Scientific knowledge suppresses but does not supplant earlier intuitions

  • Shtulman A
  • Valcarcel J
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Abstract

When students learn scientific theories that conflict with their earlier, naïve theories, what happens to the earlier theories? Are they overwritten or merely suppressed? We investigated this question by devising and implementing a novel speeded-reasoning task. Adults with many years of science education verified two types of statements as quickly as possible: statements whose truth value was the same across both naïve and scientific theories of a particular phenomenon (e.g., "The moon revolves around the Earth") and statements involving the same conceptual relations but whose truth value differed across those theories (e.g., "The Earth revolves around the sun"). Participants verified the latter significantly more slowly and less accurately than the former across 10 domains of knowledge (astronomy, evolution, fractions, genetics, germs, matter, mechanics, physiology, thermodynamics, and waves), suggesting that naïve theories survive the acquisition of a mutually incompatible scientific theory, coexisting with that theory for many years to follow. © 2012 Elsevier B.V.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Conceptual change
  • Knowledge representation
  • Naive theories
  • Science education

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Authors

  • Andrew Shtulman

  • Joshua Valcarcel

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