Category Archives: Myths
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).
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:
The statement is untrue or almost completely untrue or there is no proof.
The theme is still a subject of discussion and science has not yet provided conclusive evidence.
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.
Good little video (H/T Paul Kirschner) on something we also discuss in our book:
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.
And as it often goes: one thing lead to another, so now it has also resulted in a post on Discover Magazine.
Yesterday I repeated this at the CTTL academy and this new study confirms it – again: brain training has no effect on decision-making or cognitive function. This is a great study, although I have to agree with Neuroskeptic that the amount of participants is a bit low.
From the press release:
During the last decade, commercial brain-training programs have risen in popularity, offering people the hope of improving their cognitive abilities through the routine performance of various “brain games” that tap cognitive functions such as memory, attention and cognitive flexibility.
But a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania found that, not only did commercial brain training with Lumosity™ have no effect on decision-making, it also had no effect on cognitive function beyond practice effects on the training tasks.
The findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Seeking evidence for an intervention that could reduce the likelihood that people will engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or overeating, a team of researchers at Penn, co-led by Joseph Kable, PhD, the Baird Term associate professor in the department of Psychology in the School of Arts & Sciences, and Caryn Lerman, PhD, the vice dean for Strategic Initiatives and the John H. Glick professor in Cancer Research in the Perelman School of Medicine, examined whether, through the claimed beneficial effect on cognitive function, commercial brain training regimes could reduce individuals’ propensity to make risky or impulsive choices.
Lerman’s prior work had shown that engagement of brain circuits involved in self-control predicts whether people can refrain from smoking. This work provided the foundation for examining whether modulating these circuits through brain training could lead to behavior change.
“Our motivation,” Kable said, “was that there are enough hints in the literature that cognitive training deserved a real, rigorous, full-scale test. Especially given the addiction angle, we’re looking for things that will help people make the changes in their lives that they want to make, one of which is being more future-oriented.”
The researchers knew that people with stronger cognitive abilities tend to make less impulsive decisions on the kinds of tasks that Kable studies, which involve giving people choices between immediate smaller rewards and delayed larger rewards. They also knew that this behavior is likely mediated by a set of brain structures in the dorsolateral prefrontal area of the brain that have been associated with performance on the executive function tasks like the ones in the Lumosity™ battery.
“The logic would be that if you can train cognitive abilities and change activity in these brain structures,” Kable said, “then that may change your likelihood of impulsive behavior.”
The researchers recruited two groups, each with 64 healthy young adults. One group was asked to follow the Lumosity™ regimen, performing the executive function games for 30 minutes a day, five days a week for 10 weeks. The other group followed the same schedule but played online video games instead. Both groups were told that the study was investigating whether playing online video games improves cognition and changes one’s decision-making.
The researchers had two assessments of decision-making that participants completed before and after the training regimen. To assess impulsive decision-making, the participants were asked to choose between smaller rewards now and larger rewards later. To assess risky decision-making, they were asked to choose between larger rewards at a lower probability versus smaller rewards at a higher probability.
The researchers found that the training didn’t induce any changes in brain activity or decision-making during these tasks.
The participants were also asked to complete a series of cognitive tests that were not part of the training to see if the program had any effect on their general cognitive abilities. While both groups showed improvement, the researchers found that commercial brain training didn’t lead to any more improvement than online video games. Furthermore, when they asked a no-contact group, which didn’t complete commercial brain training or video games, to complete the tests, the researchers found that the participants showed the same level of improvement as the first two groups, indicating that neither brain training nor online video games led to cognitive improvements beyond likely practice effects.
Although the cognitive training by itself did not produce the desired benefits, initial findings from Lerman’s laboratory show that combining cognitive exercises with non-invasive brain stimulation enhances self-control over smoking behavior. This group is now conducting clinical trials to learn whether this combination approach can alter other risky behaviors such as unhealthy eating or improve attention and impulse control in persons with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“Habitual behaviors such as tobacco use and overeating,” said Mary Falcone, a senior research investigator at Penn and coauthor on the study, “contribute to preventable deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease and other public health problems.”
Lerman said, “As currently available behavioral and medical treatments for these habitual behaviors are ineffective for most people, there is a critical need to develop innovative approaches to behavior change. Changing the brain to change behavior is the approach that we are taking.”
Kable hopes to use some of the data collected in this study to better understand both within-person differences in decision-making over time, why one person might be more patient at some times and more impulsive at others, and across-person differences, why some people tend to take the immediate reward and others tend to take the delayed reward.
If they can better understand the neural basis for those differences, Kable said, it might provide some clues about what kinds of cognitive or neural interventions would be useful to try to intervene and push people to be less or more impulsive.
Although, in this study, the researchers found that commercial cognitive training alone would not have an influence on one’s decision-making process or cognitive abilities, they believe that it was still an avenue worthy of rigorous investigation.
“I think we’d all like to have better cognitive abilities,” Kable said. “And we all see ways in which the vagaries of where we grew up and what school we went to and who our parents were had these effects on learning at an early age. The notion that you could do something now that would remediate it was very exciting. I think it was just an idea that really needed to be tested.”
Abstract of the study:
Increased preference for immediate over delayed and for risky over certain rewards has been associated with unhealthy behavioral choices. Motivated by evidence that enhanced cognitive control can shift choice behavior away from immediate and risky rewards, we tested whether training executive cognitive function could influence choice behavior and brain responses. In this randomized controlled trial, 128 young adults (71 male, 57 female) participated in 10 weeks of training with either a commercial web-based cognitive training program or web-based video games that do not specifically target executive function or adapt the level of difficulty throughout training. Pre- and post-training, participants completed cognitive assessments and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during performance of validated decision-making tasks: delay discounting (choices between smaller rewards now vs. larger rewards in the future) and risk sensitivity (choices between larger riskier rewards vs. smaller certain rewards). Contrary to our hypothesis, we found no evidence that cognitive training influences neural activity during decision-making, nor did we find effects of cognitive training on measures of delay discounting or risk sensitivity. Participants in the commercial training condition improved with practice on the specific tasks they performed during training, but participants in both conditions showed similar improvement on standardized cognitive measures over time. Moreover, the degree of improvement was comparable to that observed in individuals who were reassessed without any training whatsoever. Commercial adaptive cognitive training appears to have no benefits in healthy young adults above those of standard video games for measures of brain activity, choice behavior, or cognitive performance.
Depressing read: Oh dear, even people with neuroscience training believe an awful lot of brain myths
It’s a bright sunny day. My kids are having fun. Tomorrow I’ll be leaving for DC to be part of the CTTL summer course. Life is great, but this article in BPS Digest about this new survey is making me depressed.
Do read the full article by Christian Jarrett but the results of the survey can make you cry:
- Learning styles myth (endorsed by 93 per cent of the public, 76 per cent of teachers, and 78 per cent of those with neuroscience education)
- A common sign of dyslexia is seeing letters backwards (endorsed by 76 per cent of the public, 59 per cent of teachers, and 50 per cent of those with neuroscience education)
- Listening to classical music increases children’s reasoning ability (endorsed by 59 per cent of the public, 55 per cent of teachers, and 43 per cent of the neuroscience group) [more on music-related neuromyths]
- Children are less attentive after consuming sugar (endorsed by 59 per cent of the public, 50 per cent of teachers and 39 per cent of the neuroscience group)
- The left-brain right-brain myth (endorsed by 64 per cent of the public, 49 per cent of teachers and 32 per cent of the neuroscience group)
- The 10 per cent myth (endorsed by 36 per cent of the public, 33 per cent of teachers, and 14 per cent of those with neuroscience education).
Is there any silver lining? Yes: teachers are doing a better job than the general public, but the fact that even people involved in neuroscience are believing some of this stuff?
(Btw, remember this post?)
I’ve been discussing myths in education for ages. Sometimes I have the feeling that HR is even more hurt by wrong ideas than education. But lately I noticed that there is another field were (psychology) myths are gaining popularity: sports. I’ve seen versions of MBTI or similar developed for sportsmen, I’ve seen adaptations of learning styles, etc. But I just discovered the one myth to beat them all:
People reacted on this tweet that it’s perhaps a parody, but it’s not, it’s real. Maybe it’s true and will genetics replace neurology as selling miracle.
What have education, HR and sports in common? People can become desperate and are looking for easy solutions and so willing to pay for it. The difference between education on the one side and HR and sports on the other side: the latter have big budgets. And with big budgets come even more people trying to get a bit of the cash.
Paul Kirschner and yours truly just got a new article published in Teaching and Teacher Education on 2 common myths in education: the digital native and the multitasker. You can read it for free here (until Aug. 4)
- Information-savvy digital natives do not exist.
- Learners cannot multitask; they task switch which negatively impacts learning.
- Educational design assuming these myths hinders rather than helps learning.
The abstract of our paper:
Current discussions about educational policy and practice are often embedded in a mind-set that considers students who were born in an age of omnipresent digital media to be fundamentally different from previous generations of students. These students have been labelled digital natives and have been ascribed the ability to cognitively process multiple sources of information simultaneously (i.e., they can multitask). As a result of this thinking, they are seen by teachers, educational administrators, politicians/policy makers, and the media to require an educational approach radically different from that of previous generations. This article presents scientific evidence showing that there is no such thing as a digital native who is information-skilled simply because (s)he has never known a world that was not digital. It then proceeds to present evidence that one of the alleged abilities of students in this generation, the ability to multitask, does not exist and that designing education that assumes the presence of this ability hinders rather than helps learning. The article concludes by elaborating on possible implications of this for education/educational policy.
This is an interesting NY Times article with a lot of stuff to be both thrilled and alarmed about.
- [M]ore than half the nation’s primary- and secondary-school students — more than 30 million children — use Google education apps like Gmail and Docs … Chromebooks, Google-powered laptops that initially struggled to find a purpose, … account for more than half the mobile devices shipped to schools.”
- Why it matters: “Google is helping to drive a philosophical change in public education — prioritizing training children in skills like teamwork and problem-solving while de-emphasizing the teaching of traditional academic knowledge, like math formulas.”
- 50,000 feet: “It puts Google, and the tech economy, at the center of one of the great debates that has raged in American education for more than a century: whether the purpose of public schools is to turn out knowledgeable citizens or skilled workers.”
- “Every year, several million American students graduate from high school. And not only does Google make it easy for those who have school Google accounts to upload their trove of school Gmail, Docs and other files to regular Google consumer accounts — but schools encourage them to do so.”
- “[S]ome parents ... warn that Google could profit by using personal details from their children’s school email to build more powerful marketing profiles of them as young adults.”
But this excerpt shows another, big problem:
The director of Google’s education apps group, Jonathan Rochelle, touched on that idea in a speech at an industry conference last year. Referring to his own children, he said: “I cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the quadratic equation. I don’t know why they are learning it.” He added, “And I don’t know why they can’t ask Google for the answer if the answer is right there.”
Really? Because you can’t download creativity? Because you need a point of reference to check if Google is correct – and we know this is often not the case. Because you still need knowledge if you want to do things without being dependent of a big tech company. That and more is why. But if a director of Google’s education apps group knows so little about learning and education? Well, that’s scary.