Surprise as reinforcing element in retention Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/m326m5353

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  • The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that four-year old children would better remember what happened in science experiments, and the basic concepts involved in them, when presentation of the experiments involved an element of surprise. Surprise for this study was considered as a situation in which there was a built in expectation that was dramatically and without warning contradicted. To test this hypothesis, 37 four-year-olds observed four different science experiments that had a "high surprise" value. Half of the group received the experiments on a surprise basis and half on a non-surprise basis. The surprise or experimental group was given a preparatory statement to set the stage for the surprising reaction of the experiment. This was followed by a short statement of the rationale or basic concept involved. In the non-surprise or control group the children were told first what to expect and the basic concept involved, and then were given the experiment. After a period of 25 to 53 days, the children were tested individually to determine their recall of the experiments and accompanying basic concept. Thirty-four children provided recall data; of these, 16 were in the experimental group and 18 in the control group. The recall data were analyzed statistically to determine between and within group differences. Two other kinds of information were obtained as part of the data for the study: (1) the child's report of whether he had seen the experiments before and (2) a record of the child's discussion about the experiments at home. To determine the difference in recall between the surprise and non-surprise groups, a chi square analysis was computed. The analysis indicated there was no significant difference between the groups. Since these results run counter to those expected on the basis of the literature, care was taken to analyze for possible sources of error in the data. Two such analyses were undertaken: the data were tested by regression analysis to determine whether time influenced the scores, and an analysis of variance was used to determine if there were any significant differences in recall amongst the four experiments. Neither analysis identified significant effects. Three factors were reviewed which could have accounted for the Iack of difference between groups in the present study: lack of background in experience and/or knowledge which would permit the children in the experimental group to be surprised; the failure of the explanation before presentation of the experiments to reduce the surprise element of the experiments for the control group; and the suprising impact of the nursery school setting upon all of the children. The possibility that the initial hypothesis was incorrectly drawn was also discussed. Several research directions seem justified on the basis of this study: (I) repetition of the study, but presentation of the experiments on an individual basis to eliminate peripheral events and allow the child to focus attention on the experiment; (2) the need for a study to determine if children who are sufficiently involved in an experiment to have established "expectations" as to appropriate stimuli are more surprised by the presentation of the unexpected stimuli than are children who are not so involved in the experiment; (3) the need for a study which determines the effect of introducing surprise stimuli in the daily nursery school setting where presentation of stimuli is based upon the child's interests and cues of readiness for learning.
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