Two experiments assessed effects of activation of prior knowledge through small-group discussion. Subjects were given a description of natural phenomena and were asked to elaborate on possible explanations for them. In Experiment 1, small groups of subjects were presented with a problem describing the behavior of a blood cell in pure water and in a salt solution. No additional text was studied. The experimental subjects produced more than twice as many propositions about osmosis (i.e. the biological process explaining the blood cell's behavior) as a control group produced. Experiment 2 investigated effects of problem analysis on subsequent text processing for subjects with imprecise prior knowledge (novices) and subjects with precise knowledge (experts). Recall of the text showed considerable facilitative effects of problem analysis. Results are explained in terms of faster accessibility of prior knowledge and better integration of new information into explanatory models that may exist before, or are actively constructed during, problem analysis.
Journal of Educational Psychology
Department of Psychology