Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Illusion Of Knowledge (Be Careful Of What You Write)

Brain from Freepik!

I’m not sure many are aware, but I’m currently in the process of getting my doctorate (yay!) in cognitive psychology. A speaker is coming in tomorrow to talk about overriding prior knowledge. Things such as “the Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” or “Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb”. You may be asking “this doesn’t seem right, how can such basic, stable knowledge be overridden? How can someone change such a basic fact?” Well, it seems like this type of knowledge isn’t exactly stable.

Many studies have looked into people learning errors via reading, even though they may have the correct knowledge prior to encountering the inaccuracy. In the paper I read for tomorrow’s class (Fazio et al., 2013, which I will provide a full citation later on), participants were given a survey that tested general knowledge, which included such questions as above. Then two weeks later, they came back to read two fictional stories, each which had eight fictional but plausible inaccuracies. They were even warned that some of the information in the stories might be incorrect. After reading, the participants did a little filler task, and then answer four comprehension questions on the stories. (Whew, this feels like a mini summary I have to write for actual classes! I skipped out on some details, but this is basically how it all went down. Such as confidence ratings)

What do you think happened? Well, to sum it up, participants ended up answering fewer questions correctly when presented with accurate information, even though they answered right on the survey prior to the reading. And when they didn’t get the answer right on the survey, the effect of misinformation was larger after they were presented with inaccuracies.

I think you know where I’m getting with this. Yep, books. I think this shows how important it is for books to have accurate research. Especially in young adult books. There has been a lot of discussion about doing research on culture, ethnicity, mental illness, etc., and getting things right. If even general knowledge can be changed, then what does this say about not so common knowledge? Books definitely have an important role in educating us about certain topics, and seeing as reading has more of an impact with storing information, how can we not focus on accuracy?

I think the tricky part is knowing what is good research, and what isn’t. And that’s why I’m glad that the blogging community exists. Even before reading this paper, I always read reviews of the books I loved, even the negative ones. This allowed me to fact check certain aspects of the book, for which I’m really grateful for. Because as you can see, inaccurate information from books can so easily be stored in memory, and that’s not so great.

What are your thoughts on this? Are you as surprised as I am about this specific research?

Citation: Fazio, L. K., Barber, S. J., Rajaram, S., Ornstein, P. A., & Marsh, E. J. (2013). Creating illusions of knowledge: Learning errors that contradict prior knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 142(1), 1.