The explanatory role of spontaneously generated analogies in reasoning about physiological concepts

David R. Kaufman, Vimla L. Patel, Sheldon A. Magder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Analogical reasoning is increasingly recognized as an important instrument for promoting conceptual change in science learning. This study characterized students’ and physicians’ spontaneous use of analogies in reasoning about concepts related to the mechanical properties of cardiovascular physiology. The analogies were made in response to questions at different levels of abstraction from basic physiology to clinical problems. The results indicate that analogies generated by subjects facilitated explanations in a number of ways. These include creating coherent representations in novel situations, bridging gaps in understanding, and triggering associations which result in modified explanations. Subjects at different levels of expertise used analogies differently. The more expert subjects used analogies to facilitate articulation and communication; that is, to illustrate and expand on their explanations. Novices and advanced medical students used more between-domain analogies to explain all categories of questions. This is less evident in physicians’ responses to pathophysiological and clinical problems. The paper discusses ways in which analogies can be used productively, and identifies factors that can lead to a counter-productive use of analogies resulting in misconceptions and erroneous explanations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)369-386
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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