You Get What You Need: An Examination of Purpose-Based Inheritance Reasoning in Undergraduates, Preschoolers, and Biological Experts
Article first published online: 6 NOV 2013
© 2013 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 38, Issue 2, pages 197–243, March 2014
How to Cite
Ware, E. A. and Gelman, S. A. (2014), You Get What You Need: An Examination of Purpose-Based Inheritance Reasoning in Undergraduates, Preschoolers, and Biological Experts. Cognitive Science, 38: 197–243. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12097
- Issue published online: 24 MAR 2014
- Article first published online: 6 NOV 2013
- Manuscript Accepted: 13 SEP 2013
- Manuscript Revised: 2 APR 2013
- Manuscript Received: 18 JUL 2012
- NICHD. Grant Number: R01 HD36043
- Conceptual development;
- Naïve theories;
- Science education;
This set of seven experiments examines reasoning about the inheritance and acquisition of physical properties in preschoolers, undergraduates, and biology experts. Participants (N = 390) received adoption vignettes in which a baby animal was born to one parent but raised by a biologically unrelated parent, and they judged whether the offspring would have the same property as the birth or rearing parent. For each vignette, the animal parents had contrasting values on a physical property dimension (e.g., the birth parent had a short tail; the rearing parent had a long tail). Depending on the condition, the distinct properties had distinct functions (“function-predictive”) were associated with distinct habitats (“habitat-predictive”), or had no implications (“non-predictive”). Undergraduates' bias to view properties as inherited from the birth parent was reduced in the function- and habitat-predictive conditions. This result indicates a purpose-based view of inheritance, whereby animals can acquire properties that serve a purpose in their environment. This stance was not found in experts or preschoolers. We discuss the results in terms of how undergraduates' purpose-based inheritance reasoning develops and relates to larger-scale misconceptions about Darwinian evolutionary processes, and implications for biology education.