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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