Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

When you read this, you will only look out for what confirms your prior beliefs

November 28th, 2020 No comments

Or not. But probably not. Science has demonstrated that we have a natural tendency to search for and interpret information in a way that only confirms our prior beliefs or values. Ever been doing research for a paper in a class and only searched for information and evidence that supports your argument? Now answer this. While doing that, have you ever just let yourself skip by that evidence and those examples that went against your paper thesis? I know I have. What you probably didn’t realize, though, is that what you’re doing is exhibiting what is known as confirmation bias. And you might think big deal, right? Well, it kind of is. When you ignored those counterarguments and that contradictory evidence, you were arguing through a lens that only took into account one side of the story and one version of the truth. In order to make a complete and impartial argument we must consider all of the evidence and all of the facts. Confirmation bias hinders our ability to do this. And unfortunately, we have no defense to confirmation bias–it’s an automatic process that occurs without us even being aware of it happening. Understanding the nature of confirmation bias and its effects, however, can help reduce the detrimental effects it is known to have on us and society. 

This is what confirmation bias turns our research process into without us even realizing it!

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Categories: Cognitive Bias, Education Tags:

Is 2020 Making Us More Stupid?

November 26th, 2020 No comments

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened fear, social isolation, and economic anxiety across many communities around the country.  In a recent survey of roughly 300 American workers, about 40% said they feel less productive than usual during the pandemic (Ducharme, 2020). College students, including those at Colby College, are not immune to similar feelings such as a lack of productivity, inability to pay attention, and an overall decrease in work performance. When talking to students at Colby College there is a general consensus that one’s ability to focus on one’s work has decreased in addition to overall cognitive performance. This general belief of decreased productivity and ability got me thinking about possible reasons for this widespread feeling. I began to wonder, “have students become lazier?”, “have Colby College students become less intelligent?”, or “have classes become harder?”. Logically thinking through these questions, I conclude a reasonable answer to these questions is “no” to all. But what could be driving these changes in cognitive performance across the Colby campus and beyond? Thinking back to my own peaks in academic performance, I think about the times in which I have seen the greatest success. Overall, I have found that my academic performance seems to be positively correlated with my level of happiness. These observations from the world of the pandemic, my own life, and the general trends on the Colby campus this year has led me to wonder, how do emotions affect one’s cognitive performance? Due to the magnitude of studies varying by different moods and cognitive processes, this blog will primarily focus on positive mood’s effects on learning and memory.

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The Space-Time Continuum: How & Why to Space Your Time

November 22nd, 2020 No comments

We’ve all been there, even me. You might even be there right now.  You know the deal – it’s 10pm on a Sunday night.  You promised you would leave yourself time to study for your psychology exam, but you got caught up in weekend plans, the latest election news, and all of the other midterms you have to study for.  And let’s not forget about the two problem sets you also have due in the morning!  It seems that the hope you had when you first made that promise is slipping further and further down the drain.  Now, the exam is mere hours away, and it seems there’s nothing left to do but cram.  You stay up all night, attempting to review every single concept your professor introduced this semester.  You go through the motions of studying: rereading, highlighting, and underlining terms, as if to make up for the hours and days of lost time that you should have devoted to preparing for this exam.
Staying up late the night before an exam to cram is not an effective study strategy.

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“Ohhh, ‘Cue!'”: Cue-Dependent Forgetting and Study Techniques

November 26th, 2019 2 comments

Picture yourself in a classroom taking a history quiz. You don’t consider yourself a history buff of course, but you feel as if you studied well enough. You breeze through the questions, until you come across one that stumps you a bit: “Which U.S. President served the shortest term?”. You have to know this, of course, because you remember looking over it yesterday. The weight of familiarity is killing you, as you rack your brain and sort through the order of United States Presidents you thought you had memorized. When you studied, you paired the President’s last names along with common words that sounded similar–Lincoln and Linkedin, Kennedy and candy– you thought you pretty much had it down. Your heart thumps as you begin to look around the room, hoping something will strike your memory and soon your attention is drawn to how weird your teacher’s hair looks today. Hair, hair, Harrison! Suddenly you have it, William Henry Harrison was the President who served the shortest term.

Ok, let’s try that scenario again: you find yourself looking around the room for something to spark that lightbulb in your mind, but nothing seems to do the trick. Your professor is bald and always has been. You simply just can’t remember the name you were looking for and accept defeat. You stare daggers at their head as you leave that question blank and go onto the next one.

What made these two scenarios so different? The second scenario describes a cognitive psychology term called “cue-dependent forgetting” where a person is unable to remember information in the absence of a retrieval cue (Chandler & Gargano, 1995). A retrieval cue in this case is something that signals or prompts the memory of something that you associated with it (Chandler and Gargano, 1995). In the previously described scenario, the retrieval cues were the common words that sounded similar to the President’s names. This is why, when the retrieval cue for Harrison (“hair”), was forgotten, you were unable to answer the question. Pairing items as a form of studying may seem like an efficient way to quickly memorize material, but as seen in the example, it isn’t always reliable. Why does cue-dependent forgetting happen? And are there ways to prevent it from having a negative effect on test performance? These questions can be understood with a quick summary of how memory works.

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“I totally nailed it and I am pretty sure I did better than most people”- The Pitfall of Overconfidence

November 26th, 2019 1 comment

Have you ever been disappointed by your exam score when you thought you actually did pretty well on it? Or have you ever overestimated how sufficiently you have prepared for a test and panicked as you read through the actual exam and found questions more difficult than expected? If you have had these experiences, you have been a victim of overconfidence effect.

Although we hardly realize such errors or often feel reluctant to admit them, we are all familiar with the mismatch between self-evaluation and actual outcomes. This phenomenon is called the overconfidence effect, a cognitive bias that occurs when people inaccurately evaluate their own performance as above average or higher in accuracy or quality than it actually is.

Overestimation of Capacity                    []

People have faith in their erroneous self-evaluation about a variety of topics, including but not limited to application of factual knowledge, as in a college exam scenario. Psychologists have found that people tend to position themselves above others when assessing their own capacity. Overconfidence is explicit not only in self-estimation about skills like safe driving but also in self-positioning within a community when participants see themselves as more popular and sociable than their friends (Svenson, 1981; Sanbonmatsu et al., 2016; Zuckerman & Jost, 2001).     Read more…

Do you trust Google more than yourself?

April 26th, 2018 3 comments

Are you using Google to answer all your questions?

Have you ever been asked a question that you do not know the answer to and you responded, “I don’t. I’ll just Google it”? If you said yes, like the overwhelming majority of people with internet access, your brain has already adjusted to work in synergy with technology. When you rely on the internet for information, it can negatively affect your memory, especially in exams or interviews, where technology isn’t available. An example of such negative influence can be seen in my own personal experience. I was preparing for an internship interview and I wrote on my application that I had background knowledge in the stock market. I panicked as I headed into the interview and tried to look up the company’s current stock and how their business was doing. In the interview itself, I word vomited and spewed out miscellaneous facts and numbers. After my display of panic, the interviewer asked me, “So…what does that mean for our company?” This demonstrates the reliance on Google (or the internet in general!), to gather information, but the inability to process, comprehend and retain the information. This lack of understanding and remembering is called the Google effect. In other words, we look up the information and find it on the internet, but when we try to recall the information, we can only remember the website or where it was located, but cannot remember the content or its significance.
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Let me google that for you

May 11th, 2017 3 comments

Everyone loves Google, right? All the information you could possibly ever want access to is right at your fingertips – quite literally – with search engines carried around in our pockets. Is Google making us smarter? It should, right? I mean it does provide us with an almost infinite amount of information. Well, here is where things get interesting. Recent studies have introduced a new concept known as The Google Effect, in which we are actually seeing some cognitive deficits caused by our dependency on Google and other search engines.

It is quite counterintuitive that these tools, which provide us with any information we want in just a matter of seconds, would actually hurt and not help our brain’s functioning ability. I know this is confusing, but let me put this into a real-life context that you might relate to a little more. 

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Handwashing, Heliocentrism, and Global Warming: To Reject or Accept?

April 17th, 2017 4 comments

How often do you wash your hands? The Center for Disease Control recommends hand washing in numerous scenarios, such as before, during, and after preparing food, before and after tending to someone who is sick, before and after treating a wound, after going to the bathroom, after touching animals, and the list goes on. Now I know it might seem a little ridiculous to wash your hands as often as it is recommended, but I am crossing my fingers that you at least understand why it is necessary. One of the first things we teach our children is to always wash their hands, and how to do so effectively (such as washing for the duration of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”… twice). If you don’t believe me when I say hand washing is deep-seated in our modern society, just look at the 3.1 billion dollar market for hand soaps (Nielsen 2016). I, for one, certainly get overwhelmed when I walk down the aisle at my local Target and have to choose between the exhaustive collection of soaps with which I can lather up. And if I don’t find any soap I like then I can make my way over to the various types of hand sanitizers nearby. We can credit Ignaz Semmelweis and his microbial discoveries for the normalization of hand washing in our culture, but can you imagine a world where we didn’t wash our hands? And even stranger – can you imagine rejecting the science behind it? 
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You’ll still probably have to Google what the Google effect is later on, even if you read this now

April 17th, 2017 2 comments

Imagine you encounter a time traveler who recently arrived in the present day from a couple hundred years ago. What would he or she be most impressed by in this day and age? Would it be the skyscrapers and developed roadways? The drastic decrease in the amount of untouched nature? The amount of leisure time and luxuries people have today compared to back then? No; perhaps the most amazing breakthrough that distinguishes today from a few centuries ago, though it is seemingly taken for granted by most who use it, is the phenomenon of us having almost all the information we could possibly need contained in a small box in our pockets. The ability to search the plethora of knowledge that is the internet at any time and any place allows us to access any information we want within seconds. Gone are the archaic days in which we needed to flip through countless books looking for a single quote or memorize facts that may or may not be useful in the future. So, why would we bother taking up space in our memory with such knowledge when we could simply remember where to find it? Read more…

Categories: Education, Memory Tags:

Nature: The Natural Adderall

e9cab5788e12f4abd64a03a1739df4e2By Erin, Michaela, & McKayla


Having a hard time paying attention? Can’t remember all the definitions? Finals at Colby are no walk in the park. Exam week requires a lot of focused attention in order to study, write 15 page papers, and sit down for three-hour examinations. We all have gotten to that point where we feel like we can’t focus or direct our attention anymore. Research has shown that this happens when we overuse the brain’s inhibitory attention mechanisms and can no longer inhibit distractions (Kaplan, 1995). The person walking into the library, the pen tapping on the desk, the music coming from down the hall, all prevent us from maintaining focus on the task at hand. We have all suffered from directed attention fatigue. But what if a walk in the park could actually restore this fatigue and give you an edge academically? Read more…

Categories: Attention, Education, Memory Tags: ,