Neat little boxes

Dec 026 c copyNot all research on how the brain functions comes to the same conclusions. In fact one of the major problems with applying brain-based theories in actual instruction is that the findings are frequently contradictory. The cellular structure of the brain is complex and changes as we learn. But the tendency of the human mind is often to simplify information into easily identified compartments. In fact pattern finding is measured as a kind of intelligence. It is one of those intellectual skills that students practice to ace their College Board exams. The brain is complex, the brain seeks patterns. Are these two ends of a spectrum or parallel characteristics?

Considered prejudice, the concept of using a few superficial things about a group of people to make a large number of preconceived conclusions. The very fact that most people are unconsciously prejudice shows how much we like to sort data into neat little boxes. This is basically an attempt to simplify the complexity of humanity into a few easy patterns. Researchers have shown that people who are not comfortable with ambiguity are more prone to clump humans into prejudicial patterns. These people are quick decision makers who have a higher need for cognitive closure. They want to find the right answer by boiling down masses of data down to their essence.

So how do you teach people to accept ambiguity? You don’t. What you do is introduce them to people in a group that they have negative preconceived concepts about. If they form friendships with a few of these people then there will be less negative prejudice, but there will still be prejudice.

The need for an authoritarian figure, or willingness to submit to authority has also been linked to greater prejudice, specifically racial prejudice. But few would promote the teaching of rebelling against authority as the antidote to this.  So we try to examine the human brain to find out about prejudice and discover it seems to fulfill a basic human need for cognitive closure. We know what causes the problem, but have no answer.

And that is the conundrum of implementing brain based learning.

Side Effects of Multiculturalism: The Interaction Effect of a Multicultural Ideology and Authoritarianism on Prejudice and Diversity Beliefs. Pers Soc Psychol Bull March 1, 2013 39305-320
Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J., & Sanford, R.N. (1950). The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper


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