Constructing naive theories of motion on the fly

Nancy J. Cook, Sarah D. Breedin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


People often make erroneous predictions about the trajectories of moving objects. McCloskey (1983a, 1983b) and others have suggested that many of these errors stem from well-developed, but naive, theories of motion. The studies presented here examine the role of naive impetus theory in people's judgments of motion. Subjects with and without formal physics experience were asked to draw or select from alternatives the trajectories of moving objects that were presented in various manners. Results from two experiments indicate that both trajectory judgments and explanations were affected by specific response and display features of the problem. In addition, these data provide little evidence that naive impetus theory plays a significant role in subjects' performance; instead, they suggest that motion judgments and explanations are constructed on the fly from contextual cues and knowledge that is not necessarily naive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)474-493
Number of pages20
JournalMemory & Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1994
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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