Learning from Experience

April 6, 2014

My parents tell me that when I was a young child, I loved to run in front of people swinging on swing sets. Regardless of how many times my parents warned me of the dangers of getting hurt, I insisted on running in front of people, until one day I was hit on the head by one of our neighbors’ sons who was on the swings. Needless to say, I never ran in front of swing sets again. My parents love to tell this story to illustrate their view that children need to learn for themselves. Lately, I’ve been thinking of my parents' childrearing philosophy in the larger sphere of how we navigate the tension between adhering to beliefs that have served us well and incorporating new information rapidly. I am starting to think that it is not just children that hold onto established beliefs; adults seem to embody this phenomenon as well. Nobel laureate Kahneman writes about this intriguing facet of human behavior in his book Thinking Fast and Slow about how "even compelling causal statistics will not change long-held beliefs or beliefs rooted in personal experience.” This speaks directly to how NECAP seeks to cultivate increased public awareness of climate change risks in coastal cities. Current risk and science communication practices focus on enhancing the audience’s comprehension of risk statistics. However, even the most sophisticated understanding of numbers and technical details might not shift one’s preconceived notions of what is going on in the world. The NECAP role simulations, instead, provide an experience to nudge people out of their firmly erected worldviews, to consider an alternative reality that might have been previously considered ludicrous. This type of experiential learning might be precisely what we need to bolster the learning effects of more traditional, didactic learning about the risks that coastal communities in New England face.

-Ella Kim, Doctoral Student in Environmental Policy & Planning