Archive for ‘Education’

January 27, 2016

Infomania

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.’)

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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

Grit

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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June 1, 2015

NeuroRacer

neuroracer

NeuroRacer is a video game designed by a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco led by cognitive neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley as a way to help with mental cognition.

It was designed as an intervention for ‘top-down modulation deficits in older adults.’ A study on 60-85 year olds showed that the multitasking nature of the game caused improvements in tasks outside of the game involving working memory and sustained attention.

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May 30, 2015

The Magic of Reality

what is an earthquake

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True’ is a 2011 book by British biologist Richard Dawkins, with illustrations by Dave McKean. It is a science book aimed primarily at children and young adults. He addresses topics that range from his most familiar territory, evolutionary biology and speciation (how the tree of life creates new branches), to physical phenomena such as atomic theory, optics, planetary motion, gravitation, stellar evolution (the life cycle of stars), spectroscopy (the study of the interactions of matter and electromagnetic radiation), and plate tectonics, as well as speculation on exobiology (alien life).

Most chapters begin with quick retellings of historical creation myths that emerged as attempts to explain the origin of particular observed phenomena. These myths are chosen from all across the world including Babylonian, Judeo-Christian, Aztec, Maori, Ancient Egyptian, Australian Aboriginal, Nordic, Hellenic, Chinese, Japanese, and other traditions, including contemporary alien abduction mythology.

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April 1, 2015

Perceptual Learning

ultimeyes

Perceptual learning is the process of learning improved skills of perception from simple sensory discriminations (e.g., distinguishing two musical tones from one another) to complex categorizations of spatial and temporal patterns relevant to real-world expertise (e.g., reading, seeing relations among chess pieces, knowing whether or not an X-ray image shows a tumor). Perceptual learning forms important foundations of complex cognitive processes (i.e., language).

In visual Vernier acuity tasks, observers judge whether one line is displaced above or below a second line. Untrained observers are often already very good with this task, but after training, observers’ threshold has been shown to improve as much as six fold. Similar improvements have been found for visual motion discrimination and orientation sensitivity.

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March 17, 2015

Information Explosion

as we may think

The information explosion is the rapid increase in the amount of published information or data and the effects of this abundance. As the amount of available data grows, the problem of managing the information becomes more difficult, which can lead to information overload. The earliest use of the phrase seems to have been in an IBM advertising supplement to the ‘New York Times’ published on April 30, 1961, and by Frank Fremont-Smith, Director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences Interdisciplinary Conference Program. Techniques to gather knowledge from an overabundance of electronic information (e.g., data fusion may help in data mining) have existed since the 1970s.

Since ‘information’ in electronic media is often used synonymously with ‘data,’ the term ‘information explosion’ is closely related to the concept of ‘data flood’ (also dubbed ‘data deluge’), the ever-increasing amount of electronic data exchanged per time unit. The awareness about non-manageable amounts of data grew along with the advent of ever more powerful data processing since the mid-1960s. By August 2005, there were over 70 million web servers. Two years later there were over 135 million web servers. According to ‘Technorati,’ the number of blogs doubles about every 6 months with a total of 35.3 million blogs as of April 2006. This is an example of the early stages of logistic growth, where growth is approximately exponential, since blogs are a recent innovation. As the number of blogs approaches the number of possible producers (humans), saturation occurs, growth declines, and the number of blogs eventually stabilizes.

December 8, 2014

Overchoice

too many choices by carl richards

jam experiment

Overchoice, also referred to as ‘choice overload,’ is a term describing a problem facing consumers in the postindustrial society: too many choices. The term was first introduced by futurist Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book, ‘Future Shock.’ Overchoice is the result of technological progress. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, each year, more and more products are being offered. Consumers have more disposable income to spend, and producers can more easily and cheaply introduce product variations.

Having more choices, on the surface, appears to be a positive development; however it hides an underlying problem: faced with too many choices, consumers have trouble making optimal choices, and thus as a result can be indecisive. When confronted with a plethora of choices without perfect information, many people prefer to make no choice at all, even if making a choice would lead to a better outcome. Toffler noted that as the choice turns to overchoice, ‘freedom of more choices’ ironically becomes the opposite—the ‘unfreedom.’

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November 14, 2014

Curse of Knowledge

jargon

curse of knowledge by Igor Kopelnitsky

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties. It is related to public policy engineer Baruch Fischhoff’s work on the hindsight bias (the knew-it-all-along effect). In economics the bias is studied to understand why the assumption that better informed agents can accurately anticipate the judgments of lesser informed agents is not inherently true, as well as to support the finding that sales agents who are better informed about their products may, in fact, be at a disadvantage against other, less-informed agents. It is believed that better informed agents fail to ignore the privileged knowledge that they possess, thus ‘cursed’ and unable to sell their products at a value that more naïve agents would deem acceptable.

In one experiment, one group of subjects ‘tapped’ a well-known song on a table while another listened and tried to identify the song. Some ‘tappers’ described a rich sensory experience in their minds as they tapped out the melody. Tappers on average estimated that 50% of listeners would identify the specific tune; in reality only 2.5% of listeners could. Related to this finding is the phenomenon experienced by players of charades: The actor may find it frustratingly hard to believe that his or her teammates keep failing to guess the secret phrase, known only to the actor, conveyed by pantomime.