Misunderstanding Emergent Causal Mechanism in Natural Selection

Michelene Chi, Agnieszka Kosminska Kristensen, Rod Roscoe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

26 Scopus citations


Learning new concepts and ideas typically requires that the learners activate and bring to bear some prior knowledge for interpreting and assimilating the new ideas. This prior knowledge can be conceived of as some coherent body of relevant knowledge that can be referred to as a schema. Once the new ideas and concepts are assimilated within an existing schema, then the schema can be used to generate new inferences, expectations and explanations. Learning failures and misunderstanding occur, typically, either when the cues in the new materials activate no relevant prior schema, or when the cues activate incomplete and under-developed prior schema. Misconceptions, so prevalent for science concepts, are a special type of learning failures. It is a unique case in which an inappropriate schema is activated for assimilation and generation. This chapter provides a theoretical account for this particular type of learning failures, using natural selection as an example. Some preliminary findings from a pilot study are also presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEvolution Challenges
Subtitle of host publicationIntegrating Research and Practice in Teaching and Learning about Evolution
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199949557
ISBN (Print)9780199730421
StatePublished - Sep 20 2012


  • Learning failures
  • Misconceptions
  • Natural selection
  • Schema
  • Science learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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