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Cognitive Disequilibrium

Cognitive disequilibrium stimulates inquiry, curiosity, thinking, and deep questions, which in turn lead to deeper learning. Cognitive disequilibrium occurs when there are obstacles to goals, contradictions, conflicts, anomalous events, breakdown scenarios, salient gaps in knowledge, uncertainty, equally attractive alternatives, and other types of impasses.  When these impasses occur, the learner needs to engage in reasoning, thought, problem solving, and planning in route to restoring cognitive equilibrium.  There is a higher incidence of deep questions, thought, reasoning, and study efforts when learners undergo cognitive disequilibrium.  
  • Implications
    • Learning environments and teachers should provide challenges that put the learner in cognitive disequilibrium if the learning objective is to promote deep learning of the material.  These experiences can present confusion or frustration to some students, so there needs to be forms of scaffolding that help them get through the impasse.  
  • References
    • Chinn, C., & Brewer, W. (1993) The role of anomalous data in knowledge acquisition: A theoretical framework and implications for science instruction. Review of Educational Research, 63, 1-49.
    • Graesser, A. C., & McMahen, C. L. (1993).  Anomalous information triggers questions when adults solve problems and comprehend stories.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 136-151.
    • Graesser, A.C., Lu, S., Olde, B.A., Cooper-Pye, E., & Whitten, S. (2005).  Question asking and eye tracking during cognitive disequilibrium: Comprehending illustrated texts on devices when the devices break down.  Memory and Cognition, 33, 1235-1247.  
    • Graesser, A.C., & Olde, B.A. (2003).  How does one know whether a person understands a device?  The quality of the questions the person asks when the device breaks down. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 524-536.