Thursday, January 19, 2012

Evidence Matters

Evidence Matters

Quite often, I suspect, readers of my memory columns wonder (complain?) about my emphasis on memory studies, what they show and do not show. Editors and publishers have told me that readers do not want to read about the evidence behind my advice. “Do this, don’t do that” is the kind of thing they want me to say. I, after all, am the authority and readers expect to take my word for it. However, I am constitutionally reluctant to pose as a know-it-all, and more so am opposed to believing that people don’t benefit from introspection about what they are doing and why they don’t change to become better at learning and memory.

A more practical reason is that improving learning and memory ability requires breaking old habits and the imposing difficulty of forging new and better approaches and mental habits. Just telling people what they should do (because I and fellow scientists know best) is not likely to be very effective. Change does not come easy to anybody and is even more difficult if clear and good reasons are not provided for making the change.

For example, in my e-book Better Grades, Less Effort (available at Amazon for Kindle and at Smashwords.com for all other readers), I tell students not to cram for exams. But that advice is largely ignored if I don’t explain why cramming is inefficient and unreliable. I have to be convincing, and that requires presenting the evidence for my position. Cramming is something students naturally do. It is not easy to get students to stop procrastinating and discipline themselves into routine study protocols.

There is also this: knowledge is often partial and temporary. What we think is the best way to go about things may even be wrong or sub-optimal at best. If we don’t know the evidence for the various options, how can we make the best choice?


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