Clinging to Discredited Theories: Understanding Obstacles to Learning

By Leah Savion.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

A large body of research demonstrates the incredible power of initial conceptions, naïve views, scripts, and stereotypes that are the inevitable results of our naïve theories. Prior knowledge enhances encoding and retrieval when it connects well to the new information, but hinders these processes when in conflict with it. Theories and facts contradicting existing beliefs are conveniently misinterpreted, treated as insignificant, or taken as valid only within the confines of classrooms. Belief-perseverance–persistence of explicitly discredited beliefs - is ubiquitous to the point of serving as the ultimate evidence of the feebleness of our mind. Standard explanations in terms of supporting beliefs and affective-motivational components are partial at best. This paper proposes an explanatory model that illuminates the cognitive-adaptive sources of perseverance, demonstrating its inevitability given the general principles of economy and equilibrium that govern brain operations, the naïve theories we generate to make sense of the world, and the heuristics we employ to meet adaptive goals.

Keywords: Belief Perseverance, Cognitive Economy, Emotive and Cognitive Equilibrium, Naive Theories and Misconceptions

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp.85-94. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.270MB).

Dr. Leah Savion

Faculty, Department of Philosophy, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA

Leah Savion is a member of the Philosophy and the Cognitive Science departments at Indiana University at Bloomington. She earned her Ph.D. in Philosophy at City University of New-York in 1989. Areas of professional interest range from Analytic Philosophy and Formal Logic, Cognitive Science and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, to international folkdance, singing, and tennis. Savion is frequently invited to provide faculty development workshops for higher education faculty locally, nationally, and internationally. For a partial list of publications and talks/workshops go to http://mypage.iu.edu/~lsavion. Current research topics include: (i) Psychologically and logically realistic models of rationality; (ii) Heuristics and Biases in Concept Acquisition, Retention, and Retrieval (iii) Belief Perseverance and self deception (iv) Naive Theories (v) Cognitive differences between Experts and Novices.

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