Study leader Sidney D'Mello of the University of Notre Dame and Art Graesser of the University of Memphis found strategically inducing confusion in a learning session on difficult conceptual topics resulted in people learning more effectively and being able to apply their knowledge to new problems.
In a series of experiments, study participants 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 engaged in interactive conversations where they collaboratively discussed the merits of sample research studies that were flawed in one critical aspect. 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 researchers 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.
The study, scheduled to be published in Learning and Instruction, found subjects who were confused scored higher on a difficult post-test and could more successfully identify flaws in new case studies.