Interactive Effects of Diagrammatic Format and Teleological Beliefs on Tree Thinking


Abstract A common misconception regarding evolutionary history is that the tree of life depicts the progression of species over time from least complex to most complex, ending with our own species at the pinnacle of evolution. The current study examined the diagrammatic factors that may impact the effect this misunderstanding has on students’ ability to correctly interpret evolutionary trees. Students with weaker and stronger backgrounds in biology were presented with two cladograms, each featuring a different focal taxon (human or honeybee). The evolutionary relationships among the taxa were presented in four diagrammatic formats. Students reasoned in qualitatively different ways when asked about the human species as opposed to the honeybee, with specific diagrammatic formats facilitating anthropomorphic views, particularly among weaker background students. Keywords: spatial cognition, teleological explanations, evolutionary diagrams, evolutionary misconceptions, cladograms, macroevolution

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