Biological Learning in Children: Explanation Evaluation, Memory, and Individual Differences



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



During childhood, children begin to formulate naïve theories about biology and animals. Past research suggests that these early theories can have a substantial impact on later academic and non-academic outcomes. This dissertation consists of three projects examining different aspects of how children learn about biology and evaluate biological information. In the first project, we examined 3- and 4-year-old children’s (N = 54) understanding of camouflage and how this was influenced by guidance strategy. Specifically, this project examined how children’s biological learning differed between guided play and direct instruction. Results from this study suggest that regardless of guidance strategy, children’s understanding of camouflage increased over the course of the study. Further, results suggest that the effectiveness of different guidance strategies depends in part on children’s individual differences. The second project consisted of two experiments both examining how children evaluate different quality explanations about biological phenomena. Experiment 1 investigated how 4- to 6-year-old children (N = 59) rated the quality of four different quality explanations and how individual differences impacted children’s ratings. Results from this study suggest that 6-year-olds understood the distinction between high and low quality explanations in biology, however, 4- and 5-year-olds had more trouble distinguishing between the different explanation types. Experiment 2 was designed as a follow-up study to investigate why 4- and 5-year-olds in Experiment 1 did not differentiate between the different quality explanations. Experiment 2 asked 4- and 5-year-old children (N = 58) to sort explanations as helpful or not helpful at answering biological questions. Individual differences were also measured. Results from this study suggest that children have a bias to sort all explanations as helpful at answering questions about biology, regardless of their quality. Finally, Project 3 consisted of two experiments examining how children evaluate different quality biological explanations and how the quality of those explanations impacts children’s recall of the biological phenomena. Experiment 1 tested 4- and 5-year-old children (N = 46) and found that children in this age range recalled very little target information from the explanations in the study. To understand more about children’s memory of biological explanations, Experiment 2 was done with 6- to 8-year-old children (N = 76), as we expected older children to remember more from the explanations they were given. Results from this study suggest that older children do not demonstrate the same bias to sort all explanations as helpful at answering biological questions. Further, results suggest that children remembered more information from mechanistic explanations than non-explanations, and children were likely to repeat their original guess from pre-test if they were offered a non-explanation at test. In combination, these projects provide insight into early conceptual development of biology during childhood.



Innocence (Psychology), Cognitive psychology, Cognitive styles in children, Cognitive learning