Motivation: Explore the effects of learners’ belief that feedback is correct on their knowledge and misconception revision.
Knowledge revision: People are notoriously bad at correcting their misconceptions, and it’s not their fault for the same reason that learning is hard. Processing information that doesn’t readily fit into our current knowledge structures is effortful. In addition, we are bombarded every minutes with new information, and our brains have to pick which pieces of information to process and which ones to ignore. For example, if you closed your eyes right now, how much of your visual field could you recall? You can only focus on a few things at a time, forcing your brain to ignore the rest. Left to its own devices, your brain would prefer to pay attention to information that it already knows because that’s much easier. It takes effort to focus on new information and turn it into knowledge in our heads. It takes even more effort to focus on new information, reconcile it with prior knowledge, and create updated knowledge about the world.
Because correcting misconceptions is hard, much research explores methods to make it easier and longer lasting. For a good framework on knowledge revision, see Kendeou and O’Brien (2014). Most of this research assumes that learners believe feedback from an authority figure (e.g., instructor or researcher) is correct, and if the learners fail to correct their misconceptions, then it’s due to their failure to reconcile new information with prior knowledge. Rich et al. explore a new angle: how to entice learners to believe feedback when it is telling them that they are wrong.
Results: Rich et al. found that when learners are given feedback that they are wrong on common misconceptions (e.g., bulls hate the color red), the learners are more likely to remember the correct answer a week later if the feedback includes an explanation for why the correct answer is correct (e.g., bulls do not hate the color red, but they attack the red cape because they perceive the matador as threatening). Including explanations in feedback is a common and successful method to improve learning because it helps the learners to process the information on a deeper level. Rich et al. found that in addition to this benefit, explanations made learners believe the feedback more, which improved their knowledge revision separately from processing information more deeply.
Interestingly, Rich et al. found partial support for the hypercorrection effect, the effect in which knowledge revision is more effective for people who are more confident in their misconceptions. The hypercorrection effect is likely caused by learners having more knowledge about a topic and, therefore, more of a knowledge structure to host new information. Rich et al. found the hypercorrection effect with learners who received feedback with explanations but not with learners who received feedback without explanations. For learners who did not receive explanations, the more confident they were in their misconception before receiving feedback, the less likely they were to believe that the feedback was correct, and the more likely they were to retain their misconception.
Why this is important: In our current information age, there is a lot of information that is either incorrect or presented as factual even though it’s an opinion. A healthy skepticism of information is good for our society, but in education we need to know how to correct misconceptions when they arise. Rich et al. provide valuable information about the effects of belief in feedback and confidence in knowledge that can better inform our educational efforts to root out misconceptions.
Rich, P. R., Van Loon, M. H., Dunlosky, J., & Zaragoza, M. S. (2016). Belief in corrective feedback for common misconceptions: Implications for knowledge revision. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000322
Kendeou, P., & O’Brien, E. J. (2014). The knowledge revision components (KReC) framework: Processes and mechanisms. In D. N. Rapp & J. L. G. Braasch (Eds.), Processing inaccurate information: Applied and theoretical perspectives from cognitive science and the educational sciences (pp. 353–377). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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