Can Science Beat Out Intuition? Increasing the Accessibility of Counterintuitive Scientific Ideas

AbstractScientific ideas can be difficult to affirm if they contradict earlier-developed intuitive theories. Here, we investigated how instruction on counterintuitive scientific ideas affects the accessibility of those ideas under time pressure. Participants (138 college undergraduates) verified, as quickly as possible, statements about life and matter before and after a tutorial on the scientific properties of life or matter. Half the statements were consistent with intuitive theories of the domain (e.g., “zebras reproduce”) and half were inconsistent (e.g., “mushrooms reproduce”). Participants verified the latter less accurately and more slowly than the former, both before instruction and after. Instruction did, however, increase accuracy for counterintuitive statements within the domain of instruction, but changes in accuracy were not accompanied by changes in speed. These results confirm the conclusion drawn from studies with professional scientists that scientific ideas can be prioritized over intuitive ones but the conflict between science and intuition cannot be eliminated altogether.

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