Linear Versus Branching Depictions of Evolutionary History: Implications for Diagram Design
Article first published online: 19 JAN 2010
Copyright © 2010 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Topics in Cognitive Science
Volume 3, Issue 3, pages 536–559, July 2011
How to Cite
Novick, L. R., Shade, C. K. and Catley, K. M. (2011), Linear Versus Branching Depictions of Evolutionary History: Implications for Diagram Design. Topics in Cognitive Science, 3: 536–559. doi: 10.1111/j.1756-8765.2009.01077.x
- Issue published online: 19 JAN 2010
- Article first published online: 19 JAN 2010
- Received 30 March 2009; received in revised form 11 August 2009; accepted 22 September 2009
- Diagrammatic format;
- Tree thinking;
- Biology education;
- Historical representations;
This article reports the results of an experiment involving 108 college students with varying backgrounds in biology. Subjects answered questions about the evolutionary history of sets of hominid and equine taxa. Each set of taxa was presented in one of three diagrammatic formats: a noncladogenic diagram found in a contemporary biology textbook or a cladogram in either the ladder or tree format. As predicted, the textbook diagrams, which contained linear components, were more likely than the cladogram formats to yield explanations of speciation as an anagenic process, a common misconception among students. In contrast, the branching cladogram formats yielded more appropriate explanations concerning levels of ancestry than did the textbook diagrams. Although students with stronger backgrounds in biology did better than those with weaker biology backgrounds, they generally showed the same effects of diagrammatic format. Implications of these results for evolution education and for diagram design more generally are discussed.