Posted by: bluesyemre | May 11, 2017

We should be asking more stupid questions


Recently, I was teaching my students how to build a histogram, a chart that depicts the frequency distribution of some data. I was lecturing for several minutes saying things like “when the data are continuous you must first place them into bins, and then compute the frequency in each bin.” From the front row, I saw a hand tentatively poke into the air. The student was clearly embarrassed. When I called on her she conceded, “this is such a stupid question, but I am really confused. What do you mean by a ‘bin’?”

My first thought was that this is pretty basic knowledge, and surely almost everyone in the room was familiar with the term, so I asked them: “how many of you are glad she asked that question?” About half the hands went up. Now I felt stupid. Such a simple gap in knowledge, and so easily remedied, but I was completely oblivious and half the class was lost. I just assumed that the class knew what I knew, an assumption familiar to any teacher with even the smallest amount of self-awareness. It’s so common it has a name: “the curse of knowledge.”

It’s ironic that I should I fall victim to the curse of knowledge. I am a cognitive scientist who studies the psychology of understanding, and I am constantly struck by how often information is presented in a way that is at odds with the reality of how much people know.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: