Adults' representations of the earth: Implications for children's acquisition of scientific concepts

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When children are asked to draw the Earth they often produce intriguing pictures in which, for example, people seem to be standing on a flat disc or inside a hollow sphere. These drawings, and children's answers to questions, have been interpreted as indicating that children construct naïve, theory-like mental models of the Earth (e.g. Vosniadou & Brewer, 1992). However, recent studies using different methods have found little or no evidence of these mental models, and report that many young children have some scientific knowledge of the Earth. To examine the reasons for these contrasting findings, adults (N = 350) were given the drawing task previously given to 5-year-old children. Fewer than half of the adults' pictures were scientific, and 15% were identical to children's ‘naïve’ drawings. Up to half of the answers to questions (e.g. ‘Where do people live?’) were non-scientific. Open-ended questions and follow-up interviews revealed that non-scientific responses were given because adults found the apparently simple task confusing and challenging. Since children very probably find it even more difficult, these findings indicate that children's non-scientific responses, like adults', often result from methodological problems with the task. These results therefore explain the discrepant findings of previous research, and support the studies which indicate that children do not have naïve mental models of the Earth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)645-665
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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