Difference between revisions of "Double illusion of transparency"

Definition

In educational or explanatory settings, the double illusion of transparency is a version of the illusion of transparency. It refers to a situation where the person who is doing the teaching or explaining, as well as the person who is doing the listening or understanding, both falsely believe that that explanation is being understood as originally intended. Explicitly:

• The person explaining believes that the other person is understanding it correctly.
• The person listening believes that he/she is understanding the other person correctly.
• In fact, both sides are communicating in a manner where each is affirming to the other person that the process of explaining and understanding is proceeding smoothly.
• However, the person listening is not really understanding what the other person is trying to explain.

Factors that promote the double illusion of transparency

Questions that can be answered without understanding

Often, the person explaining asks the other person questions, ostensibly to test whether the other person is following. Poorly designed questions can lead to false confidence. Some examples of poorly designed questions are:

• Questions that can easily be answered through a recall, based on short term memory, of what the other person said very recently. For instance, a sentence like "Rooks are more valuable than bishops in chess" followed by the question "who is more valuable in chess: rooks or bishops?" can be answered by invoking short term memory and elementary sentence-parsing skills, without necessarily having an understanding of what the terms rook, valuable, chess, and bishop actually mean.
• Questions that test other forms of knowledge. For instance, an instructor solving an arithmetic problem may need to compute the sum of 14 and 11 in one step, and writes "14 + 11" at the appropriate place in the step. The instructor asks a student what the next step is. The student sees the 14 + 11, and correctly replaces it by 25. The student has correctly carried out an addition, but this does not mean that the student actually understands or remembers the algorithm in use or that the student can execute it correctly.
• Questions that can be answered by random guesses or by reading contextual cues: For instance, yes/no questions can be answered with 50% likelihood by random guessing. If the person explaining reveals some cues, for instance, with the choice of wording or intonation, the other person may, consciously or subconsciously, use those cues to get the correct answer.

All of the above question types are great for maintaining engagement (in large classroom settings, they are ideal for quick cold calling). They may also serve the purpose that as the students or listeners answer the questions, their understanding improves in the process of doing so. The danger arises when correct answers to the questions are used diagnostically to reflect what is going on.

Instruction that fails to consider potential misconceptions and implicitly or explicitly rule them out

This typically happens when a given instruction is capable of being interpreted in an alternative way by somebody, either due to immediate misunderstanding, or due to misremembering later on. This typically happens more if the instructor does not promote deep learning.