My Scholarly Reflections

This is where I tell what I think, so that I see what I say

If you wanna teach them, surprise them!

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In Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow, he argues that there are serious cognitive issues faced by those who teach psychology. Hence the question: Can psychology be taught?   Daniel reports an experiment which showed that if a human is under distress, it is less likely that other humans will come to the distressed person’s rescue if they knew that the condition of the distressed person is known by others. In other words, most of them will avoid to take action. This is an awkwardly counter intuitive behaviour which no one would admit to follow if asked. Students who were simply told about this behaviour still continued to misjudge the potential reaction of a random individual who was shown in a video to be giving a general impression of being friendly and helpful! In other words, the mere presentation of a (statistical) fact about human behaviour will not affect a related behaviour of students. If you present a generalised statistical fact about human behaviour to students, a statistical inference that goes against the so called ‘common sense’, students will visibly accept it, pass assessments recalling their ‘learning’ BUT  if you put those very same students in a specific situation related to the statistical generalisation  of human behaviour, the new learning that highilghted will not affect student behaviour. Therefore according to Daniel “teaching psychology is probably a waste of time” (p.170).

But he also presents a solution which for me hold a profound insight on designing learning. Another set of students were first shown videos of friendly looking people and told also that those people did not come to the rescue of distressed individuals. The students were then asked to guess global results from these specific ‘case studies’. Student responses accurately represented the statistically determined outcomes from experiments. In other words, when students were surprised by presenting a specific scenario that went against common sense (two friendly looking people not helping others), the students immediately realised that helping others is a difficult behaviour to follow.

Daniel says: “surprising individual cases have a powerful impact and are a more effective tool for teaching psychology because the incongruity must be resolved and embeded in a causal story” (p.174)

I am thinking to what extent the above scenario applies to business education as well? Particularly the ‘fluffy’ units such as leadership, management, and entrepreneurship where we tend to present ‘facts’ and abstract concepts without (emotional charged) surprises that abound in those domains.

Written by Amer Khan

May 10, 2013 at 11:42 pm

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