Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Huh. Listening To "Experts" Inhibits Decision Making

The Eide Neurolearning Blog has an interesting article about the effects of being exposed to an "expert" on the brain regions responsible for making decisions and calculating probabilities. When thinking for themselves, students showed activity in these critical thinking brain regions, but when given advice from an expert, activity in those regions "flat lined." Interestingly, students in the study "tended to follow [the expert's] advice regardless of the situation, especially when it was bad"

At one point, the article states:
In Nicholas Kristof's Learning How to Think article, he reminds us of the "Dr. Fox effect" to which it seems all sorts of educated groups (college students, medical professionals, academics) are susceptible (..but one wonders whether less educated groups are less susceptible?)

The italics there are mine. One certainly does wonder that. This particular one (me) even wonders whether groups that are not "less educated" but "differently educated" are less susceptible as well. I'd like to think that healthy skepticism and thinking for oneself is a big part of the curriculum of life that my kids are exposed to. I do know for a fact that they are not likely to go along with a crowd just for the sake of fitting in, nor are they likely to take anyone's word as gospel without a grain of salt and some time to make up their own mind about it. I take care not to set myself up as an "expert", even when I am explicitly teaching them something (like our recent forays into Algebra, which I will have to write up separately), always encouraging them to do further research into any subject. On many occasions, they've certainly become more of an expert than I am on their particular subjects of interest.

I've often wondered how the early conditioning of kids to think of themselves as knowledge-receptors given to them by self-appointed "expert" teachers may influence the brain's abilities in the realms of critical thinking and decision-making. It seems that even the presence and instruction of an "expert" is a non-neutral thing, even when their advice is neither correct nor beneficial.

It may even be that the most critical thing that unschoolers "teach" their children is how not to be taught.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Great post :-)