on problem solving ability. This was described in a press release accompanying a self-report survey of the extent of misuse of modern technology sponsored by Hewlett-Packard (However, in 2010, Wilson published a clarifying note about the study in which he documented its limited size and stated the results were ‘widely misrepresented in the media.’)

October 1, 2015

Doctor Fox Effect

WC Fields by Nick Reekie

The Dr. Fox effect states that even experts will be fooled by a nonsensical lecture if it is delivered with warmth, liveliness, and humor. A 1980 study found that the perceived prestige of research is increased by using a confounding writing style, with research competency being positively correlated to reading difficulty.

The original experiment was conducted at USC School Of Medicine in 1970. Two speakers gave lectures to a classroom of psychiatrists and psychologists on a topic the attendees were unfamiliar with (‘Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education’). The control group was lectured by an actual scientist and the other by an actor who was given the identity ‘Dr. Myron L. Fox,’ a graduate of Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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September 5, 2015

Mr. Wizard

Mr Wizard by Charlie Williams

Don Herbert (1917 – 2007) was the creator and host of educational television programs for children devoted to science and technology, notably ‘Watch Mr. Wizard’ (1951–65, 1971–72) and ‘Mr. Wizard’s World’ (1983–90). He also produced many short video programs about science and authored several popular books about science for children. Marcel LaFollette of the Smithsonian notes that no fictional hero was able to rival the popularity and longevity of ‘the friendly, neighborly scientist.’

In Herbert’s obituary, Bill Nye wrote, ‘Herbert’s techniques and performances helped create the United States’ first generation of homegrown rocket scientists just in time to respond to Sputnik. He sent us to the moon. He changed the world.’ Herbert is credited with turning ‘a generation of youth’ in the 1950s and early 1960s onto ‘the promise and perils of science.’

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August 3, 2015

Functional Fixedness

candle problem

outside the box by Leo Cullum

Functional fixedness [fiks-ed-nes] is a cognitive bias that limits a person to using an object only in the way it is traditionally used. The concept originated in Gestalt Psychology, which emphasizes holistic processing (e.g., ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’). German American psychologist Karl Duncker defined functional fixedness as a ‘mental block against using an object in a new way that is required to solve a problem.’ This ‘block’ limits the ability of an individual to use components given to them to complete a task, as they cannot move past the original purpose of those components.

For example, if someone needs a paperweight, but they only have a hammer, they may not see how the hammer can be used as a paperweight. Functional fixedness is this inability to see a hammer’s use as anything other than for pounding nails; the person couldn’t think to use the hammer in a way other than in its conventional function. When tested, five year old children show no signs of functional fixedness. At that age, any goal to be achieved with an object is equivalent to any other goal. However, by age seven, children have acquired the tendency to treat the originally intended purpose of an object as special.

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June 19, 2015

Learning Curve

street fighter by David Soames

A learning curve graphically represents the amount of experience it takes to learn a given task. Skills with a steep learning curve are difficult to learn quickly, but progress comes rapidly once past the initial hurdle. Activities with a shallow learning curve, by contrast, are said to be ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ (Bushnell’s Law of video game design).

The term can refer to individual tasks repeated in a series of trials or a body of knowledge is learned over time. It was first described by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. His tests involved memorizing series of nonsense syllables, and recording the success over a number of trials. The translation does not use the term learning curve—but he presents diagrams of learning against trial number. He also notes that the score can decrease, or even oscillate.

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June 3, 2015


how children succeed

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment, and serves as a driving force in achievement realization. Commonly associated concepts within the field of psychology include ‘perseverance,’ ‘hardiness,’ ‘resilience,’ ‘ambition,’ ‘need for achievement,’ and ‘conscientiousness.’ These constructs can be conceptualized as individual differences related to the accomplishment of work rather than latent ability.

This distinction was brought into focus in 1907 when American psychologist William James challenged the field to further investigate how certain individuals are capable of accessing richer trait reservoirs enabling them to accomplish more than the average person, but the construct dates back at least to Victorian polymath Francis Galton, and the ideals of persistence and tenacity have been understood as a virtue at least since Aristotle. Although the last decade has seen a noticeable increase in research focused on achievement-oriented traits, there continues to be difficulty in aligning specific traits and outcomes.

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