Monday, November 25, 2019

The Practical Effect of Neuromyths and Cognitive Biases

Jim and I have been talking about educational neuromyths and cognitive biases on this blog the past couple of weeks.  Today, I would like to bring all this together by discussing the practical effect of neuromyths and cognitive biases.

The learning styles neuromyth: "Students learn best when they are taught according to their preferred learning styles."  No, they don't, as Jim showed here.  The problem with this neuromyth is that it causes students to adopt a limited learning mindset.  "I can only learn visually."  Students should be taught that all methods of learning are effective.  The more learning tools a student has the better learner she will be.  In fact, teachers should challenge their students and help them break away from their preferred mindsets.

Multitasking: That people can do several task at the same time.  No, multitasking hurts learning. (here)  Working memory requires full attention to a task.

That students can just passively absorb a lecture.  No, learning is an active activity.  Researchers have shown that students learn much more with active learning than passive learning.  (here at p. 117-20)  When students are listening to a lecture, they should take notes--take notes selectively, not like a tape recorder.  They should think about the material.  How does it relate to what I have previously learned?  What implications does this material have for other things?  Challenge the material and your professor.  Do I agree with the point?  Ask questions.  When studying, think how the material relates to what you already know.  Again, challenge the material.  Reflect on what you have learned.  Self-test yourself on the material.

Here are a few more pernicious educational neuromyths:

  • That listening to classical music helps learning
  • That one summative assessment at the end of the semester shows how well a student has done in the class
  • That the Socratic/case method is the best and only way to teach law students effectively
  • That students will become ethical lawyers if you just teach them the rules of ethics (here)
  • That students are stuck with the intelligence they had at birth (the fixed mindset)
  • That students don't need to learn practical skills in law school.  They can pick them up on the job.

Of course, pernicious neuromyths are not just limited to education; they affect our everyday lives.

That you can drive and use your cellphone at the same time.  No, no, no.  This relates to multitasking above.  Scientists have shown that humans have only limited attention.  A person who is driving should focus on driving.  Even a hands-free cellphone can be dangerous.  And, of course, this neuromyth has lead to many serious injuries and deaths.  I read recently that a woman had been sent to jail for several years for manslaughter because she killed someone while texting and driving.  The AAA says using a cellphone while driving is just as dangerous as drunken driving.

Here are a few others:

  • That smoking is not dangerous to my health
  • I know that driving drunk is dangerous, but I am a very good driver
  • I'm only going to the store for a few minutes; the kids will be safe
  • That someone who holds a political opinion different from me is a bad person
  • That every right-minded person thinks the same way I do
  • That vaccines cause autism

You can find a much more extensive discussion of neuromyths and cognitive biases in my books,

Understanding and Overcoming Cognitive Biases For Lawyers And Law Students: Becoming a Better Lawyer Through Cognitive Science (2018) and

How To Grow A Lawyer: A Guide for Law Schools, Law Professors, and Law Students (2018).

(Scott Fruehwald)

Please feel free to add additional neuromyths in the comments.

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