September 2, 2016
A partner helps you learn – even if you don’t know them. That is the conclusion of research being presented today by Catherine Crompton from the University of Edinburgh to the annual conference of the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive Psychology Section in Barcelona. In the research for her PhD, Catherine carried out two studies that each paired 48 people and asked them to learn an unfamiliar task. In both studies, half the pairs knew each other and half did not. Both older and younger participants were tested, each paired with a partner of similar age. In the first study, the pairs were asked to arrange abstract tangram shapes in a specific order on a grid. In the second, the pairs were asked to learn a route on a map and then recall it one hour and one week later. The first study showed that the pairs got better at the task with practice, whether or not the pairs had known each other before the study. The effects were the same, regardless of age.
The second study found that participants paired with friends and strangers took a similar amount of time to learn the route, and were equally good at recalling it one hour later. These effects were the same in younger and older adults, though after a week the older adults recalled the route less accurately than the younger adults.
Ms Crompton said:
“Previous research has shown that people often perform a task better when working collaboratively compared with working alone. It’s been shown that older adults may be able to learn more effectively when working with a collaborative partner, but previous research has tended to focus on learning with someone who you know very well.
“This research shows that it doesn’t matter who you learn with, a friend or a stranger, it’s the act of collaboration which supports learning. This finding may be particularly useful for older adults who’d like to learn a new skill or go back to studying, as they may benefit from collaborating with other people even if they don’t know each other very well. Overall, the results highlight the importance of working with others and reducing isolation – not only is it good for us emotionally, it also makes us better learners”.