CAREER: Investigating the Causes and Consequences of Conceptual Change

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

Numerous instances of conceptual change have been documented in the cognitive developmental literature, and much headway has been made on characterizing the mechanisms that underlie those changes. Less is known, however, about the broader cognitive context in which conceptual change occurs. This research will extend our understanding of that context in three ways: (1) by determining how individual differences in prior knowledge and metaconceptual awareness affect the trajectory of conceptual change; (2) by determining how conceptual change alters domain-specific attitudes, intuitions, and behaviors, and (3) by determining how conceptual change shapes, and is shaped by, different forms of interpersonal communication.


Occidental College; daycares and schools in Los Angeles, CA; the Los Angeles Natural History Museum

Research Design: 

This project has a cross-sectional research design and will generate evidence that is descriptive [observational], associative/correlational [quasi-experimental], and causal [experimental]. Original data will be collected from participants ranging from preschool-aged children to college undergraduates using assessments of learning, observation [personal observation and videography], survey research [self-completion questionnaires and structured interviewer-administered questionnaires], and response latencies and response errors.

The entire project involves 12 studies, each of which has a different analysis plan. Some studies include a teacher intervention, which will be evaluated by comparing results with those who received a different (control) intervention. The study will focus on geology, genetics, mechanics, thermodynamics, and evolution. Sample outcomes from the 12 studies will uncover if children will exhibit less extensive and coherent beliefs than adults, exhibit greater pre-post gains in conceptual understanding, and a model to test where students likely made earlier and later changes in life.


Findings will be posted as they become available.

Publications & Presentations: 

All publications resulting from this grant will be posted on the Occidental College Thinking and Reasoning Lab webpage below.