A dissociation between engagement and learning: Enthusiastic instructions fail to reliably improve performance on a memory task

Motz, B.A., de Leeuw, J.R., Carvalho, P.F., Liang, K.L., Goldstone, R.L. (2017). A dissociation between engagement and learning: Enthusiastic instructions fail to reliably improve performance on a memory task. PLoS ONE, 12(7): e0181775. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181775

Despite widespread assertions that enthusiasm is an important quality of effective teaching, empirical research on the effect of enthusiasm on learning and memory is mixed and largely inconclusive. To help resolve these inconsistencies, we conducted a carefully-controlled laboratory experiment, investigating whether enthusiastic instructions for a memory task would improve recall accuracy. Scripted videos, either enthusiastic or neutral, were used to manipulate the delivery of task instructions. We also manipulated the sequence of learning items, replicating the spacing effect, a known cognitive technique for memory improvement. Although spaced study reliably improved test performance, we found no reliable effect of enthusiasm on memory performance across two experiments. We did, however, find that enthusiastic instructions caused participants to respond to more item prompts, leaving fewer test questions blank, an outcome typically associated with increased task motivation. We find no support for the popular claim that enthusiastic instruction will improve learning, although it may still improve engagement. This dissociation between motivation and learning is dis- cussed, as well as its implications for education and future research on student learning.

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Categorization and Concepts

Goldstone, R. L., Kersten, A., & Carvalho, P. F. (2017).  Categorization and Concepts.  In J. Wixted (Ed.) Stevens’ Handbook of Experimental Psychology and Cognitive neuroscience, Fourth Edition, Volume Three: Language & Thought.  New Jersey: Wiley.  (pp. 275-317).

Concepts are the building blocks of thought. They are critically involved when we reason, make inferences, and try to generalize our previous experiences to new situations. Behind every word in every language lies a concept, although there are concepts, like the small plastic tubes attached to the ends of shoelaces, that we are familiar with and can think about even if we do not know that they are called aglets . Concepts are indispensable to human cognition because they take the “blooming, buzzing confusion” (James, 1890, p. 488) of disorganized sensory experiences and establish order through mental categories. These mental categories allow us to make sense of the world and predict how worldly entities will behave. We see, hear, interpret, remember, understand, and talk about our world through our concepts, and so it is worthy of reflection time to establish where concepts come from, how they work, and how they can best be learned and deployed to suit our cognitive needs.

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Can we Reproduce it? Toward the Implementation of good Experimental Methodology in Interdisciplinary Robotics Research

Lier F., Lücking P., de Leeuw J., Wachsmuth S., Šabanović S., Goldstone R. L.  (2017) Can we Reproduce it? Toward the Implementation of good Experimental Methodology in Interdisciplinary Robotics Research. In: Bonsignorio FP, ed. Can we Reproduce it? Toward the Implementation of good Experimental Methodology in Interdisciplinary Robotics Research. Proceedings of IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), IEEE Xplore. IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), Singapore: IEEE.

The insufficient level of reproducibility of published experimental results has been identified as a core issue in the field of robotics in recent years. Why is that? First of all, robotics focuses on the abstract concept of computation and the creation of technological artifacts, i.e., software that implements these concepts. Hence, before actually reproducing an experiment, the subject of investigation must be artificially created, which is non-trivial given the inherent complexity [5]. Second, robotics experiments usually include expensive and often customized hardware setups (robots), that are difficult to operate for non-experts. Finally, there is no agreed upon set of methods in order to setup, execute, or (re-)conduct an experiment.

To this end, we introduce an interdisciplinary and geographically distributed collaboration project that aims at implementing good experimental methodology in interdisciplinary robotics research with respect to: a) reproducibility of required technical artifacts, b) explicit and comprehensible experiment design, c) repeatable/reproducible experiment execution, and d) reproducible evaluation of obtained experiment data. The ultimate goal of this collaboration is to reproduce the same experiment in two different laboratories using the same systematic approach which is presented in this work.

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Promoting Spontaneous Analogical Transfer by Idealizing Target Representations

Trench, M., Tavernini, L. M., & Goldstone, R. L. (2017).  Promoting spontaneous analogical transfer by idealizing target representations.  Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (pp. 1206-1211).  London, England: Cognitive Science Society. 

Recent results demonstrate that inducing an abstract representation of target analogs at retrieval time aids access to analogous situations with mismatching surface features (i.e., the late abstraction principle). A limitation of current implementations of this principle is that they either require the external provision of target-specific information or demand very high intellectual engagement. Experiment 1 demonstrated that constructing an idealized situation model of a target problem increases the rate of correct solutions compared to constructing either concrete simulations or no simulations. Experiment 2 confirmed that these results were based on an advantage for accessing the base analog, and not merely on an advantage of idealized simulations for understanding the target problem in its own terms. This target idealization strategy has broader applicability than prior interventions based on the late abstraction principle, because it can be achieved by a greater proportion of participants and without the need to receive target-specific information.

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Even when people are manipulating algebraic equations, they still associate numerical magnitude with space

Marghetis, T., Goldstone, R. L., & Landy, D. (2017).  Even when people are manipulating algebraic equations, they still associate numerical magnitude with space.  Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (pp. 2675-2680). London, England: Cognitive Science Society.

The development of symbolic algebra transformed civilization. Since algebra is a recent cultural invention, however, algebraic reasoning must build on a foundation of more basic capacities. Past work suggests that spatial representations of number may be part of that foundation, but recent studies have failed to find relations between spatial-numerical associations and higher mathematical skills. One possible explanation of this failure is that spatial representations of number are not activated during complex mathematics. We tested this possibility by collecting dense behavioral recordings while participants manipulated equations. When interacting with an equation’s greatest [/least] number, participants’ movements were deflected upward [/downward] and rightward [/leftward]. This occurred even when the task was purely algebraic and could thus be solved without attending to magnitude (although the deflection was reduced). This is the first evidence that spatial representations of number are activated during algebra. Algebraic reasoning may require coordinating a variety of spatial processes.

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The most efficient sequence of study depends on the type of test

Carvalho, P. F., & Goldstone, R. L. (2017).  The most efficient sequence of study depends on the type of test.  Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (pp. 198-203). London, England: Cognitive Science Society.

Previous research has shown that the sequence in which concepts are studied changes how well they are learned. In a series of experiments featuring naturalistic concepts (psychology concepts) and naïve learners, we extend previous research by showing that the sequence of study changes the representation the learner creates of the study materials. Interleaved study leads to the creation of relatively interrelated concepts that are represented by contrast to each other and based on discriminating properties. Blocked study, instead, leads to the creation of relatively isolated concepts that are represented in terms of their central and characteristic properties. The relative benefits of these representations depend on whether the test of conceptual knowledge requires contrastive or characteristic information. These results argue for the integrated investigation of the benefits of different sequences of study as depending on the characteristics of the study and testing situation as a whole.

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A computer model of context dependent perception in a very simple world

Lara-Dammer, F., Hofstadter, D. R., & Goldstone, R. L. (2017). A computer model of context dependent perception in a very simple world.  Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence29:6, 1247-1282.  DOI: 10.1080/0952813X.2017.1328463

We propose the foundations of a computer model of scientic discovery that takes into account certain psychological aspects of human observation of the world. To this end, we simulate two main components of such a system. The first is a dynamic microworld in which physical events take place, and the second is an observer that visually perceives entities and events in the microworld. For reason of space, this paper focuses only on the starting phase of discovery, which is the relatively simple visual inputs of objects and collisions.

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Instruction in computer modeling can support broad application of complex systems knowledge

Tullis, J. G., & Goldstone, R. L. (2017).  Instruction in computer modeling can support broad application of complex systems knowledge.  Frontiers in Education, 2:4, 1-18.  doi: 10.3389/feduc.2017.00004

Learners often struggle to grasp the important, central principles of complex systems, which describe how interactions between individual agents can produce complex, aggre-gate-level patterns. Learners have even more difficulty transferring their understanding of these principles across superficially dissimilar instantiations of the principles. Here, we provide evidence that teaching high school students an agent-based modeling language can enable students to apply complex system principles across superficially different domains. We measured student performance on a complex systems assessment before and after 1 week training in how to program models using NetLogo (Wilensky, 1999a). Instruction in NetLogo helped two classes of high school students apply complex sys-tems principles to a broad array of phenomena not previously encountered. We argue that teaching an agent-based computational modeling language effectively combines the benefits of explicitly defining the abstract principles underlying agent-level interac-tions with the advantages of concretely grounding knowledge through interactions with agent-based models.

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The Multiple Interactive Levels of Cognition (MILCS) perspective on group cognition

Goldstone, R. L., & Theiner, G. (2017). The Multiple Interactive Levels of Cognition (MILCS) perspective on group cognition.  Philosophical Psychology, 1-35.  DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2017.1295635

We lay out a multiple, interacting levels of cognitive systems (MILCS) framework to account for the cognitive capacities of individuals and the groups to which they belong. The goal of MILCS is to explain the kinds of cognitive processes typically studied by cognitive scientists, such as perception, attention, memory, categorization, decision-making, problem solving, judgment, and flexible behavior. Two such systems are considered in some detail—lateral inhibition within a network for selecting the most attractive option from a candidate set and a diffusion process for accumulating evidence to reach a rapid and accurate decision. These system descriptions are aptly applied at multiple levels, including within and across people. These systems provide accounts that unify cognitive processes across multiple levels, can be expressed in a common vocabulary provided by network science, are inductively powerful yet appropriately constrained, and are applicable to a large number of superficially diverse cognitive systems. Given group identification processes, cognitively resourceful people will frequently form groups that effectively employ cognitive systems at higher levels than the individual. The impressive cognitive capacities of individual people do not eliminate the need to talk about group cognition. Instead, smart people can provide the interacting parts for smart groups

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Adapting perception, action, and technology for mathematical reasoning

Goldstone, R. L., Marghetis, T., Weitnauer, E., Ottmar, E. R., & Landy, D. (2017).  Adapting perception, action, and technology for mathematical reasoning.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 1-8. DOI: d1o0i.1or1g7/170/.01197673/70926134712717410747808488

Formal mathematical reasoning provides an illuminating test case for understanding how humans can think about things that they did not evolve to comprehend. People engage in algebraic reasoning by 1) creating new assemblies of perception and action routines that evolved originally for other purposes (reuse), 2) adapting those routines to better fit the formal requirements of mathematics (adaptation), and 3) designing cultural tools that mesh well with our perception-action routines to create cognitive systems capable of mathematical reasoning (invention). We describe evidence that a major component of proficiency at algebraic reasoning is Rigged Up Perception-Action Systems (RUPAS), via which originally demanding, strategically-controlled cognitive tasks are converted into learned, automatically executed perception and action routines. Informed by RUPAS, we have designed, implemented, and partially assessed a computer-based algebra tutoring system called Graspable Math with an aim toward training learners to develop perception-action routines that are intuitive, efficient, and mathematically valid.

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Organized simultaneous displays facilitate learning of complex natural science categories

Meagher, B. J., Carvalho, P. F., Goldstone, R. L., & Nosofsky, R. M. (2017).  Organized simultaneous displays facilitate learning of complex natural science categories.  Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, DOI 10.3758/s13423-017-1251-6.

Subjects learned to classify images of rocks into the categories igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary. In accord with the real-world structure of these categories, the to-beclassified rocks in the experiments had a dispersed similarity structure. Our central hypothesis was that learning of these complex categories would be improved through observational study of organized, simultaneous displays of the multiple rock tokens. In support of this hypothesis, a technique that included the presentation of the simultaneous displays during phases of the learning process yielded improved acquisition (Experiment 1) and generalization (Experiment 2) compared to methods that relied solely on sequential forms of study and testing. The technique appears to provide a good starting point for application of cognitive-psychology principles of effective category learning to the science classroom.

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The sequence of study changes what information is attended to, encoded and remembered during category learning

Carvalho, P. F., & Goldstone, R. L. (2017).  The sequence of study changes what information is attended to, encoded and remembered during category learning.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

The sequence of study influences how we learn. Previous research has identified different sequences as potentially beneficial for learning in different contexts and with different materials. Here we investigate the mechanisms involved in inductive category learning that give rise to these sequencing effects. Across 3 experiments we show evidence that the sequence of study changes what information learners attend to during learning, what is encoded from the materials studied and, consequently, what is remembered from study. Interleaved study (alternating between presentation of 2 categories) leads to an attentional focus on properties that differ between successive items, leading to relatively better encoding and memory for item properties that discriminate between categories. Conversely, when learners study each category in a separate block (blocked study), learners encode relatively more strongly the characteristic features of the items, which may be the result of a strong attentional focus on sequential similarities. These results provide support for the sequential attention theory proposing that inductive category learning takes place through a process of sequential comparisons between the current and previous items. Different sequences of items change how attention is deployed depending on this basic process. Which sequence results in better or worse learning depends on the match between what is encoded and what is required at test.

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Transfer of Knowledge

Goldstone, R. L., & Day, S. (2017).  Transfer of knowledge.  In K. Peppler (Ed.) The SAGE Encyclopedia of Out-of-school Learning.  Thousand Oaks, CA. (pp. 784-787).

Transfer of knowledge is the application of knowledge learned in one context to new, dissimilar problems or situations where the knowledge would be useful. Teachers, coaches, camp counselors, parents, and learners often have the experience of a learner showing apparent understanding when questioned about a topic in a way that closely matches how it was initially presented but showing almost no understanding when queried in a new context or with novel examples. This entry further explains the concept of knowledge transfer. It then discusses several different strategies used to support knowledge transfer.

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Does successful small-scale coordination help or hinder coordination at larger scales?

Frey, S., & Goldstone, R. L. (2016).  Does successful small-scale coordination help or hinder coordination at larger scales?  Interaction Studies, 17, 371-389.

An individual can interact with the same set of people over many different scales simultaneously. Four people might interact as a group of four and, at the same time, in pairs and triads. What is the relationship between different parallel interaction scales, and how might those scales themselves interact? We devised a four-player experimental game, the Modular Stag Hunt, in which participants chose not just whether to coordinate, but with whom, and at what scale. Our results reveal coordination behavior with such a strong preference for dyads that undermining pairwise coordination actually improves group-scale outcomes. We present these findings as experimental evidence for competition, as opposed to complementarity, between different possible scales of multi-player coordination. This result undermines a basic premise of approaches, like those of network science, that fail to model the interacting effects of dyadic, triadic, and group-scale structure on group outcomes.

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