On Familiarity and Novelty

Teachers who create classrooms in which students pay attention are skilled at finding the correct balance between familiar and novel. Human brains are adapted to figuring out “just the right amount of change.” The logic behind this adaptation is simple:

  • If a situation is familiar, then it is predictable so we have a sense of what it there. There is unlikely to be anything valuable or dangerous, so I can be less attentive to it 
  • If a situation is very novel, then I have now idea what to predict, and will be unable to know what is valuable or dangerous. The best option is to avoid it, by using my flight skills.
  • If a situation is a little unusual, then I can find the unusual aspect, and investigate and learn about the unfamiliar parts, leaving myself a predictable way to escape.