Understanding and Interaction in Clinical and Educational Settings - Barry Saferstein

Understanding and Interaction in Clinical and Educational Settings - Barry Saferstein

6. Cognitive Science of Grey Boxes

Understanding and Interaction in Clinical and Educational Settings - Barry Saferstein

Barry Saferstein [+-]
California State University, San Marcos
Professor Barry Saferstein is a cognitive sociologist whose research interests include the effects of multimedia health information technology on clinical interaction; explanations and understandings of genetics and medical information in schools, science centres, and clinics; the application of digital technologies to qualitative research methods; and the construction of ideology through mediated and face-to-face interaction. His recent work examines how professional authority affects the development of understandings. He has also published studies of agenda setting activities and the interactional construction of ideology in television production settings.


Grey boxes are part of a cognitive ecology of interpretation activities that lead to understandings. They result when interpretation activities confront emergent contingencies, such as ambiguity, absence of information, and lack of coherence among pieces of information. Another case of student-teacher interaction during genetics learning activities provides an example of restrictions on information triggering the creation of a grey box. This example shows how the study of grey boxes and process narratives differs from studies emphasizing mental models by emphasizing the communicative contingencies that affect reasoning and understanding. Difficulties in reasoning do not derive directly from the arbitrariness or specificity of pieces of information, but from the interpretation activities triggered by the linguistic, graphical, or gestural representation of the information. Comparison of the Mendelian genetics learning activities with research on people attempting to solve logic problems elucidates this difference. Both the Mendelian genetics curriculum and the logic problems feature restrictions on information-seeking that lead to similar interpretive contingencies. Those contingencies contribute to an increased load on short-term memory until people grey-box the missing information.

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Saferstein, Barry . 6. Cognitive Science of Grey Boxes. Understanding and Interaction in Clinical and Educational Settings. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 135-142 Nov 2016. ISBN 9781845534363. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=27838. Date accessed: 28 Jan 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.27838. Nov 2016

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