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Category Archives: Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive Dissonance and its impact on Learning.

“Let us say you ordered a watch online. The picture of the watch looked good (it looked like it had a curved glass and the dial had a silvery sheen) and it was available at a very affordable price. A few days later, the watch was delivered, and you opened the box with great expectations. You were hoping to find a watch that looked as classy as the one you had seen in the pictures. But when you unwrapped the box and opened it, you realized that the real watch didn’t look as good as its pictures. The dial was off-white and glass was plain. You realize that the pictures must have been touched up as the watch was the same model that you had ordered. Fortunately despite its not-as-good-as-expected looks, it still was a deal at the price you bought it.

So you tell yourself, that the watch is from a good brand, and that you anyway wanted a robust watch and not a flimsy wrist-candy.

When you engage in this behavior, you are trying to curb the cognitive dissonance that has arisen out of two conflicting ideas in your mind.”

Understanding cognitive dissonance and its impact on learning can prepare us to handle it in our classrooms and online courses. The following links will take you to a series of three posts:

  1. Understanding Cognitive Dissonance – Explanation and Illustration
  2. Cognitive Dissonance in Classrooms and Other Learning Environments
  3. Cognitive Dissonance and Other Instructional Design Principles

BTW, this Easter, Froth bought a pair of Easter Bunny ears for Coffeebeans

Training pup dog cartoons - coffee beans experiences cognitive dissonance - instructional design.

 

 

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Flashbulb Memory – Definition, Illustration, and Questions.

This past year, I spent many long hours reflecting upon my memories and thoughts. A memory that refuses to fade away despite being inconsequential and irrelevant, falls neatly into the category of a flashbulb memory.

Before we discuss further, I must let the dog have her say.

 

dog and pup cartoons on training and cognitive psychology - coffee beans on flashbulb memory.

The gist of the many definitions that abound, is that flashbulb memory is a clear, detailed, and long-lasting memory of the circumstances that you were in, when you first got a very important or shocking news, possibly about a public figure (President John Kennedy’s assassination) or event (The Twin Tower Terror Attack of 9/11). Assassinations and disasters fall into this category. My memory relates to the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi.

I can vividly recall that I was solving a dynamics problem and trying my best to get the cricket commentary back on the radio, crabbing about why suddenly all stations had gone newsy, when my Grandmother chided me for my trivial concerns at the time when Indira Gandhi had just been assassinated. My Grandmother was involved in the freedom movement and for her the news meant a lot. For me, it was an important public event, and while at that time, I was too young to see what lay beyond; whenever I read or hear about the 1984 Delhi riots that followed her death, I am reminded of that scene in vivid detail. I can almost hear my grandmother’s gibe, I can feel the sun on my skin…I experience the flashbulb memory.

Let us apply some inductive reasoning to this experience (inductive reasoning makes us use specific instances to generalize – not a very trust-worthy method, but it works if the specific instance is a true illustration of a concept – thus, if my memory is truly flashbulb memory, I should be able to generalize the concept with a very small probability of error.)

My memory is crystal clear (colors, weather, what I was doing at the time, what my Grandmother said,) and my memory flashes back whenever I encounter a trigger (news of the riots, a picture of Indira Gandhi, and so on.) My memory is still strong, and I can even remember the floral print of the dress that I was wearing at the time. Assuming that my memory was a flashbulb memory, we can say that flashbulb memory generally is refreshed whenever there’s a trigger.

This makes me wonder…
1. If there were no media (no newspapers, no radio, no television, nothing that could trigger the memory,) will the memory be as longlasting?
2. Is there a decay/modification in the details of the flashbulb memory over time? In other words, do we embellish it further (I think now that I was wearing a nice floral dress in the memory I illustrated for you, but could I be looking dumpy in a shapeless but absolutely comfy tunic?) or have I lost the details (what was grandmother wearing? Who else was there? Where was our dog?)
3. Would my flashbulb memory be stronger or weaker than my grandmother’s, further more, did she even have a flashbulb memory of Indira Gandhi’s assassination? (Humans have the strongest recollections of the events that transpired when they were between 15 and 30. This period is called the reminiscence bump.)

While there is ample criticism of this concept, I find it interesting. I also wonder if a watered down version of this memory could in fact help the learners learn better.

 

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Returning…

Dear Readers,

It has been a while that I posted anything here. A medley of reasons kept me away – the most important being some critical health issues. Yet, every dark cloud that hovers over your head filling your view of the world with darkness and gloom, either explodes into a storm of rain and drenches you cold, or sails away in time. This cloud is sailing away, and though I can still see its tail on the horizon, I am confident that the wind won’t reverse its course to bring it back. At least I hope that it won’t.

So, in all probability I am back.

I intend to dust away the cobwebs and scrub this blog to make it sparkle again. I also want to thank the latest follower of this blog who inspired me to return. (If you followed this blog yesterday, you are the one I am talking about.)

As I couldn’t move about a lot, I spent the last whole year experimenting with some new learning mediums. I worked extensively on the mobile platform (specifically iOS) and this year I intend to work on development of Android apps. I intend to share my learnings on content development for the mobile learning or m-learning medium here along with my thoughts on e-learning. I am also experimenting with Kindle. Recently I have once again started accepting corporate training assignments in Instructional Design and eLearning. I also plan to share my experiences from those programs here.

This blog primarily focuses on the psychological principles that relate to learning (directly and indirectly) so expect to see the regular stuff on cognitive psychology too 🙂

I leave you with a link to my latest article on the Creative Agni Website.

 

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The Experiment – Stanford Prison, Milgram, and The Threshold.

It happens because we have the ability to absolve ourselves by shifting the responsibility of our actions to another entity, which may be a person or an organization. We are not responsible for the atrocities that we committed in the Auschwitz concentration camp, said the German soldiers who tortured and killed their captives. We were just doing our jobs. We were just following orders.

The Milgram Obedience Experiment

Stanley Milgram conducted what came to be known as the Milgram Obedience Experiment. In this experiment, perfectly normal people like you and me were assigned the roles of the teacher or the learner. They were separated with an opaque wall, but they could speak to each other. The teacher was given the task to teach the learner some words by asking him/her questions. If the learner responded incorrectly, the teacher would give the learner and electric shock that increased by 15 volts with every incorrect answer. Actually, the learner was replaced by an actor, and he’d not receive the shock but scream nevertheless. To make a long story short, the shocking outcome of the experiment was that there were people who continued giving electrical shocks of upto “450 volts” to their “learner” even after the learner begged for mercy. Why? Because they were asked to do so!

The Stanford Prison Experiment

I was prompted to make this post, after I watched the Adrien Brody – Forest Whitakar movie, “The experiment” yesterday. This movie is based upon another, yet more gruesome experiment called the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this experiment, Philip Zimbardo a psychologist with the Stanford University got together 2 dozen students who had absolutely no criminal record/tendencies for violence, and assigned them either the role of a prisoner or of a guard. They were to stay within the prison walls for 14 days (the initial plan) but the experiment lasted only 6 days. Reason: only after a day, the role-players began to take their roles for real. The “guards” began misusing their authority while the “prisoners” either revolted or turned completely passive. The “guards” ended up torturing the prisoners – and a riot broke out.

It’s obvious that an experiment of this nature was considered immoral and unethical, and never repeated. Yet, it underlined the conclusion of the Milgram Experiment, which was that authority does make people do things that they otherwise won’t do.

The Training Connection – Authority & Obedience

More often than not, I can predict the conversation that would take place, if I were to meet an HOD or a CEO of a company, and discuss instructional design with them. I won’t take you through the entire conversation, but at some point the gentleman or the lady is bound to tell me that his/her training programs have always been such grand successes, despite knowing nothing about this mythological critter called Instructional Design.

Obviously they do. Because they are the authoritarian figure. Nobody’d dare question what they say in their training programs. We the humans are more evolved than our brethren of other species yet we haven’t completely flushed out our pack mentality. We succumb to authority all the time.

On a positive note:

Classroom trainers can use their authority to really reach their audience. They know that their authority allows them to steer the discussions and the lectures; and that their trainees don’t have an option but to accept your authority. Now you can either misuse the authority the way those “guards” in the Standford prison experiment did, or you can use it productively. The trainees are your sheep and you are the shepherd.

Do read about the two experiments. The Wikipedia links that I gave above are portals to more details on these experiments, so please explore them.

 

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Creative Agni eZine, Sloth & Froth, and Some ID Fiction.

The Creative Agni eZine notification was sent out today. I know that it should’ve been done earlier, but I just couldn’t get down to wrapping it up until this morning.

If you haven’t subscribed to it, you can do so here.

I should say that there are two posts (among many others) that I would really love to share with my blog-readers.

  1.  A Short Story – Dushyant & Shakuntala – Why Love kills Logic?
  2. Sloth & Froth Comics – Teamwork Training and Decision-making

While you are there, you can also explore rest of the site and also meet Coffeebeans the Pup.

 

 

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Norway Killings by Anders Breivik – Is it just the tip of the Iceberg?

Anders Behring Breivik is a name that the world won’t forget in a hurry, even though it may be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Breivik who rationalized his killing spree through a 1500-page manifesto in which he spoke of how the vote-seeking politicians were instrumental in the spread of multiculturalism in Europe, doesn’t comes across as a brain-washed fanatic, the kind we’ve learned to associate with the acts of terrorism. Yet he killed about 90 young Norweigians. Why?

Though I don’t know the answer to this question, and I believe that nobody really does – except of course, Breivik; but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that it lies in the fact that now-a-days societal changes are happening too fast.

If we glance back at the history of the world, such changes were slow. If we specifically look at the Indian example, the spread of Islam happened over a period of 500 years, and by the time the British arrived in India, Islam had ceased to be a foreign religion and their culture had already meshed with the Hindu culture, initially through force, then through inter-religion-marriages leading to ethnic mixing, and then through the political moves of the Mughal rulers. So by the 18th century, the Muslims along with the Hindus began calling India their home. Thus, when the British arrived, they were the outsiders, while the Hindus and the Muslims were the insiders – regardless of their own differences.

500 years is a long time to accept another culture, and even become amenable to its ills. When your mindset changes over a dozen or more generations, you don’t even feel it.

You can possibly surmise the reasons why the assimilation took so long. The reasons were simple: Low population, no technology, and of course, the kings, who didn’t have to establish the vote-banks.

Now we experience whirlwind changes. Take the example of the unrest in Middle-East. It spread so quickly, because it was aided by technology. The case of islamization of Europe is similar. It’s happening too quickly for people to adapt. It isn’t easy for a culture to give up its values in a matter of decades. It requires centuries.

However,

  • with technology, people don’t have to walk on foot for years to reach another country;
  • with greedy politicians who are looking for votes, people don’t have to learn another language nor customs to become part of the host-country’s society; and
  • with the world not wanting to take stronger, collective measures against fundamentalism, people don’t have to give up being fanatics!

So the kids growing up in these host countries feel that they are being treated as step-children by their own country – and because the leaders of these countries are busy looking at their vote-banks, one of these kids begins to think that if the society is ready to condone the terrorist acts done by one or more members of these “pampered” communities, they too have the right to do the same, and save their own culture from losing its identity.

I think that we are looking at just the tip of the iceberg. We shouldn’t think that in a population of 6.7 Billion, there won’t be another such misguided soul. I also think that the only way to prevent more incidents of this kind could be to review all religions and communities and weed out the irrationalities from them. The question is – who’d bell the cat? It has to a collective effort from the political and religious leaders of the world, who will have to throw away their personal axes and write a new world order, with common goals and methods, and with a structure that is rational not fanatical.

We cannot accept intolerance as a given for one group of people and close our eyes to it, and treat it as an exception in another. Intolerance begets intolerance. It’s contagious too. It won’t disappear from the world, unless it’s weeded out from everywhere.

 

 

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – Is it just Around the Corner?

It isn’t everyday that you read a book that makes you feel grateful for not being born sooner or later, but exactly when you were born. It is only once in a long while that you come across a story that makes you look for that inflection point in the history of humanity, which made the world become what it is today.

This isn’t a review that I am posting today. It isn’t even a suggestion or a recommendation that you read this book. It is a short Thank-You-Note to Aldous Huxley who penned “Brave New World”, and made me feel grateful for being what I am and for what I have been given – the freedom of choice. I don’t want to discuss the extent of this freedom; I don’t want to flick out a tape to measure it; I just want to experience it.

Huxley had written this novel in 1931 – a time when Behaviorism had matured, its spread aided by the industry; and a time when scientific advances were being announced every day.

Conceptual Summary of Brave New World

Let me quickly summarize the concept of “Brave New World” for you.

The world has “evolved” (degenerated?) where humans are mass-produced under controlled conditions, using the Bokanovsky process. The humans come in different varieties or castes, each variety suited to accomplish the task that it would be required to perform. Thus the humans range from Alphas (the highest caste) to the Epsilons who are nothing better than zombies. The production as well as the education of humans is the responsibility of the State. Sex for procreation is a taboo, people are expected to spend all their free time in the company of others, and ideas of individuality are considered dangerous.

Ivan Pavlov, Sigmund Freud, and Henry Ford have become icons in this world of the future. The calendar begins with the year of Ford’s birth (the story is set in AF 632 or about 530 years from now.)

Education of all the castes is carried out partly while they are asleep (by making them listen to numerous repetitions of such statements that define the desired behavior) and also makes tremendous use of behaviorist principles (repetition, reward, and punishment.)

The Wake-up Call

The goal of the story is to contrast the life-style and philosophy of the Reservations (places that refused to change) and the world – and it is this contrast that wakes you up. You find yourself wishing that the world had taken a midway approach, and then you realize that you sub-consciously begin to see yourself in both the worlds, wondering how “A Brave New World” is a very real possibility – and how you need not wait 500 years for it to happen.

Returning to my ruminations…

 

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