The talk “The Effects of Seductive Details on Learning and Memory” by Dr Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel led to interesting discussions with people in the audience providing examples of seductive details that they use in their teaching and whether it is OK to continue using them.

This led to a thought-provoking question about using concrete examples in instruction: When do concrete examples that you provide to explain an abstract idea become seductive? We know that concrete examples are helpful to foster understanding of the material in students: On the Learning Scientists website you can find a poster that summarises this strategy and listen to a podcast. However, it is important to understand that catchy and fun concrete examples can potentially overshadow the essential understanding by drawing students’ attention to the fun (seductive) surface information at the expense of them grasping the underlying principle (the reason you used the example in the first place). This is what the majority of research presented in this talk seems to suggest (although there are counterexamples (1) and (2), too). In any case, after offering students with multiple concrete examples for an abstract principle make sure that you highlight to them how the examples are linked to the principle you are trying to explain.

When it comes to seductive details – the kind that is completely irrelevant to the target topic and just added to engage situational interest in the student, some practical recommendations are offered below:

Personally, I like to add take home questions at the end of my lectures that clearly (re)directs the student focus to the relevant concepts and emphasises the core points I want them to take away from the lecture. I also ask them open-ended questions during my lecture and collect their response in a form. If I see that the majority of students recall the seductive detail at the expense of the target material, I will take out the seductive detail in the future.

Taken together, the take home message from this talk is not “Get rid of all seductive details in your teaching!”, but rather “Reflect critically about your use of seductive details and make informed decisions about them!”

Hope this helps!

Abstract of the talk:

One common approach to make topics more interesting to students is to add entertaining, but irrelevant information during teaching. This could be in form of enriching explanations of the target topic with funny anecdotes or engaging pictures. The effects of adding such seductive details during instruction has been intensively researched in cognitive psychology – painting a rather negative picture of them. Many studies show a detrimental effect of seductive details on memory and transfer performance. Important learner and context variables have been revealed that moderate the effect and that should be taken into consideration before adding seductive details. This talk will present an overview of the current findings on seductive details and provide practical recommendations for teaching practice.


About the speaker:

Dr Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel is an expert in applying findings from Cognitive Science to education and an enthusiastic science communicator. She obtained her Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Mannheim and pursued postdoc positions at York University in Toronto and the Center for Integrative Research in Cognition, Learning, and Education (CIRCLE) at Washington University in St. Louis. She was a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Dundee for four years before starting as a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Glasgow in January 2020. Her expertise focuses on learning and memory phenomena that allow implementation to educational settings to offer teachers and students a wide range of strategies that promote long-term retention. Carolina is convinced that psychological research should serve the public and, to that end, engages heavily in scholarly outreach and science communication. She is a member of the Learning Scientists and founded the Teaching Innovation & Learning Enhancement (TILE) network. Carolina was awarded Senior Fellow of HEA. She is passionate about teaching and aims at providing her students with the best learning experience possible. You can follow her on Twitter: @pimpmymemory