Developmental changes and effects of biology education in late adolescence

psychology article summaries

Cognitive Psychology

journal homepage: www.elsevier .com/locate /cogpsych

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Intuitive biological thought: Developmental changes and effects of biology education in late adolescence 0010-0285/� 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

⇑ Corresponding author at: Department of Psychology, 125 Nightingale Hall, Northeastern University, 360 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 0211 States.

E-mail address: [email protected] (J.D. Coley).

John D. Coley a,⇑, Melanie Arenson a,b,c, Yian Xu a, Kimberly D. Tanner d aDepartment of Psychology, Northeastern University, United States bDepartment of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, United States c San Francisco VA Medical Center, United States dDepartment of Biology, San Francisco State University, United States

a r t i c l e i n f o

Article history: Accepted 1 November 2016

Keywords: Intuitive biology Science education Conceptual change Psychological essentialism Anthropocentrism Teleology

a b s t r a c t

A large body of cognitive research has shown that people intuitively and effortlessly reason about the biological world in complex and systematic ways. We addressed two questions about the nature of intuitive biological reasoning: How does intuitive biological thinking change during adolescence and early adulthood? How does increasing biology education influence intuitive biological thinking? To do so, we developed a battery of measures to systematically test three components of intuitive biological thought: anthropocentric think- ing, teleological thinking and essentialist thinking, and tested 8th graders and university stu- dents (both biology majors, and non-biology majors). Results reveal clear evidence of persistent intuitive reasoning among all populations studied, consistent but surprisingly small differences between 8th graders and college students on measures of intuitive bio- logical thought, and consistent but again surprisingly small influence of increasing biology education on intuitive biological reasoning. Results speak to the persistence of intuitive reasoning, the importance of taking intuitive knowledge into account in science class- rooms, and the necessity of interdisciplinary research to advance biology education. Further studies are necessary to investigate how cultural context and continued acquisition of expertise impact intuitive biology thinking.

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� 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

Cognitive scientists and educators alike acknowledge that students do not arrive at the science classroom as blank slates, but rather have developed complex and adaptive intuitive conceptual systems for understanding the world around them. As such, science education results from the interplay between students’ intuitive ways of knowing and scientific concepts intro- duced by expert instructors, across a range of STEM disciplines, including physics (e.g., Chi, 1992; DiSessa, 1993; Vosniadou & Brewer, 1992), chemistry (Maeyer & Talanquer, 2010), and biology (Coley & Tanner, 2012, 2015; Kelemen, Rottman, & Seston, 2013; Shtulman, 2006). As such, it is critically important to understand the nature and content of intuitive understandings to inform science education. In this paper, we investigate the development of intuitive biological thought

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