Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Reflecting on Knowledge: Metacognition and Scientific Understanding


Samuel Boland


Andrew Shtulman, Assistant Professor, Psychology, Occidental College

Previous research in cognitive development and science education has documented profound individual differences in the understanding of complex scientific concepts, like “plate tectonics,” “natural selection,” and “inertia.” The present study sought to determine whether these domain-specific differences in scientific understanding are related to any domain-general differences in scientific reasoning or cognitive ability. Participants (N = 184) were presented with a battery of tasks measuring their understanding of six scientific domains – astronomy, evolution, geology, mechanics, perception, and thermodynamics – as well as tasks measuring three domain-general forms of reasoning: (1) the analysis of covariation data - the foundation of scientific inquiry; (2) an understanding of the nature of science - such as the nature of theories and the purpose of experimentation; and (3) the disposition to engage in cognitive reflection, as measured by an expanded version of the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) (Frederick, 2005). While all three measures of domain-general reasoning/aptitude were significant predictors of science understanding, performance on the CRT was the strongest predictor, accounting for a significant proportion of variance even after controlling for gender, level of education, and the other two predictor variables. These findings suggest that a disposition to reflect on one’s concepts may be critical to the restructuring of those concepts over the course of science education. These results provide further empirical support to previous research suggesting that science education is not primarily the process of conferring knowledge upon pupils, but rather a wholesale restructuring of pre-existing naive concepts. (Vosniadou, 1994)

Presented by:

Samuel Boland


Saturday, November 17, 2012


8:30 AM — 8:45 AM


Bell Tower 1602

Presentation Type:

Oral Presentation