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Personal Background Knowledge Influences Cross-Cultural Understanding

by Xiaodong Lin & John D. Bransford - 2010

Purpose of the Study: The purpose of the study was to investigate how two types of videos, personal background knowledge (PBK) and general background knowledge (GBK), affect people’s interpretation of a classroom problem case that involved a disconnection between a foreign college professor and her students. The PBK video described the professor’s personal experiences and upbringing within her culture that impacted her views about the importance of learning. The GBK video included only general information about important political and social events in, and the language and customs of, the professor’s culture. Both prior to and after seeing the PBK or GBK video, we measured participants’ reactions to the problem case. PBK had a much stronger impact on changes in reactions than GBK.

Background/Context: Prior research suggests that background information may unfreeze stereotypes and result in more empathy between people. It is unclear whether these effects are due to access to general kinds of knowledge about an individual (GBK) or whether they depend on specific kinds of relevant personal knowledge (PBK). We investigated the role of different kinds of knowledge in changing people’s negative views about the teacher in the case.

Participants: The participants were 43 undergraduate students (25 females and 18 males) enrolled in a general psychology course at a top-5 school of education (according to US News rankings) located near the middle of the United States. Ninety percent of the participants were Caucasian and enrolled in different majors in the school of education.

Research Design: We used a within- and between-subjects design. The participants first saw and responded to the case of the problematic professor (baseline condition). Participants were then assigned randomly to either the PBK or GBK video conditions. After watching, they answered questions about the case once again.

Results: The PBK video story had strong emotional and cognitive effects on changes in students’ understanding of Professor X’s case and in their strategies for resolving the problem. The GBK tended to make negative stereotypes and opinions worse. This latter outcome was unexpected given the frequent reliance on general cultural knowledge to make people more empathetic and understanding. We suggest that increased attention to personal background knowledge in instruction may have important implications for additional ways to help students learn.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 7, 2010, p. 1729-1757
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15572, Date Accessed: 9/24/2021 1:08:59 AM

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About the Author
  • Xiaodong Lin
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    XIAODONG LIN is an associate professor of cognition and technology at Teachers College, Columbia University. Xiaodong studies metacognition and problem solving, and ways that cultural interactions, with the help of technology, can facilitate understanding and personal reflection. She develops various kinds of technology-rich learning environments and explores how such environments influence cross-cultural collaboration and reflection. She finds that technologies make it possible for teachers and students from different cultures to collaborate in fundamentally new ways. This offers exciting opportunities for metacognitive development. Her most recent two publications are: (1) with coauthors D. Schwartz and J. D. Bransford, “Intercultural Adaptive Expertise: Explicit and Implicit Lessons From Dr. Giyoo Hatano,” Human Development (2007); and (2) with coauthors D. Schwartz and G. Hatano, “Toward Teachers’ Adaptive Metacognition,” Educational Psychologist (2005).
  • John Bransford
    University of Washington
    JOHN D. BRANSFORD is Shauna C. Larson University Professor of Education and Psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle and principal investigator and director of the LIFE Center, a National Science Foundation Sciences of Learning Center that studies learning in informal and formal environments. He studies new approaches to learning, instruction, and assessment, with a special emphasis on issues of cognitive and social processes and how they are affected by different contextual settings. His most recent two publications are: (1) with coauthor D. L. Schwartz, “It Takes Expertise to Make Expertise: Some Thoughts About Why and How,” in Ericsson (Ed.), Development of Professional Expertise: Toward Measurement of Expert Performance and Design of Optimal Learning Environments (Cambridge University Press, in press); and (2) “Preparing People for Rapidly Changing Environments,” Journal of Engineering Education (2007).
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