Music Cognition

A shortened version of this article will appear in the next Psychology in Action Newsletter.

One of the most fascinating and quickly growing subareas of psychology and the cognitive sciences is music cognition, the interdisciplinary study of how the brain processes and perceives music.  Music cognition is driven primarily by the perception of tempo and pitch, as well as the important concept of expectation. Continue reading


What is Cognitive Science?

This article originally appeared in the Psychology in Action Newsletter (Issue 5, Part B).

If you’re in an introductory psychology class, you’ve probably learned about Freud, Skinner, and Piaget, who were profoundly important in the foundations of psychology. But you probably haven’t heard much about Noam Chomsky or Allen Newell, although both of these people have made important contributions to the study of the human mind. Psychology is a broad and diverse field, but psychologists are not the only researchers who study the fascinating abilities of the mind.

Over the course of the 20th century, expert thinkers began developing more complete theories of the mind than previously existed. Researchers from psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, computer science, and linguistics began to bridge the gaps between their areas of expertise. Together they formed the foundation of cognitive science––an interdisciplinary movement to connect ideas and findings from different fields into comprehensive theories.

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Desirable Difficulties in Math Teaching

Continuing in the spirit of my last post, which overviewed the desirable difficulties literature, and Carole Yue’s recent post on how desirable difficulties can improve induction tasks, today I’m highlighting some recent research on applying such difficulties to math learning and practice.  As a quick recap, desirable difficulties are adjustments to teaching that slow down learning in the short term, but improve long-term retention.  In other words, making learning harder can actually make it more effective.  Two of the most robust desirable difficulties are spacing (the distribution of practice sessions over time as opposed to massing them together) and interleaving (alternating practice on different types of problems, like ABCABC, as opposed to blocking them, like AABBCC).  Recently, psychologists have begun expanding research on these techniques to conceptual subjects like math. Continue reading

Desirable Difficulties in the Classroom

Over the last couple of decades, learning and memory researchers have become increasingly interested in bringing scientific findings out of the lab and into the classroom, where they can be implemented into teaching methods to produce more efficient and effective learning.  In a nation mired in an educational crisis, there’s never been a better time or place to bridge the gap between modern scientific knowledge and outdated teaching techniques.

One of the greatest insights in the last 20 years that has serious potential to improve classroom teaching has been Robert Bjork’s concept of desirable difficulties (Bjork, 1994; McDaniel & Butler, in press), which suggests that introducing certain difficulties into the learning process can greatly improve long-term retention of the learned material. In psychology studies thus far, these difficulties have generally been modifications to commonly used methods that add some sort of additional hurdle during the learning or studying process.  Some notable examples: Continue reading