HOW WE PROCESS STORIES

As discussed throughout the book, stories, including popular culture stories, play an essential role in human learning and should also play an important role in teaching and leanring law and criminal justice. Thus, leanring about how we process stories is an essential aspect of the meta-cognitive reflection.

Cognitive psychology has long examined this process. Legal scholarship also paid attention to how human beings process stories in the context of jury deliberations and decisions. Probably, this is so because legal academics believe that judges, lawyers, and other legal and criminal justice professionals can be more objective and can interpret legal stories in a different, more professional way. Research shows that all human beings process stories in the same way, as we all have the same brain. Surely, our own worldview, including our professional education, constitutes a unique knowledge structure (which also includes our experiences and everything that we learned represented in our brains by innumerable neuronal synapses). But the neurological mechanism through which we connect that knowledge structure with a story we watch, read, or listen to is exactly the same in all individuals.

As discussed before, we process new information such as evidence in a criminal trial, what a client tells us about his marriage breakdown, or the instructions from a criminal justice superior, by placing that new information into story format (Blume et al., 2007). Then, that story activates an index of labels through which we have processed prior stories (our experiences and everything that we learned). After that, our brain selects an existing story to connect with the input story (Schank, 2000). So, for example, irrZair mid Order Criminal Intent's episode Senseless (2007 S7 E 10) Felix has a history of rejections and failures. A high school drop out, Felix has had a few minimum-wage jobs, which he cannot keep for more than a few weeks. He has formed a gang to mask his failures. He has been arrested several times for theft and other offenses, as a result of which he faces a deportation order. His single mother does not care much about him. She thinks he is a loser and has neglected him. Felix is frill of anger. He hates those who think that they are better than him. This is his existing story. This is what is in his cognitive structure. When Felix and two other members of his gang see Naomi Johnson (Monique Lea) and his brother in a park, Felix steals Naomi’s iPhone. She is angry and calls Felix a “loser.” This prompts Felix’s story about his failures and rejections. When Naomi mentions the word “loser” Felix’s brain rapidly scans his index of labels under which he has stored all his stories. There is a match between Naomi’s story and the story of his mother’s rejection and neglect. Both stories are indexed in Felix’s brain under the same label (loser). So, Felix responds to Naomi’s story by shooting her. Fortunately, not all of us react by shooting others. But we all link an input story with an existing story if there is a match between them. Thus, understanding depends on our previous stories. If someone calls me a loser, I will instantly laugh and think of the day when I missed a penalty kick in soccer finals when I was in Irigh school. This is probably the only story that I stored under the label “loser” in my brain. “Different people understand the same story differently precisely because the stories they already know are different” (Schank, 2000). In other words, our existing stories influence our connections to, and understanding of, the new story. In some extreme cases, if the new input story has no points of connection with any of our existing stories, then we cannot process that story. We will simply ignore it and dismiss it. This is what happens, for example, when someone speaks to us in a language that we do not speak. If motivated enough, we may find some connections, such as cognates, body language, and other linguistic or paralinguistic clues. But if we are not motivated, we will not be able to make any connections. In many aspects, a new academic or professional discipline such as law and criminal justice may act as a foreign language with very few points of connections for most students.

Understanding how we process and interpret stories, that is, new knowledge, helps us reflect about our own learning process and make necessary adjustments to improve our learning.

 
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