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What is the Significance of Information Transfer?

John Hamilton, Wind Goodfriend
  • Author
    John Hamilton

    John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

  • Instructor
    Wind Goodfriend

    Wind has her PhD in Social Psychology and Master's in Social Psychology from Purdue University.

Explore information transfer in psychology. Learn the definition of information transfer and understand its types. Uncover examples of information transfer. Updated: 03/08/2022

Table of Contents


Information Transfer Overview

The term information transfer or transfer of information is defined as the knowledge or skills that an individual learned in one subject, affecting that individual's knowledge or skills in another subject. In other words, transfer of information is taking skills from one subject and utilizing them in another subject. It can also be called transfer or learning or transfer of training. The importance of information transfer is that it allows students to learn various new skills and increase their knowledge base. If information transfer didn't exist, a student would in essence be ''starting from the very beginning'' every time they attempted a new task. When does information transfer take place? That is difficult to determine, and varies from student to student. It probably occurs sometime shortly after beginning the new task.

On one hand, it is important because it can sometimes assist the individual in learning the new subject matter. On the other hand, it can actually be a detriment or hindrance to the individual when learning new material.

Two notable psychologists who studied this concept were E.L. Thorndike and Charles Hubbard Judd. The former proposed the theory of identical elements, while the latter proposed the theory of generalization of experience.

Thorndike proposed a theory related to transfer of learning

E.L. Thorndike, a psychologist who studied information transfer

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Types of Information Transfer

Positive Transfer

What does the term positive transfer mean? A positive transfer psychology definition alludes to when the knowledge or skills an individual learned in relation to a previous subject are beneficial when the individual goes about learning a new subject. A positive transfer example would be knowing the words in one language, which can sometimes be useful in learning another language.

Julio is a talented mathematics major who also speaks fluent English and Spanish. In his senior year of college, he is smitten by a young woman named Manon who is a star on the college rowing team. However, she speaks French and only a bit of English. Julio runs to the local town to buy a portable French translation book he can hide in his front shirt pocket and is relieved to discover French and Spanish are roughly 75% lexically similar, while French and English are about 25% lexically similar. Knowing this fact, he is able to recognize many of the French words, and soon he is whispering sweet French words in Manon's ear while they share a coffee at a romantic French bistro.

Negative Transfer

Contrarily, the term negative transfer entails a situation when the knowledge or skills acquired by an individual in an old subject are obstructive toward the individual learning about a new subject. In other words, the old skill in some way interferes with or inhibits the new skill. Memorizing one set of numbers and then having them interfere with the memorizing of another set of numbers is an example of negative transfer.

Nate is a star on his university golf team and regularly shoots under par. At the driving range, his coach Natalia gives him praise whenever he keeps his chin up and allows his left shoulder to pass underneath smoothly. However, his senior year, Nate takes on a challenge from his fraternity brothers and tries out for the intramural boxing team. Nate gets in the ring with a smaller guy who he thinks he can take, but Nate keeps his chin up instead of down, as a boxer usually should, and the guy pops Nate right on the chin. Down goes Nate. In this case, Nate was a victim of negative transfer from the first skill to the second skill.

Zero Transfer

The term zero transfer or neutral transfer refers to when the learning of one particular skill neither promotes nor prevents the learning of another particular skill. In other words, acquiring one skill but then not being able to transfer any of those techniques to a different skill is an example of zero or neutral transfer. For example, learning about the plays of William Shakespeare usually has very little effect on learning to lake fish.

Willie is a member of his acclaimed College of William & Mary acting troupe and loves attending the annual Virginia Shakespeare Festival held in July in his state. After watching a particularly moving performance of Richard III on Saturday, Willie's Uncle Jessie informs Willie he is taking him out fishing on his cool new aluminum bass boat. Truth be told, Willie doesn't particularly even like to fish or touch those icky plastic worms, but he loves his Uncle Jessie and agrees to go fishing anyway. Out on ''Lake Liealotta'', Willie tries to channel his acting skills toward his fishing technique. However, Uncle Jessie stares at him in concerned dismay when Willie emotes, ''To fish or not to fish; that is the bass question.'' While this moment of levity provides some humor and even a bemused smile from Uncle Jessie, the skill of acting for the most part does not transfer to the skill of fishing, and, therefore, we can say that for Willie there existed zero transfer of skills.

Low-Road Transfer

The term low-road transfer refers to a person using knowledge or skills from a previous subject, and then applying it to a brand new subject which is similar, but not the same, as the original subject. Low-road transfer tends to be more spontaneous and automatic. For example, a child is taught to look both ways before crossing the street until it is ingrained in their mind. The child doesn't have to think about it anymore. Using flashcards successfully to learn one subject and then using them again to learn another subject is an example of low-road transfer. Similarly, learning one type of video game can lead to making it easier to learn another type of video game.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the types of information transfer?

The five types of information transfer are positive transfer, negative transfer, zero or neutral transfer, low-road transfer, and high-road transfer. Each of these types of transfers affects a student's ability to learn in different ways.

What is an example of negative transfer?

Negative transfer is when learning about a previous subject becomes detrimental to learning about a new subject. For instance, ingraining a physical move in one sport could be problematic if that physical move is not desirable in another sport.

Why does negative transfer occur?

Negative transfer can occur because the learning of the original knowledge or skill somehow inhibits or interferes with the learning of the new knowledge or skill. The individual had already formed habits that may have been good habits for the original skill, but are now considered bad habits for the new skill instead.

What's an example of positive transfer?

Positive transfer is when learning about an original subject is beneficial to an individual who is learning a new subject. For instance, learning one language can sometimes be helpful when learning a second language which has lexical similarities.

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