Which Parts of Scientific Explanations are Most Important?


Given the depth and breadth of available information, determining which components of an explanation are most important is a crucial process for simplifying learning. Two experiments tested whether people believe that components of an explanation with more elaboration are more important. In Experiment 1, participants gave higher importance scores for components that they judged to be elaborated upon by many other components. In Experiment 2, the amount and type of elaboration was experimentally manipulated. Experiment 2 demonstrated that elaboration increases the importance of the elaborated information by providing insight into understanding the elaborated information; information that was too technical to provide insight into the elaborated component did not increase the importance of the elaborated component. While learning an explanation, people piece together the structure of elaboration relationships between components and use the insight provided by elaboration to identify important components.

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