Seeing is Believing (week 10)

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2011 at 6:18 PM

Throughout this module we have been advocating that, in terms of education, scientific research should play a crucial role in how we implement and design our curriculum(s). This has led to many new and interesting techniques being brought forward, and hundreds of supporting papers have been referenced.

In previous blogs I have talked about Teacher Cognition, the concept that individual self-reflection, beliefs and knowledge about teaching changes perception of educational techniques and practices. I was thinking about the way in which our own self-reflection, beliefs and knowledge would effect the way we interpret the research & techniques we encounter in this module. (I would like to believe that although we will have preferences to certain areas, we understand the data presented and have the ability to critically evaluate the work we read.)

This made me wonder, how do scientific novices interpret research? Through the development of highly complex neuropsychological techniques (such as PET & fMRI) and their ability to provide images of the brain, the media has begun to report research much more frequently.

Weisberg et al (2008) carried out 3 experiments into the perception of research.

Experiment 1

81 participants completed the study. They were asked to read a one-paragraph description of a phenomenon followed by an explanation (a total of 18 phenomena were used). The explanation they viewed either always did or always did not contain neuroscience information.  Quality was also manipulated, a good and bad version was created for each stimuli and randomly allocated through the trials. Participants then rated how satisfying they found each explanation on a 7-point scale from -3  to +3.

A significant main effect of explanation was found (good explanation text rated higher than bad). As well the research showed a significant main effect of neuroscience (neuroscience texts were rated higher than non-neuroscience) and a significant interaction of explanation and neuroscience (no significant difference between good, but significant difference between bad)

My Thoughts: If the participants were novices would they understand the terminology? I don’t think so, and because of this it doesn’t surprise me that the bad responses were modulated by the use of neuroscience info.

Experiment 2

22 students were sampled from an introductory cognitive neuroscience class. Stimuli and procedures used was identical to that in experiment 1. Participants were tested at beginning and end of the semester. It was hypothesized that because they were being trained to critically think, the main effect of neuroscience found in experiment 1 would not occur.

A significant main effect of explanation type was found, as well as a significant main effect of neuroscience and a significant interaction of explanation and neuroscience (Ratings of bad explanations increased reliably more than good). No main effect of time was found (i.e classroom training did not affect the students’ performance).

My Thoughts: would this effect be replicated in other domains/or even with our class? does the non significant effect of time indicate that individuals in the class have not been taught to critically evaluate?

Experiment 3

48 neuroscience experts. stimuli was identical to that of experiment 1.

Findings showed a significant main effect of explanation, no main effect of neuroscience, significant interaction of explanation and neuroscience (good explanations with neuroscience rated lower than explanation without)

My Thoughts: I think that the interaction found could be explained by the fact that experts would have read a vast number of articles and would therefore would be able to notice that the neuroscience figures were irrelevant.

McCabe & Castel (2008) also researched this area, and carried out 3 experiments also

Experiment 1

156 undergraduates participated and were split into three groups based on what the articles included: brain image, bar chart or control (no image included). Participants read 3 brief articles. The articles shown made claims that were not necessitated by the data, providing the basis for some skepticism from participants. They were then were asked to rate (on a four point likert scale) if the article was well written, the title was a good description of the results, and if the scientific reasoning in the article made sense.

It was found that brain image and bar graph conditions were rated as better written than the control condition, texts accompanied by a brain image being given the highest ratings of scientific reasoning.

My thoughts: It was suggested that complexity may have been a factor in the results shown – brain images are more visually complex and thus this may have altered the judgments of individuals

Experiment 2

128 undergrads participated. The use of brain images and topographical maps was compared. (The use of images of similar complexity allowed the criticism made in the previous study to be addressed.) Two articles used as stimuli in experiment 1 were used. Participants were asked to rate the scientific reasoning of each article viewed.

Texts accompanied by a brain image were found to be given higher ratings of scientific reasoning than those accompanied by a topographical map.

My thoughts: How much exposure will participants have to topographical maps? maybe the differences were due to the fact that undergraduates had seen brain images in the vast majority of research they have been in contact with and due to this in-exposure to topographical maps rated them lower.

Also, the articles were fictitious and participants were told this. Maybe the effects seen will diminish in a more natural setting/using more natural stimuli? McCabe & Castel designed another study to address this.

Experiment 3

108 participants took part. A real news service article ‘Brain Scans Can Detect Criminals’ taken from the BBC website as the stimuli. Articles included either included brain image or no image, and either a concluding paragraph criticizing the research or no paragraph. Participants rated articles on two questions: (1) Do you agree or disagree that the title is a good summary of the results? and (2) Do you agree or disagree with the conclusion that brain imaging can be used as a lie detector?

In terms of the conclusion (Q2) a main effect of brain image was found (brain image article rated higher than no, there was a non significant effect of criticism and no interaction was recorded.

For the title question no effect of brain image was found, but significant effect of criticism  (title more appropriate when not criticized) was recorded, there was no interaction between criticism and brain image.

What does this research mean for the future?

So many questions arose from this research for me! Here are a few….please feel free to add more/debate/go crazy!

The research focuses on scientific content we meet outside of a classroom context, so how can we control it?: I don’t think it would be possible to control the content individuals are viewing, but maybe we should look to train individuals to interpret research at an earlier age? I myself did not learn to read & evaluate research papers until I was in university, if the evaluation of a paper could be fit into the curriculum even at GCSE or A Level, it would promote both deeper & critical thinking. (something heavily mentioned throughout the blogs)

Can we control the media? The media is responsible for it’s output so should it therefore provide the information and tools for individuals to fully understand the studies mentioned?

Does the media show research based on images or merit? it would be interesting to investigate if this effect would be shown in submission to the media. (i.e. if a bad article would be published if it contained images of the brain and advanced terminology)


Don’t just a article by it’s cover! Just because a paper is padded with complex terminology or images does not mean that is of higher quality!

What do y’all think?

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