Tag Archives: a beginner’s guide to irrational behavior


The Test

I started watching the video lectures for Dan Ariely’s mooc A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior today. The video above was a supplementary video demonstrating visual illusion, which was then used as a metaphor for our decision illusions – we often believe that we are good at making decisions and that they are rational, when in fact we are often very bad at this based on the ways that we process information.

I’m about halfway through the first week’s video lectures, and we’ve already covered defaults (the easiest decision is to do nothing, and whatever is framed as the default will become the option chosen most often), preferences and convictions (when asked to list 10 reasons for a decision we are less certain of it than when asked to list 3 reasons), choice sets and relativity (how the inclusion of a third “lesser” option can send people toward the option it is similar to), and the long-lasting effects of decision-making (once we make a decision we tend to keep making that same choice). Definitely enjoying this so far, though I’m eager to get beyond what I recall from reading The Upside of Irrationality.

Taking tests helps learning (Ariely pre-reading)

Another piece of pre-course reading recommended for is this 2011 NYT article on test taking. It showed that people who took tests on material learned it better than people who studied and better than people who drew concept maps of the material (another popular teaching tool). Interestingly, those who took the tests felt they would have the poorest recall.

…“when we use our memories by retrieving things, we change our access” to that information, Dr. Bjork said. “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are practicing what you are going to need to do later.”

It may also be that the struggle involved in recalling something helps reinforce it in our brains.

Maybe that is also why students who took retrieval practice tests were less confident about how they would perform a week later.

“The struggle helps you learn, but it makes you feel like you’re not learning,” said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College. “You feel like: ‘I don’t know it that well. This is hard and I’m having trouble coming up with this information.’ ”

By contrast, he said, when rereading texts and possibly even drawing diagrams, “you say: ‘Oh, this is easier. I read this already.’ ”

This is intriguing – I’ve always preferred writing a paper to taking a test, but never thought about how the act of taking the test itself could help improve recall.