Taglearning

Thinking You’re Too Old to Learn a New Language? Think Again

I’m not sure what the sample size is, or how old the adults in the study are, but:

Ferman and Avi Karni from the University of Haifa, Israel, devised an experiment in which 8-year-olds, 12-year-olds and adults were given the chance to learn a new language rule. In the made-up rule, verbs were spelled and pronounced differently depending on whether they referred to an animate or inanimate object.

Participants were not told this, but were asked to listen to a list of correct noun-verb pairs, and then voice the correct verb given further nouns. The researchers had already established that 5-year-olds performed poorly at the task, and so did not include them in the study. All participants were tested again two months later to see what they remembered.

“The adults were consistently better in everything we measured,” says Ferman. When asked to apply the rule to new words, the 8-year-olds performed no better than chance, while most 12-year-olds and adults scored over 90 per cent. Adults fared best, and have great potential for learning new languages implicitly, says Ferman. Unlike the younger children, most adults and 12-year-olds worked out the way the rule worked – and once they did, their scores soared. This shows that explicit learning is also crucial, says Ferman, who presented the results at the International Congress for the Study of Child Language in Montreal, Canada, this week.

New Scientist: Age no excuse for failing to learn a new language

Self-Education Tip: Build Small Skills in the Right Order

Lukeprog at Less Wrong talks about what he learned about interpersonal communication in a Scientology class, and what it taught him about learning:

Building small skills in the right order is an excellent way to create and maintain success spirals.

Trying to master a large skill set like salesmanship is a daunting task that will likely involve many demotivating failures before you ever taste success. The same goes for public speaking, writing research papers, and lots of other large skill sets involving a complex interaction of many small skills.

Anna Salamon uses math to explain this concept. You could tackle calculus immediately after Algebra I, and you might eventually pick it up after many frustrating failures if you read the calculus textbook enough times, but why would you do this? It’s much easier and more satisfying to learn more algebra piece by piece until the jump to calculus is not so great. That way, you can experience the pleasure and confidence-boost of mastering new concepts all along the way to calculus.

Less Wrong: Build Small Skills in the Right Order

(via Theoretick)

Are Distractible People More Creative?

Focus of Attention

Consider a recent study by neuroscientists at Harvard and the University of Toronto that documents the benefits of all these extra thoughts. (It was replicated here.) The researchers began by giving a sensory test to a hundred undergraduates at Harvard. The tests were designed to measure their level of latent inhibition, which is the capacity to ignore stimuli that seem irrelevant. Are you able to not think about the air-conditioner humming in the background? What about the roar of the airplane overhead? When you’re at a cocktail party, can you tune out the conversations of other people? If so, you’re practicing latent inhibition. While this skill is typically seen as an essential component of attention – it keeps us from getting distracted by extraneous perceptions – it turns out that people with low latent inhibition have a much richer mixture of thoughts in working memory. This shouldn’t be too surprising: Because they struggle to filter the world, they end up letting everything in. As a result, their consciousness is flooded with seemingly unrelated thoughts. Here’s where the data gets interesting: Those students who were classified as “eminent creative achievers” – the rankings were based on their performance on various tests, as well as their real world accomplishments – were seven times more likely to “suffer” from low latent inhibition. This makes some sense: The association between creativity and open-mindedness has long been recognized, and what’s more open-minded than distractability? People with low latent inhibition are literally unable to close their mind, to keep the spotlight of attention from drifting off to the far corners of the stage. The end result is that they can’t help but consider the unexpected.

Wired: Are Distractible People More Creative?

See also: The Attention-Allocation Deficit

Photo by Hartwig HKD

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits

Studying

The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.

For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.

“We have known these principles for some time, and it’s intriguing that schools don’t pick them up, or that people don’t learn them by trial and error,” said Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Instead, we walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that are mistaken.”

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

New York Times: Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits

(via Kyle)

People with Negative Attitudes More Likely to Learn From Mistakes

negative attitude

Interesting:

This research focused on the relationship between negative emotionality and learning from errors. Specifically, negative emotionality was expected to impair learning from errors by decreasing motivation to learn. Perceived managerial intolerance of errors was hypothesized to increase negative emotionality, whereas emotional stability was proposed to decrease negative emotionality. All the hypotheses were tested in a laboratory simulation. Contrary to the prediction, a positive association was found between negative emotionality and motivation to learn. The effects of perceived managerial intolerance of errors and emotional stability on negative emotionality were as predicted. Moreover, exploratory data analyses were conducted at the level of specific negative emotions and revealed differentiated effects of specific negative emotions on learning from errors.

Barking up the wrong tree: Does a positive attitude make you more motivated to learn from your mistakes?

See Also:

Expressing negativity can improve relationships

Negativity can improve brainstorming

Technoccult posts tagged with “positive thinking”

(Photo by bark / CC)

Ritalin boosts learning by increasing brain plasticity

Ritalin

Doctors treat millions of children with Ritalin every year to improve their ability to focus on tasks, but scientists now report that Ritalin also directly enhances the speed of learning.

In animal research, the scientists showed for the first time that Ritalin boosts both of these cognitive abilities by increasing the activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine deep inside the brain. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers neurons use to communicate with each other. They release the molecule, which then docks onto receptors of other neurons. The research demonstrated that one type of dopamine receptor aids the ability to focus, and another type improves the learning itself.

The scientists also established that Ritalin produces these effects by enhancing brain plasticity – strengthening communication between neurons where they meet at the synapse. Research in this field has accelerated as scientists have recognized that our brains can continue to form new connections – remain plastic – throughout life.

PhysOrg: Ritalin boosts learning by increasing brain plasticity

(via Chris S.)

Those Less Motivated to Achieve Will Excel on Tasks Seen as Fun

team work puzzle

Those who value excellence and hard work generally do better than others on specific tasks when they are reminded of those values. But when a task is presented as fun, researchers report, the same individuals often will do worse than those who say they are less motivated to achieve.

The study appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The findings suggest that two students may respond quite differently to a teacher’s exhortation that they strive for excellence, said University of Illinois psychology professor Dolores Albarracín, who conducted the research with William Hart, of the University of Florida.

One may be spurred to try harder, while another could become less motivated.

The study also suggests that those who are “chronically uninterested in achievement” are not operating out of a desire to do badly, Albarracín said. Their differing responses simply may reflect the fact that they have different goals.

Science Daily: Those Less Motivated to Achieve Will Excel on Tasks Seen as Fun

I read about a similar study years ago statistics class that I’ve never been able to track back down*, so I’m very glad to have found this article today. The study I read about found that different groups of people performed differently on certain puzzles depending on whether they were presented as “work” or “games.”

*I thought I read it in my statistics text book, but I’ve scoured it cover to cover so now think it must have been a hand-out or part of a test question.

(image from Lumaxart)

Education: Learning Styles Debunked

Are you a verbal learner or a visual learner? Chances are, you’ve pegged yourself or your children as either one or the other and rely on study techniques that suit your individual learning needs. And you’re not alone — for more than 30 years, the notion that teaching methods should match a student’s particular learning style has exerted a powerful influence on education. The long-standing popularity of the learning styles movement has in turn created a thriving commercial market amongst researchers, educators, and the general public. […]

But does scientific research really support the existence of different learning styles, or the hypothesis that people learn better when taught in a way that matches their own unique style?

Unfortunately, the answer is no, according to a major new report published this month in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. […]

Nearly all of the studies that purport to provide evidence for learning styles fail to satisfy key criteria for scientific validity. Any experiment designed to test the learning-styles hypothesis would need to classify learners into categories and then randomly assign the learners to use one of several different learning methods, and the participants would need to take the same test at the end of the experiment. If there is truth to the idea that learning styles and teaching styles should mesh, then learners with a given style, say visual-spatial, should learn better with instruction that meshes with that style. The authors found that of the very large number of studies claiming to support the learning-styles hypothesis, very few used this type of research design. Of those that did, some provided evidence flatly contradictory to this meshing hypothesis, and the few findings in line with the meshing idea did not assess popular learning-style schemes.

Science Daily: Education: Learning Styles Debunked

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