Cognitive Constraints on the Understanding and Acceptance of Evolution

Andrew Shtulman and Prassede Calabi

in Evolution Challenges

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199730421
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199949557 | DOI:
Cognitive Constraints on the Understanding and Acceptance of Evolution

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Evolution by natural selection is a theory that has revolutionized the biological sciences yet has remained largely misunderstood by the public. We present an analysis of how evolution understanding is constrained by early developing essentialist biases and test that analysis with a teaching intervention targeted specifically at those biases and the various “pre-Darwinian” misconceptions they license. The intervention was successful not only at increasing students’ understanding of evolution, at both the micro level and the macro level, but also at increasing their acceptance of evolution as a whole. These results suggest that attending to the essentialist nature of students’ preinstructional misconceptions may help improve evolution education and that improving evolution education may, in turn, help improve public attitudes toward evolution.

Keywords: evolution acceptance; evolution education; essentialism; folk biology; naïve theories; misconceptions

Chapter.  8691 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Developmental Psychology

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