Mind & Body

Want to Learn Something? Argue With Yourself

When it comes to academics, we know that just studying isn't enough — rather, it's how you study that makes a difference. The problem is that there are a ton of different ways you can go about it, and not all of them are backed by research. This one is, though: According to Columbia University, you'll learn best if you argue with yourself.

Your Own Devil's Advocate

Solitary discourse, also known as arguing with yourself, might seem a bit strange at first. But we're not talking about a full-on yelling match between you and, well, you. Think more along the lines of having a skeptical mini-you sitting on your shoulder. This mini-you asks questions about and raises objections to your topic, and the normal-sized you answers them with evidence and logic.

In Columbia University's March 2017 study, students were given two different activities about the same hypothetical mayoral election, where two candidates were running against each other. One group was asked to write a fictitious dialogue that an advocate for each candidate would have with one another, and another group was asked to just write an essay about the merits of each candidate. Next, both groups were tasked with writing a TV spot all about their favorite candidate.

The participants who wrote fictitious dialogue displayed a greater depth of understanding than the other students. According to the abstract, "The TV scripts of the dialogue group included more references to city problems, candidates' proposed actions, and links between them, as well as more criticisms of proposed actions and integrative judgments extending across multiple problems or proposed actions." The dialogue group also demonstrated less "absolutist" reasoning — that is, their opinions were more flexible and easily swayed by new information.

Knowledge ≠ Facts

So, why does this work? "Envisioning opposing views leads to a more comprehensive examination of the issue," Julia Zavala, first author on the study, explains to Inc. And when it comes to the part about flexible thinking, Zavala also notes that coming up with opposing views actually shapes how people perceive knowledge itself. Instead of equating knowledge with facts, it allows people to view knowledge as "information that can be scrutinized in a framework of alternatives and evidence." Let the arguments begin!

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For more on the science of studying, check out "Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning" by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Anna Todd June 26, 2017

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