Does Associative Memory Play a Role in Solving Physics Problems?


Previous research has found that people frequently provide incorrect predictions about the path of moving objects when given an idealised physics problem to solve. The aim of this research was to explore whether these incorrect predictions are due to the application of an incorrect naïve physics theory, whether incorrect perceptions generated from past experiences lead to misconceptions of how moving objects behave, or whether it is a combination of both. Thirty-one participants volunteered to take part in the experiment which followed a two (experience congruent/incongruent with naïve physics theory) by two (carried versus free-moving object) within-subject design. The dependent variable was participant response (straight down or curved forwards). Results of the study revealed that participants provided answers both consistent and inconsistent with the naïve physics theory. This suggests that responses were primarily elicited through the retrieval of associatively-mediated memories of similar scenarios - some of which contain perceptual illusions.

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