Despite the ubiquitous use of anthropomorphic language to describe biological change in both educational settings and popular science, little is known about how anthropomorphic language influences children’s understanding of evolutionary concepts. In an experimental study, we assessed whether the language used to convey evolutionary concepts influences children’s (5- to 12-year-olds; N = 88) understanding of evolutionary change. Language was manipulated by using three types of narrative, each describing animals’ biological change: (a) need-based narratives, which referenced animals’ basic survival needs; (b) desire-based or anthropomorphic narratives, which referenced animals’ mental states; and (c) scientifically accurate natural selection narratives. Results indicate that the language used to describe evolutionary change influenced children’s endorsement of and use of evolutionary concepts when interpreting that change. Narratives using anthropomorphic language were least likely to facilitate a scientifically accurate interpretation. In contrast, need-based and natural selection language had similar and positive effects, which suggests that need-based reasoning might provide a conceptual scaffold to an evolutionary explanation of biological origins. In sum, the language used to teach evolutionary change impacts conceptual understanding in children and has important pedagogical implications for science education.
Legare, Cristine H.; Lane, Jonathan D.; and Evans, E. Margaret
"Anthropomorphizing Science: How Does It Affect the Development of Evolutionary Concepts?,"
Merrill-Palmer Quarterly: Vol. 59:
2, Article 4.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/mpq/vol59/iss2/4