Category Archives: Myths

Our learning capabilities are limited during slow wave sleep… (no, really)

It’s a myth we already discussed in our first book on myths about learning and education, but people keep dreaming of learning in our sleep.

This new study gives more insights about what is and isn’t possible: while the human brain is still able to perceive sounds during sleep, it is unable to group these sounds according to their organization in a sequence.

From the press release:

Hypnopedia, or the ability to learn during sleep, was popularized in the ’60s, with for example the dystopia Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, in which individuals are conditioned to their future tasks during sleep. This concept has been progressively abandoned due to a lack of reliable scientific evidence supporting in-sleep learning abilities.

Recently however, few studies showed that the acquisition of elementary associations such as stimulus-reflex response is possible during sleep, both in humans and in animals. Nevertheless, it is not clear if sleep allows for more sophisticated forms of learning.

A study published this August 6 in the journal Scientific Reportsby researchers from the ULB Neuroscience Institute (UNI) shows that while our brain is able to continue perceiving sounds during sleep like at wake, the ability to group these sounds according to their organization in a sequence is only present at wakefulness, and completely disappears during sleep.

Juliane Farthouat, while a Research Fellow of the FNRS under the direction of Philippe Peigneux, professor at the Faculty of Psychological Science and Education at Université libre de Bruxelles, ULB, used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to record the cerebral activity mirroring the statistical learning of series of sounds, both during slow wave sleep (a part of sleep during which brain activity is highly synchronized) and during wakefulness.

During sleep, participants were exposed to fast flows of pure sounds, either randomly organized or structured in such a way that the auditory stream could be statistically grouped into sets of 3 elements.

During sleep, brain MEG responses demonstrated preserved detection of isolated sounds, but no response reflecting statistical clustering.

During wakefulness, however, all participants presented brain MEG responses reflecting the grouping of sounds into sets of 3 elements.

The results of this study suggest intrinsic limitations in de novo learning during slow wave sleep, that might confine the sleeping brain’s learning capabilities to simple, elementary associations.

Abstract of the study:

Hypnopedia, or the capacity to learn during sleep, is debatable. De novo acquisition of reflex stimulus-response associations was shown possible both in man and animal. Whether sleep allows more sophisticated forms of learning remains unclear. We recorded during diurnal Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep auditory magnetoencephalographic (MEG) frequency-tagged responses mirroring ongoing statistical learning. While in NREM sleep, participants were exposed at non-awakenings thresholds to fast auditory streams of pure tones, either randomly organized or structured in such a way that the stream statistically segmented in sets of 3 elements (tritones). During NREM sleep, only tone-related frequency-tagged MEG responses were observed, evidencing successful perception of individual tones. No participant showed tritone-related frequency-tagged responses, suggesting lack of segmentation. In the ensuing wake period however, all participants exhibited robust tritone-related responses during exposure to statistical (but not random) streams. Our data suggest that associations embedded in statistical regularities remain undetected during NREM sleep, although implicitly learned during subsequent wakefulness. These results suggest intrinsic limitations in de novo learning during NREM sleep that might confine the NREM sleeping brain’s learning capabilities to simple, elementary associations. It remains to be ascertained whether it similarly applies to REM sleep.

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Myths, Psychology, Research

An antidote to a paper warning you for wifi (and other examples of junk science)

I really like science, I like the self-correcting part of science even more.

Check this paper that was published by Sage and Burgio earlier this year:

Mobile phones and other wireless devices that produce electromagnetic fields (EMF) and pulsed radiofrequency radiation (RFR) are widely documented to cause potentially harmful health impacts that can be detrimental to young people. New epigenetic studies are profiled in this review to account for some neurodevelopmental and neurobehavioral changes due to exposure to wireless technologies. Symptoms of retarded memory, learning, cognition, attention, and behavioral problems have been reported in numerous studies and are similarly manifested in autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, as a result of EMF and RFR exposures where both epigenetic drivers and genetic (DNA) damage are likely contributors. Technology benefits can be realized by adopting wired devices for education to avoid health risk and promote academic achievement.

Sounds pretty alarming, no? Should we worry? Well, no.

The respected journal Child Development recently published a commentary that attributed a number of negative health consequences to RF radiation, from cancer to infertility and even autism (Sage Burgio, 2017). It is our view that this piece has potential to cause serious harm and should never have been published. But how do we justify such damning verdict? In considering our responses, we
realized that this case raised more general issues about distinguishing scientically valid from invalid views when evaluating environmental impacts on physical and psychological health, and we offer here some more general guidelines for editors and reviewers who may be confronted with similar issues. As shown in Table 1, we identify seven questions that can be asked about causal claims, using the Sage and Burgio (2017) article to illustrate these.
That’s right David Grimes and Dorothy Bischop took a closer look to the alarming article, and well…

Abstract of the paper by David Grimes and Dorothy Bischop that can be downloaded here:

Exposure to nonionizing radiation used in wireless communication remains a contentious topic in the public mindwhile the overwhelming scientic evidence to date suggests that microwave and radio frequencies used in modern communications are safe, public apprehension remains considerable. A recent article in Child Development has caused concern by alleging a causative connection between nonionizing radiation and a host of conditions, including autism and cancer. This commentary outlines why these claims are devoid of merit, and why they should not have been given a scientic veneer of legitimacy. The commentary also outlines some hallmarks of potentially dubious science, with the hope that authors, reviewers, and editors might be better able to avoid suspect scientic claims.

2 Comments

Filed under At home, Myths, Research, Review, Technology

Why I am a bit annoyed with the mixed messages by Howard Gardner

Last week I received a complaint that I was too kind for Howard Gardner as we didn’t call his multiple intelligences theory a myth. The reason why we used the label ‘nuanced’ is because the basis philosophy that people differ can’t be labeled as wrong. Still we gave a lot of reasons why one should be cautious about this very popular theory. And lately Gardner himself outed the theory as being outdated and ill-researched.

But this paragraph tweeted by Stuart Ritchie is making me grinch:

This quote is coming from this video:

Now, the video is older than the own-debunking I mentioned before on this blog, but Casper made a good comment on Twitter about the mixed message Gardner is giving:

So: Gardner says his theory isn’t supported at all, he even acknowledges that the theories he opposes to do have scientific evidence supporting their theory, but he still defends his own theory because of it’s usefulness. Btw, this is one of the most common replies to any of the myths Paul, Casper and myself have tackled: “hey, I know it’s rubbish, but I think it is useful.”

3 Comments

Filed under Education, Myths

The present generation students is… slightly less narcissistic

Remember this magazine cover?

Looks pretty similar to this cover from 1976:

Or this one from 1985?

Or do you remember this picture?

Yeah, I debunked this story already here but these pictures suit the image of the egocentric, smartphone obsesses youth, and for sure this selfie-taking generation will be more narcissistic for sure? Well… no.

We already knew from 2012 research by Twenge et al that the narcissistic turn actually could have happened in the eighties, but now there is a new study by Wetzel et al stating that the present group of students… is probably less narcissistic than generations before them and there never has been a epidemic of narcissism at all, as this conclusion sums it up:

In contrast to popular opinion, our findings did not show that today’s college students are more narcissistic than college students in the 1990s or the 2000s, at least in the three universities examined in the present study. In fact, we found small decreases both in overall narcissism and in its leadership, vanity, and entitlement facets. Importantly, these decreases already started between the 1990s and the 2000s and continued more strongly in the late 2000s and 2010s. Our study suggests that today’s college students are less narcissistic than their predecessors and that there may never have been an epidemic of narcissism.

Abstract of the study:

Are recent cohorts of college students more narcissistic than their predecessors? To address debates about the so-called “narcissism epidemic,” we used data from three cohorts of students (1990s: N = 1,166; 2000s: N = 33,647; 2010s: N = 25,412) to test whether narcissism levels (overall and specific facets) have increased across generations. We also tested whether our measure, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), showed measurement equivalence across the three cohorts, a critical analysis that had been overlooked in prior research. We found that several NPI items were not equivalent across cohorts. Models accounting for nonequivalence of these items indicated a small decline in overall narcissism levels from the 1990s to the 2010s (d = −0.27). At the facet level, leadership (d = −0.20), vanity (d = −0.16), and entitlement (d = −0.28) all showed decreases. Our results contradict the claim that recent cohorts of college students are more narcissistic than earlier generations of college students.

2 Comments

Filed under At home, At work, Education, Myths, Research, Youngsters

Sometimes you’d better don’t believe the press release

I read a lot of different studies and press releases about studies and some end up on this blog. Yesterday I read one press release and when I than read the actual study, I ended up not writing a blog post but tweeting this:

Sadly enough other people did go with the hurray-feel of the press release, as you can take from the title of this NPR-post.

I received these 2 great replies:

But if you want to check for yourself, here you can find the press release and here you can find the actual study.

2 Comments

Filed under Education, Media literacy, Myths, Research, Review

Very interesting presentation by Christian Bokhove: This is the new m*th! #rED17

1 Comment

Filed under Myths, Research

Presentation: Urban Myths about Learning and Technology (at #rED17)

This is the presentation I gave at the National ResearchED conference, September 9 2017. The presentation is in part based on our book Urban Myths about Learning and Education and in part based on the recent article I co-wrote with Paul Kirschner published in Teaching and Teacher Education (yes the one that was mentioned in Nature).

3 Comments

Filed under Book, Education, Myths, On the road, Research, Review, Technology

A short piece on mythbusting and possible misuse

Lately I’ve seen how mythbusting can be used as a tool to push your own opinion. I don’t like this, so let’s call it a myth. As co-author of a book in which Paul, Casper and myself try to debunk edumyths, I want to explain how we tried not to make this mistake.

First of all we use 3 categories to discuss the different items in our book:

  1. Myth
    The statement is untrue or almost completely untrue or there is no proof.
  2. Nuanced
    The theme is still a subject of discussion and science has not yet provided conclusive evidence.
  3. Unproven
    We and we emphasize “we” found no scientific evidence during the writing of this book

A second thing we did is that we checked each others texts for possible biases. The three of us have opinions of our own, but our book is not about us. E.g. we have a famous scientist in our team who co-wrote a very important article about discovery learning. Still, we labelled it nuanced as this is still a discussion in educational sciences.

To me this is very important. Some of the myths we debunked actually did hurt for myself, but Urban Myths is not about me or us.

At first I didn’t want to write this post, because I know Christian Bokhove will discuss this also at length in his ResearchED-talk next week. Still I did because I saw the mythbusting-technique being used once to often to try to convince other people of their own idea. I do recommend you attend ResearchED and more specific Christian’s talk.

3 Comments

Filed under Book, Myths

On gender and math: there are more gender similarities than there are gender differences

Good little video (H/T Paul Kirschner) on something we also discuss in our book:

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Myths

What a week: our paper in Nature and Discover Magazine

The past week I spent in Potomac for the very first CTTL-academy with a lot of great teachers, principals and other fantastic people such as Dan Willingham, Vanessa Rodriguez, David Weston, Ian Kelleher, Lauren, Glenn and the infamous many more. But the biggest surprise came while I was waiting for my flight back home. Suddenly my notifications-feed went nuts.

Last month Teaching and Teacher Education published an article about the Digital Native myth – and multitasking too – by Paul Kirschner and myself. Our paper now made it… to an editorial in Nature!

And as it often goes: one thing lead to another, so now it has also resulted in a post on Discover Magazine.

4 Comments

Filed under Education, Myths