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Scientific Basis of Textbook Design: The Latest Experimental Research Results of Dr. Wang Zhe Revealed the Influence of Perceptual Load on Picture and Text Learning


Recently, a research group led by Dr. Wang Zhe published their research result “Does high perceptual load assist in reducing the seductive details effect” in Educational Psychology. The study focused on whether the perceptual impact of the key words in the learning material will reduce the processing of irrelevant picture stimuli.

Different from the general textbook design and optimization research, which takes cognitive load theory as the theoretical basis and authoritative guidance, the stage and complexity of human cognitive system enable this research to pay more attention to the early stage of attention selection (that is, perceptual). On the basis of a series of previous studies, this paper introduced the perceptual load theory and used scientific experimental methods to compare the psychological state and subsequent learning performance of different experimental groups one by one, and to explore the means and strategies to reduce the seductive detail effect, so as to provide suggestions for learners to improve their anti-interference ability in the rich and complicated learning environment and resources in the future.

When you compare books,

Do you like the one full of pictures and texts?

Or the one that is simple and clear at a glance?

Obviously, the latter is more preferable, and most of the books on the market, including textbooks, follow this rule. This is all based on the research results of cognitive science:

According to our intuitive feeling, pictures and texts of great density will put pressure on readers. While paying attention to the key words, we unconsciously ignore some irrelevant pictures and texts (that is, seductive details). The corner out of our eyes will indeed scan the content, but it will not carry out further discrimination and understanding (that is, cognitive processing). This is because human perception is limited, and attention is always carried out automatically until the limited perception is exhausted. This phenomenon is called “Perceptual load”.

The phenomenon of perceptual load often occurs in the early stage of human cognitive processing, that is, the stage of attention selection, which affects the information processing activities in the subsequent working memory stage. There is no doubt about its importance, but little attention has been paid to it by researchers.

An important concept in cognitive science——inattentional blindness, can help us to better understand this phenomenon.

When you drive on a busy road in a city, there are many people, cars, colorful billboards (that is, more stimulation), and your attention is actually in a state of overdraft (that is, a state of high perceptual load). Therefore, it is difficult to take into account the various situations that take place around you. For example, you can get a more accurate picture of the driving condition of the car in front of you, but you can hardly notice the pedestrians crossing the road in the corner. At this time, you are in a state of “inattentional blindness”.

On the contrary, when you drive on a country road with fewer people and fewer cars, the roadside is less exciting and you need to pay less attention (that is, the perceptual load is lower), so you can find pedestrians passing by more accurately, but your attention is more distracted. It’s easy to be absent-minded during driving. (Figure A: high perceptual load; Figure B: low perceptual load)



In short, people's attention is limited, and if you are in a relatively simple environment, you are more likely to pay attention to the primary and secondary information that is happening. This is why most of our textbooks are “refreshing”.

Is it the same with our perception of learning materials in a computer-based learning environment?

Now, let us officially move on to the real scientific explanation!

In order to answer the above questions, Dr. Wang Zhe’s team designed a corresponding experiment, which compared the seductive details (interesting pictures) in the learning materials to peripheral stimuli, the main learning contents as central stimuli. And the seductive details are scattered around the main content.

123 college students were randomly assigned to one of the 2 (seductive details) × 2 (perceptual load) groups, thus forming four experimental groups: seductive detail + high perceptual load, non-seductive detail + high perceptual load, seductive detail + low perceptual load, non-seductive detail + low perceptual load. Each group learns the same material (about atomic structure) in a computer environment. After learning, fill in the situational interest and cognitive load scale and complete the post-test (memory and understanding).

The main results show that the negative effects of seductive details only occur in the case of low perceptual load, which is reflected in the surface memory and deep understanding of learning. At the same time, there was no significant difference in the recognition of seductive details between the high perceptual load group and the low perceptual load group, which explained that both groups had a certain degree of shallow processing of peripheral stimuli.

The study also found that:

1. Interesting pictures can improve learners’ learning interests.

2. Contrary to traditional research, seductive pictures do not necessarily lead to an increase in external cognitive load.

3. The learning effect of the pure text group was significantly better than that of the seductive picture group.

4. Perceptual load (the amount of text on a single screen) itself does not have a significant impact on learning.

5. Learning under high perceptual load can significantly reduce the negative effects of seductive pictures, but at the same time retain the situational interest stimulated by pictures.

Associate Professor Wang Zhe

Institute of Curriculum and Instruction, East China Normal University

So far, Dr. Wang Zhe and his research team have published a series of articles in this field:

· Wang, Z., Ardasheva, Y., & Lin, L. (Published Online). Does high perceptual load assist in reducing the seductive details effect? Educational Psychology.

· Ardasheva, Y., Wang, Z., Roo, A., Adesope, O. O., & Morrison, J. A. (2018). Representation visuals' impacts on science interest and reading comprehension of adolescent English learners. Journal of Educational Research, 5, 631-643.

· Wang, Z., Sundararajan, N., Adesope, O. O., & Ardasheva, Y. (2017). Moderating the seductive details effect in multimedia learning with note-taking. British Journal of Educational Technology, 48, 1380–1389.

· Wang, Z., & Adesope, O. O. (2017). Do focused self-explanation prompts overcome seductive details? A multimedia study. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 20, 47-57.

· Wang, Z., & Adesope, O. O. (2016). Exploring the effects of seductive details with the four-phase model of interest.Learning and Motivation, 55, 65-77.

· Wang, Z., & Adesope, O. O. (2016). Does prior knowledge moderate the seductive details effect? International Journal of Instruction, 9, 35-50.

· Wang, Z., & Adesope, O.O. (2014). Effects of seductive details on multimedia learning. Journal of Studies in Education, 4, 32-44.

The scientific knowledge of textbook design and optimization depends not only on theoretical deduction, but also on researchers’ prudent experimental design to get peer-reviewed results, so as to promote the progressive basic knowledge of textbook design. Rome was not built in a day, and the optimization of teaching materials is promoted by one rigorous study after another. Colleagues in ICI are willing to work with fellow scholars and experts to realize the great mission “For students, For curriculum, For the future” on the basis of scientific rigor.