How a cartoon in a textbook can hurt learning, a new meta-Analysis of the Seductive Details Effect

One of Mayer’s multimedia principles is called the coherence principle. This means that images, sounds, texts,… that are used in class during e.g. a presentation should be related to the content of what is being taught. A new meta-analysis by Sundararajan and Adesope examined the effects of the seductive details effect. This is when elements are added that are in violation of the coherence principle, but often with good intentions, as the authors describe:

…often seductive details are included in learning materials to stimulate situational interest (Park et al. 2015a). Seductive details may take the form of words, images, illustrations, animations, narrations, video, or sounds. Including seductive details may result in lower learning performance in recall and transfer, an effect referred to as the “seductive details effect”

What can we learn from this meta-analysis:

Overall, including seductive detail results in lower learning performance (g = − 0.33) compared to learning without seductive details. This finding is in line with previous reviews by Rey (2012) and Thalheimer (2004). Since only a few studies (e.g., Magner et al. 2014; Rodenberg 2001) included in this meta-analysis investigated a delayed effect on learning, the results and discussion are limited to the immediate learning effect. More research with delayed learning tests is needed to understand potential long-term effects of learning with seductive details.

But what about the motivational aspect?

Educators are reminded that this meta-analysis does not summarize emotional engagements resulting from the inclusion of seductive details. Rather, we focused on delineating the mean detrimental effect on learning when seductive details are included and identifying the features of seductive details that may result in greater inhibition of learning. Findings of this meta-analysis suggest that educators should minimize the use of seductive details in their instruction.

Abstract of the meta-analysis:

Studies have shown that learners exposed to interesting and irrelevant information, known as seductive details, do not perform as much as those who learned without seductive details. However, findings are mixed in terms of the degree to which seductive details hinder learning. Further research is also needed on how design features of learning materials influence the seductive details effect. This meta-analysis summarizes the seductive details effect and investigates the moderating factors of design and methodology. We also discuss evidence supporting each of the four hypothetical underlying mechanisms for the seductive details effect. Findings show that including seductive details in learning material can hinder learning. Mean effect sizes were moderated by the presence of seductive details, image type used in comparison, delivery format, language, subject, learner pacing, recall question type, and manipulation check approach. We conclude by highlighting limitations in current research, suggesting opportunities for future research, and examining practical implications.

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