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8 - Paradoxes of learning and memory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2011

Henry L. Roediger III
Washington University
Andrew C. Butler
Duke University
Narinder Kapur
University College London
Alvaro Pascual-Leone
Harvard Medical School
Vilayanur Ramachandran
University of California, San Diego
Jonathan Cole
University of Bournemouth
Sergio Della Sala
University of Edinburgh
Tom Manly
MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit
Andrew Mayes
University of Manchester
Oliver Sacks
Columbia University Medical Center
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We explore 12 paradoxes of learning, memory and knowing in our chapter. These are mysteries in which subjective experience – what we think we know or remember – does not correspond to objective facts. In some cases, we hold false memories: we are utterly confident in our memories that events happened one way, but they did not. Another example is hindsight bias: we may believe that we knew (after the fact) how an event would turn out, but controlled experiments show people cannot predict the event. Another category of illusion occurs with learning. Often students judge one method of learning to be superior to a second method, but their actual performance shows the reverse to be true. The paradox of interference creates other puzzles: when people try to remember similar events, they will often confuse one for another. We discuss 12 paradoxes and their implications for cognitive functioning. Some of these errors may implicate cognitive strategies that we use because they often lead to correct answers in many situations, but can produce errors in other instances.


Psychologists love mysteries and paradoxes. They always have, they always will. There is nothing surprising here; all people like paradoxes and puzzles. Look at Figure 8.1 and ask yourself which surface of the two boxes is longer, the one on the left or the one on the right? Every person naïve to the situation will answer the one on the left. However, the two surfaces are exactly congruent. They are the same.

The Paradoxical Brain , pp. 151 - 176
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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