Confusion when learning can be beneficial if it is properly induced, reveals study.
This finding is contrary to common presumption that confidence and certainty are preferred over uncertainty and bewilderment when it comes to learning complex information.
D'Mello, whose research areas include artificial intelligence, human-computer interface and the learning sciences, collaborated with Art Graesser of the University of Memphis, the journal Learning and Instruction reports.
They found that by strategically inducing confusion on difficult conceptual topics, people actually learned more effectively and were able to apply their knowledge to new problems, according to a Notre Dame statement.
Subjects learned scientific reasoning concepts through interactions with computer animated agents playing the roles of a tutor and a peer learner.
The animated agents and the subject held interactive conversations where they discussed the merits of sample research studies that were flawed in one critical aspect.
For example, one hypothetical case study touted the merits of a diet pill, but was flawed. Confusion was induced by manipulating the information the subjects received so that the animated agents' sometimes disagreed with each other and expressed contradictory or incorrect information.
The agents then asked subjects to decide which opinion had more scientific merit, thereby putting the subject in the hot-spot of having to make a decision with incomplete and sometimes contradictory information.
In addition to the confusion and uncertainty triggered by the contradictions, subjects who were confused scored higher on a difficult post-test and could more successfully identify flaws in new case studies.
"We have been investigating links between emotions and learning for almost a decade, and find that confusion can be beneficial to learning if appropriately regulated because it can cause learners to process the material more deeply in order to resolve their confusion," D'Mello says.