06 March 2009

Too Much "Seductive Details" In Lectures

Bet that title caught your attention ... sex and death are inherently interesting (Kintsch, 1980). So if you want to spice up your lectures, inject some sex and death. But make sure they are relevant. Seductive details are high interest to students but if they are irrelevant to what the students are learning, they are considered as extraneous details, and they actually have a negative effect on student learning.

Learners have only a limited amount of processing capacity available to them for learning. Like a battery, if the energy is wasted on irrelevant material, there is just not enough energy left for the relevant material. What's more, high interest details take up more energy than low interest details, so if you add more "seductive" material in your presentation, you are leaving your students with less energy for the more important material you want to present.

Mayer et al's article (2008) concluded that increasing irrelevant details even though they are of high interest does not appear to affect learners in their understanding of material (as measured by their retention of material), but they do disrupt their construction of a coherent mental model of the to-be-learned system (as measured by their transfer ability performance).


Kintsch, W. (1980). Learning from text, levels of comprehension, or: Why would anyone read a story anyways? Poetics, 9, 87-98.

Mayer, R., Griffith, E., Jurkowitz, I., Rothman, D., (2008). Increased Interestingness of Extraneous Details iin a Multimedia Science Presentation Leads to Decreased Learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. 14(4), 239-339.

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