PSY 101 SU Wk 9 Smarter Decision Making through Psychology Case Study
It’s important to read any given material and listen to lectures or discussions, but these actions are not study strategies. When you read or listen, your sensory memory is taking in the information. But to study the information, learn it, and encode it in your long-term memory, you must actively process it in your working memory. Research shows that rereading text without thinking about it or doing something with it creates a false sense of familiarity (Roediger & McDermott, 1995). To truly learn something and commit it to long-term memory, use the following active study strategies—and be sure to study often and over time.
Rehearsal, or retrieval practice, involves more active processing than simply rereading. If you hear a new song on the radio, you probably can’t sing all the words after listening to it only once. After hearing it several times, however, you may know the lyrics and the melody. Retrieval practice is similar to listening to a song over and over. When you rehearse information, quizzing yourself to test your recall, you strengthen the memories and make it more likely that you will retrieve the information quickly. This is due in part to the testing effect. The more you test yourself on the information you’re likely to be asked about, the more likely you’ll remember it when you need it.
When you need to memorize lists of items or steps in a procedure, use or develop mnemonics. Since working memory is limited to between five and seven bits of information at a time, chunking and mnemonics allow you to consolidate a list or steps into a more manageable unit to remember. For example, you can use the acronym CANOE to remember the Big Five personality traits from Chapter 3: conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion.
As you study material and engage in retrieval practice, be sure to think about how the concepts relate to what you already know, do, or have experienced. Making the material meaningful taps into a deeper level of processing than simply memorizing material does. This strategy is especially important as we get older and the encoding of new information slows down (Bashore et al., 1997). The effort involved in connecting and contrasting new information with our prior knowledge or experience results in deeper processing and greater retention of information in long-term memory.
Being able to explain an idea to someone else requires a great deal of elaborative thinking, which increases retention (Lachner et al., 2019). Preparing your explanation helps you organize the information and check your understanding, both of which will improve the accuracy of your recall. Even practicing an explanation for an imaginary person will help you identify your own misconceptions or gaps in knowledge so that you can go back and review what you were missing.
- Space out your study sessions. Retrieval practice should begin well before you need to recall the information. Waiting until the last minute to study increases the likelihood of experiencing stress and the recency effect. Start studying as soon as you know that an assessment is coming. Also, take full advantage of the spacing effect and spread out your study sessions so that there is increased time between your sessions. For example, you can start by researching or quizzing yourself on material for one chapter or topic every day for a week. Then, wait a couple of days and study it again. Next, wait a few more days and review the material again. This technique, called distributed practice, helps to consolidate and strengthen the memories in long-term memory.
- Keep the study sessions brief. Another benefit of distributed practice is that if you start early, you can keep your study sessions brief. This means that your attention is less likely to drift and you’re more likely to keep up the habit. How long you need to study will depend on many factors, such as the amount and type of material to learn, as well as your mood or level of motivation (Nonis & Hudson, 2006). Nevertheless, studying for 30 minutes each day is far more effective than studying for 3.5 hours on 1 day (Baddeley & Longman, 1978).
- Minimize distractions. To reduce encoding interference, minimize distractions when you study. Find a quiet spot, turn off your social media notifications, and focus. It can be difficult to unplug from distractions, but it is easier to do if you follow the advice above about keeping each study session brief.
On the previous Course Notes page, we learned how motivation is influenced by our thoughts and beliefs about our abilities on specific tasks. Now we turn to how our beliefs and thoughts about the nature of our own intelligence can shape our success. Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, has conducted research that shows people tend to view ability and intelligence either as something inherent that can only be demonstrated or as something malleable that can be nurtured and developed. This concept is known as mindset.
The concept of mindset focuses on how people’s beliefs about the basic workings of human ability affect their perseverance. According to Dweck’s website, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits” (n.d.). Students with a fixed mindset believe that you’re either smart or you’re not, and they tend to be more easily discouraged when they encounter a difficult task. Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, tend to persevere through difficult tasks because they understand that accomplishment takes effort and that most people who have achieved high levels of success were able to do so only through hard work and practice.
Our belief about whether intelligence and ability are fixed also influences our expectations and interactions with other people. Teachers and managers with a fixed mindset are less helpful and provide more negative feedback to struggling students or employees (Dweck, 2008). They view failure or struggle as an indication of low intelligence. Teachers and managers with a growth mindset, on the other hand, look at failure and struggle as a challenge and an opportunity to improve. They set high expectations and goals and recognize that their own role isn’t simply to judge but to help their students or employees reach those goals. Because they believe that any of their students or employees can become more productive or more creative, teachers and managers with a growth mindset take the time to provide good feedback to guide them. Dweck also recognizes that companies can have mindsets that affect the culture and growth of the company: Companies with a growth mindset are more likely to value their employees as individuals and to encourage employees to discuss new ideas and opportunities.
Our mindset, like our self-efficacy, is influenced by the feedback we receive from others. When children hear phrases like “Great job on your test! You’re so smart!” or “She’s a natural athlete,” they may internalize the message that ability or intelligence is fixed. Not only do people hearing this type of praise develop a fixed mindset, they also miss out on feedback about specific skills that lead to success—like the hours someone spends deliberately studying, or the days spent determinedly practicing batting drills. If we have a fixed mindset, we will have less motivation, especially on challenging tasks, because we will interpret failure as proof that our ability is low and always will be.
Specific feedback, however, teaches children that their ability is continually improving. Difficulty on a challenging task is not evidence of low intelligence but a chance to learn something new. A game loss is not the result of inherently low ability but serves as motivation to improve specific skills.
Thirty years ago, it was assumed that the brain was essentially finished developing by adulthood. However, neuroscience has proven that the brain is constantly rewiring itself and growing connections in response to our experiences. We call this ability neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity. Scientists originally developed the term to explain how the brain can create new brain cells (neurogenesis) and reorganize some functions, even after brain damage. Today, Dweck uses the concept of neuroplasticity to explain growth mindset.
Every time we learn something new, our brain creates new connections between neurons; these connections are known as synapses. When we practice, rehearsing knowledge and skills over time, these connections are strengthened through the formation of myelin, a fatty substance that surrounds the axons of the neurons fired during practice. This myelin results in faster communication between neurons, meaning that the next time we recall or perform a skill, we will be able to do so faster or more accurately. When we learn and practice, we physically change our brain.
Dweck has studied what happens when children are taught to think about the brain like a muscle. After all, just like a muscle becomes stronger with exercise and effort, the brain grows through challenge and practice. She found that when children learn that practice grows and strengthens the brain, their mindset begins to change and their performance in school improves. This improvement is most dramatic in students who had a fixed mindset and had previously struggled in school.
Dweck’s research has important implications for how parents and teachers can help children develop growth mindsets. But what about adults? How can we, especially those of us who have had a fixed mindset in a particular area for many years, go about helping ourselves change a mindset?
Pay attention to your fixed-mindset thoughts and actively argue against them. For example, say you notice yourself thinking, “This assignment is too hard for me. I’m just stupid and I’m going to fail.” Argue against it by using language like, “This assignment is hard. I can do it, but I’m going to have to approach this differently than easier assignments.”
Notice how the first thought gives you an excuse to not put forth the effort. The second thought recognizes and accepts the challenge and keeps you focused on the future.
Add the word “yet” to your doubts. “Yet” allows us to accept our current beliefs or skill levels—but only temporarily, as we work to develop them. This word helps us think about success as a process and remember that we can get better, we can learn, and we can be successful at something even if we are not so great at it right now. Consider the differences between the following thoughts:
- “I am not good at math” vs. “I am not good at math yet.”
- “I can’t cook” vs. “I can’t cook yet.”
- “This history assignment doesn’t make sense to me” vs. “This history assignment doesn’t make sense to me yet.”
Recognize that mistakes are evidence of learning. No one learns everything perfectly the first time. This is why it takes years to master a musical instrument or develop the skills to write a term paper. People with a growth mindset approach mistakes differently than those with a fixed mindset because they ask questions—for example, “What did I do wrong? Where did I get confused?”—and the answers to these questions help them change their approach the next time they attempt a task.
Understand that beliefs and thoughts are not enough. You have to demonstrate effort in order to sustain your mindset, and you have to pay attention to the amount of effort you put into your successful experiences. When you do well, ask yourself what you did correctly so that you can identify what to repeat in the future.
Growth mindset is not about being perfect or believing you can do everything; it is about believing that intelligence, talent, and success are not predetermined but are rather the outcome of planning and hard work.