Education aims to give us a deeper understanding of the subjects we study. It has been well established that a deeper level of processing, such as semantic processing, leads to information being stored in our long term memory for more extended periods of time (Craik and Lockhart, 1972). However, it seems that we do not just need to have a deep processing level, we need to have a deep level of understanding as well in order to create true comprehension of a subject. I will endeavour to explain how to attain a deep level of understanding in this post.

Since the 90’s, it has been clear that asking questions helps increase comprehension of a subject, as it erases misunderstandings and helps fully form an awareness of a subject within a student’s mind (Rosenshine et al, 1996; King, 1989; King; 1994). This alone creates a deeper level of understanding within a learner’s mind, yet it has not been until recently that questions asked by the presenter has been investigated.

Craig et al (2006) found that students who were asked “deep-level-reasoning questions” (questions based on possibilities, such as hypothetical reasoning questions “If we change/do this, what happens?”, and those asking for explanation of information “How does this work?” rather than just recall) significantly outperformed those who were not asked any questions when studying new material. The study emphasizes a greater comprehension of a subject due to the mental representation of the material being strengthened by the learner being asked these questions, which creates a higher level of comprehension for the student. The important part of this comprehension however is that it is integrated with our previous knowledge of a subject. This allows a learner a full overview of all knowledge that they have about a topic, both old and new.

Another key to deeper understanding of a topic is a skill known as Cognitive Flexibility. In Rand Spiro’s book: “Cognition, Education, and Multimedia: Exploring Ideas in High Technology”, he critiques “linear media” such as lectures and textbooks for their inability to teach anything past simple and well-structured content. Revisiting content in different styles (known as nonlinear media or random access instruction for its likeness to random access memory) is useful as it allows different forms of understanding, which all form together to create a learner’s comprehension of a subject. This create Cognitive Flexibility, the ability to understand a topic from many different viewpoints. Scott (1962) suggests that a level of cognitive flexibility is attained by being able to restructure your knowledge, as being able to accommodate for multiple different viewpoints upon a topic allows you to start understanding different viewpoints. Essentially, you must first make room in your mind for another way of thinking about a subject and understand that there are other viewpoints out there before you can fill that space with knowledge and understanding of a topic in a fashion different to that which you already know.

It seems that the depth of our learning is heavily influenced by our comprehension of a subject. From asking deep-level-reasoning questions to acquiring cognitive flexibility through nonlinear media and random access instruction, we can increase the depth and breadth of new knowledge which we acquire, and we can integrate it with our pre-existing knowledge to give us a well-structured centre of information for a topic.

It would appear that these things first require an intricate understanding of both our own knowledge and thoughts as well as an understanding of the information we are receiving and processing, which leads me into something I have written about in my last two posts: Metacognition. They both require a knowledge of our own knowledge. Metacognition is key to enabling us to perform both of the learning techniques I have written about, as it allows us to both observe and critique our own thoughts and knowledge, which will lead to us being able to realise when we need more than one viewpoint to understand a complex topic, as well as where we lack knowledge or have a weak understanding, and so alerts us to the need to ask questions in order to improve it.

Unfortunately, the current education system, principally lectures, does not allow these methods to be used within them. We are often given only one lecture on a particular topic, and it is approached in a linear fashion, without going over a particular topic multiple times. The questions we are asked by a lecturer, if any, require short and simple answers, without too much depth, as these require too much time to effectively answer, cutting in to what little time the lecturers are given. We are also not asked deep-level-reasoning questions as they are better suited to smaller classes, where we can effectively discuss the answer to them, which is not possible in larger lectures as it gives too much of a focus on a particular set of students.

A restructuring of the education system with a greater focus on small groups, metacognitive skills, and a more open and active approach to questions being asked both by the students and of the students, would attain a deeper level of understanding of a subject. This would not only increase a person’s intelligence, but also change the way in which they think, which would aid them in their further studies. A deep level of learning requires a person change the way they think in order to process information at a much more intrinsic level so as to gain a true comprehension of exactly what it is they are learning and how it relates and integrates with their current knowledge, making both Cognitive Flexibility, Questions, and Metacognition key parts of both education and learning.

Craik, F. I., & Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 11(6), 671-684.

King, A. (1989). Effects of self-questioning training on college students’ comprehension of lectures. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 14, 366–381.

King, A. (1994). Guiding knowledge construction in the classroom: Effect of teaching children how to question and explain. American Educational Research Journal, 31, 338–368.

Rosenshine, B., Meister, C., Chapman, S. (1996). Teaching students to ask questions: A review of intervention studies. Review of Educational Research, 66, 181–221.

Scott, W. A. (1962). Cognitive complexity and cognitive flexibility. Sociometry, 405-414

Those of you in my Science of Education module will have heard my talk on Metacognition and Rationality, which was based on my first blog post for this topic. Those of you who didn’t see it, don’t panic, I’ll be uploading the talk to this blog within the week. During the talk, I mentioned SAFMEDS cards and how they help build a person’s “Knowing of knowing”, a metacognitive thought process that helps determine a level of confidence that a person can have about their own knowledge.

Essentially, when you use flash cards or SAFMEDS (Say All Fast a Minute Every Day Shuffled), after a few sessions you will have some rough idea whether you know what is on the other side of the card or not. This generates confidence, essentially, the question you pose your self is “Do I know this? Yes or No?”. A metacognitive thinker would be confident that they knew the answer to the cards they answered correctly, and doubtful about the answers they gave to the cards that they got wrong, as this ultimately reflects their own knowledge of their thoughts, as they are aware of their own level of proficiency within a particular field.

Confidence is very important when it comes to education. It enhances motivation towards a subject (Bénabou and Tirole, 2002), which aids a person’s will to learn more about a particular topic. It also seems to have a large impact on the attitude you take to a given field (Levine and Donitsa-Schmidt, 1998) (Woodrow, 1994), which creates a cyclic process of learning, becoming confident within that field, and increasing your attitude towards it, which makes you want to learn more about it and so on and so on. Previous research conducted at Bangor University (Personal Communication, 2013) shows that confidence in your answer does lead to a “knowing of knowing”, a key skill of metacognition, which is a vital part of education as noted by my previous blog.

A person’s confidence can be misled however. Kelley and Lindsay (1993) proposed that confidence can occur due to ease of retrieval of information rather than a true level of insight into one’s own familiarity with a subject. Whilst the study itself was concerned only with the ability to answer general knowledge questions, we are as of yet unsure as to its generalisability to specific topic related questions. The level of confidence that a person has around a particular topic generates a positive effect upon a person’s perceived level of knowledge within a subject (Simonson et al. 1987), yet how can we be sure that a perceived level of knowledge is correct? Overconfidence can lead to a person mistakenly believing that they are correct when they are in fact not, a worrying area of folly for any in education.

Bénabou, R., & Tirole, J. (2002). Self-confidence and personal motivation. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117(3), 871-915.

Kelley, C. M., & Lindsay, D. S. (1993). Remembering mistaken for knowing: Ease of retrieval as a basis for confidence in answers to general knowledge questions. Journal of Memory and Language, 32(1), 1-24.

Levine, T., & Donitsa-Schmidt, S. (1998). Computer use, confidence, attitudes, and knowledge: A causal analysis. Computers in human behavior, 14(1), 125-146.

Simonson, M. R., Maurer, M., Montag-Torardi, M., & Whitaker, M. (1987). Development of a standardized test of computer literacy and a computer anxiety index. Journal of educational computing research, 3(2), 231-247.

Woodrow, J, E, J,. (1994). The development of computer-related attitudes of secondary students. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 11, 307- 338

Metacognition is thought of as “The knowing of knowing” (Flavell, 1976). It is a form of thought that governs our own knowledge of our thoughts and thought processes. With a sufficient level of metacognition, one is able to control and effectively regulate their own thoughts to a higher degree than one without it. This generates “rational thought” (Magno, 2010) (Ku and Ho, 2010). As a person knows what they are thinking and what they have already thought, they can enable higher levels of logical thinking, as well as engage in high-level planning and evaluative strategies.

This ability to create and monitor one’s rational thought is useful in many areas of psychology, but especially so within the field of education. Logical thinking will allow one to deduce which areas of a topic one understands and where one has a deficit of knowledge. Rational thought will then aid a learner in spending their time effectively learning the material that they lack, rather than repetitively going over what they already know (Hrbáčková, Hladík, and Vávrová, 2012). In terms of the high-level planning and evaluative strategies discussed earlier, one would be able to deduce effective learning techniques that work well for them, and then apply them with enough detail to each section of the material, until they have met their learning objectives.

A key part of metacognition is not just the ability to understand and effectively disseminate new information, it is also the ability to integrate that information into our own current knowledge, as it allows a person to understand how this new information relates to our previous knowledge, giving us insight into a subject and its intricacies. Metcalfe (1996) states that those without these metacognitive skills “… appear to drift about like a rudderless ship” (p. 404) when learning, not picking up all the key information that they need. Being able to gain and maintain metacognitive skills is considered to be one of the best indications of effective learning (Wang, Haertel, and Walberg, 1993) (Glaser, 1990) (Veenman, Wilhelm, Beishuizen, 2004). They are so effective because they allow a person to “…understand and control [their] learning environments” (Schraw et al, 2006, p. 111), giving a sense of “Self-regulated learning” to the metacognitive thinker, which allows them to learn effectively at their own pace.

Metacognition appears to be highly correlated to critical thinking (Magno, 2010), a form of rational, and logical thinking. Considering that these thought patterns allow a person a high level of control of their own learning, both in terms of how they learn, as well as what they choose to study, then it is clear that having a high level of metacognitive awareness will lead to a high level of rationality. Rationality is considered key to effective learning when combined with metacognitive awareness, as it allows a person to regulate, control, and monitor their own thoughts, leading to a more focused level of attention. This ensures that a person is both on topic, and critical of their own thoughts, leading to a higher degree of more in-depth learning.

Flavell, J. H. (1976). Metacognitive aspects of problem solving. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.). The nature of intelligence ( 231 – 235). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hrbáčková, K., Hladík, J., and Vávrová, S., (2012). The relationship between locus of control, metacognition, and academic success. Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences.  69, 1805 – 1811.

Ku, K. Y. L., Ho, I. T., (2010). Metacognitive strategies that enhance critical thinking. Metacognitive Learning, 5, 251 – 267

Magno, C., (2010). The role of metacognitive skills in developing critical thinking. Metacognitive Learning, 5, 137 – 156.

Metcalfe, J., (1996). Metacognitive processes. In E. L. Bjork, & R. A. Bjork (Eds.), Memory (pp. 381e407). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Schraw, G., Crippen, K. J., Hartley, K. (2006). Promoting self-regulation in science education: Metacognition as part of a broader perspective on learning. Research in Science Education, 36, 111-139.

Veenman, M. V. J., Wilhelm, P., Beishuizen, J. J., (2004). The relation between intellectual and metacognitive skills from a developmental perspective. Learning and Instruction, 14, 89 – 109.

Wang, M. C., Haertel, G. D., Walberg, H. J. (1993). Toward a knowledge base for school learning. Review of Educational Research, 63, 249–294.

Well, you’re more than welcome to, but you’ll be heading into my Year One Research Methods blog posts, which have nothing to do with what I’m currently using this blog for, which is the Science of Education module. So feel free to read away, but you just won’t get any marks for it.

I played a horrific amount of Civilisation 5 yesterday. I mean truly horrific. By the end of it, I was seeing the world in hexagons (the map of the world is divided up into hexagons that you can move your farm workers/trains/giant death robots around on). It was probably a really bad idea to play for as long as I did, but the whole hexagon thing did get me thinking about the effect that video games have on people. I play video games a lot and am not particularly violent, even though most of my games involve pulverising anything in my path with the biggest gun I can possibly find, and believe that whilst video games have the capacity to teach violence, they don’t always do so and can in fact help us develop in different areas.

There has always been controversy over the violence presented in video games. With my basic understanding of Social Learning Theory as presented by Bandura, Ross and Ross, I can see how people would assume that if their child plays a violent video game, they would then become violent. The two students who carried out the Columbine High School Massacre make direct references to the game Doom in the video they made before the attack. This if anything would make it seem that video games have a negative effect upon us, and there is substantial evidence for this. Anderson and Bushman (2001) conducted a meta-study investigating (you guessed it) violent video games and violent behaviour, finding that they did make people violent. I don’t think its as bad as this though, I know a lot of people who play video games and are also not particularly violent. So I kept digging and found Ferguson’s 2007 meta-analysis study, in which he found that violent video games increased visuo-spatial cognition whilst also declaring that violent video games did not increase violent behaviours. In the study however he did adjust effect sizes in “biased publications”, so I’m not sure how totally confident I can be of his last statement being 100% true.

Games in general seem to be good for one thing though, learning. Not all video games are violent, and some that are don’t just focus on violence. James Gee gave a keynote address to the curriculum corporation in 2006,  wherein he details how video games can help to teach people skills such as cross-functional teamwork, empathy for complex systems, and self-identity. The address ends with James saying that “video games won’t be able to do all these good things by themselves”, and its something I agree with. Just as they won’t be able to do good on their own (in many games where cross-functional teamwork is an option, you can completely ignore it), they won’t be a ble to do bad on their own. I believe that as long as people know that what they are playing is not real and probably could never happen in real life, it will restrain many of the violent effects that the game could possibly have on them. If you know what you are doing couldn’t happen in real life, you hopefully won’t try to do it in real life.

Video games can be bad, we’ve seen how they can influence people from the high school massacre to the Anderson and Bushman study, yet we can’t say exactly how much they’ll effect people as I believe that its a very individual thing, different people will be effected differently. Some may not even be effected at all, and there can be benefits of playing them, seen in Ferguson’s study and Jame’s keynote show. I think that as long as people stick to the age limits given to each game, and play them knowing full well that they are just simulations and no matter how immersive, still not real, then they can not be as damaging as they have been made out to be, and not lead to increasingly violent or negative behaviour.

http://pss.sagepub.com/content/12/5/353.short Anderson and Bushman, (2001). Effects of violent video games on aggresive behaviour.

http://www.springerlink.com/content/66217176984×7477/ Ferguson, (2007). Meta-analytic study of postive and negative effects of video games.

http://cmslive.curriculum.edu.au/leader/default.asp?id=16866&issueID=10696 James Gee’s keynote address (2006)

Robots and humans are becoming ever closer as technology increases, and now robots can be used for a form of therapy. Cognitively impaired residents of a not-for-profit nursing home were found to have decreased overall agitation over time after interacting with a robot cat (Libin and Cohen-Mansfield, 2004), similar to interactions with a plush-toy cat and (I assume) also real cats. Whilst the study was impaired due to its small sample size and short length of run-time, it shows us how robots can be used for therapeutic treatment and how they can be perceived as part of the world. People seem to be able to perceive robots as part of the living world, associating their past experiences with animals with robots that imitate the same animal (Libin et al). Whilst a love of real pets led to a higher level of satisfaction from a robotic version of the pet (in this case, the NeCoRo cat), yet a greater experience of real cats led to people saying that the cat “made unnecessary noise”. Here we encounter the uncanny valley.

Massive uncanny valley side note:Essentially, if something artificial becomes too realistic, people will experience negative reactions to it. We realise that it is merely imitating life, not experiencing it. For example, watch the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOqfrM8aiOQ I apologise for it being in Japanese, but its not the language that’s important. The robot does all the right human things, it looks at the person it’s talking to, offers to mike for a response, is making general movement as well but I personally find it just a bit creepy. A giant metal machine that responds to human interaction is fine, its being sold to the masses in the form of the Kinect, but the robot from the video was just a bit off, if it isn’t 100% perfectly human-like, we’ll realise whatever is wrong and it’ll bug us. We won’t be able to view the robot as a human.

Anyway, back to cats. So whilst people with an experience of real life cats found more problems with them than others, what about people who haven’t really had much experience? In another of Libin & Libin’s experiments (2004), the cat was given to two 8 year old girl, who became very emotionally attached to the robot, even creating the idea that the animal had a will that they did not want to push it against when it was required to perform an action that it could not.

It seems that whilst robotic humans are far from being able to breach the uncanny valley and become truly human like  it is possible with animals. These interactions seem to be beneficial to development of empathy and relationships with other living creatures, whilst also having a theraputic effect for those suffering from dementia. We use previous experiences of real animals in our interactions with artificial ones, which seems to suggest that we view them as alive and real. There are a lot of ethical points around this, such as “Does an inability to treat anthropomorphised robots well indicate an inability to treat humans well?” as well as whether these robots deserve the same treatment as their real life counter parts. It is certainly an interesting topic and will become more relevant as the technology required for it becomes more and more powerful. If the uncanny valley is ever breached, the psychology of human – robot interactions will be fascinating to study.


http://aja.sagepub.com/content/19/2/111.full.pdf+html Libin and Cohen-Mansfield cognitively impaired residents and NeCoRo interaction

http://www.robotherapy.org/person_robot%20interactions.htm Libin et al NeCoRo cat interaction

http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=1347459&tag=1 Libin & Libin (2004) human-NeCoRo interactions, specifically see the end of the paper for the case studies.

Auditory hallucinations, also known as a paracusia, is typically known as a symptom of schizophrenia, but can also be attributed to Exploding Head Syndrome (in which the patient hears an incredibly loud noise, such as a gunshot or explosion that does not exist) and sleep paralysis, when the participant is awake but the body is still “asleep”. You may have even had one yourself, just before falling asleep (in a state called hypnagogia).

The hallucinations themselves seem to generally be resistant to drug therapy, yet stimulation of the left temporoparietal cortex by Hoffman, Boutros, Hu, Berman, Krystal and Charney (2000) found that this lessened the severity of the hallucinations. This would make it seem that the left temporoprietal cortex is the origin for auditory hallucinations, the cortex is certainly relevant in people suffering from aphasia.

So we have an origin, and one particular therapy, but just because there is one solution does not mean it is the only solution. Whilst the transcranial magnetic stimulation used in Hoffman et al’s research did work, there was no follow up and so we have to assume that patients would have to be taking this stimulation for the rest of their life, which seems both impractical as it has to be given every day or two days by a professional in order to keep the patient from hallucinating. Another form of treatment for a patient suffering from these hallucinations is that of Cognitive Therapy, which is also effective at combating drug resistant voices. Chadwick and Birchwood (1994) reported ” Large and stable reductions in conviction in these beliefs (of the power of the voices)… and these were associated with reduced distress, increased adaptive behaviour, and unexpectedly, a fall in voice activity” after treating 26 patients suffering from the hallucinations as a symptom of schizophrenia. This seems to be a much better solution to the problem as Cognitive Therapy affects how the person thinks, so they can use the techniques at any time to counter the voices and regain control of themselves. An ideal solution would be the use of both transcranial magnetic stimulation and Cognitive Therapy in order to lessen the strength of the voices and reduce distress to such an extent that the patient could be considered to not suffer from the hallucination, at least, not enough to impede them in leading a normal life.


Pearce JM (1989), “Clinical features of the exploding head syndrome”, Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry

Blackmore, Susan (2003). Consciousness: An Introduction – Sleep paralysis and auditory hallucinations

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673600020432 Hoffman, Boutros, Hu, Berman, Krystal and Charney

http://archneur.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/47/11/1235E. Metter, Hanson, Jackson, Kempler, Lancker, Mazziotta, Phelps,. Aphasia and the left temporoparietal cortex

http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/164/2/190.short Chadwick and Birchwood