Evolution acceptance in children linked to aptitude, not belief

Evolution acceptance in children linked to aptitude, not belief
The study found that students that did not accept evolution tended to have lower understanding of science in general. Credit: University of Bath

In contrast to adults, acceptance of evolution in schoolchildren in the UK is linked to their scientific aptitude rather than conflicts with belief systems, say scientists at our Milner Centre for Evolution.

Previous studies in the USA have shown that adults that strongly reject evolution are often highly educated but reject the owing to conflicts with their belief systems. This phenomenon is also seen for other emotive subjects such as climate change and vaccination, where some people reject the scientific consensus despite the large body of evidence supporting it.

Does the same clash of beliefs and evidence prevent effective learning in the classroom? Scientists at the Milner Centre for Evolution found that for UK schoolchildren, surprisingly this was not the case. They conducted a large controlled trial of 1,200 students aged 14-16 in 70 classes from secondary schools across the south and south west of the UK, in which students were tested for acceptance of evolution and understanding of evolution and, as a control subject, genetics.

No conflict with beliefs

They found that non-acceptors of evolution tended to be in the foundation science classes where students' understanding of science generally was weak, their understanding of evolution being just one part of that.

The study also asked whether the non-acceptors' ability to improve their understanding of evolution through teaching was any weaker than their ability to improve their understanding of the less emotive, but related topic, basic genetics.

The non-acceptor students had lower prior understanding of both evolution and genetics, and they responded poorly not only to the teaching of evolution, but, importantly, also to genetics. This indicates they were less likely to accept evolution because they struggled to understand science rather than due to psychological conflicts with their beliefs.

The researchers concluded that the current system of science teaching was not optimal for the lower aptitude students.

Professor Laurence Hurst, Director of the Milner Centre for Evolution, led the study. He said: "Previous studies in the USA found strong rejecters of evolution were often highly intelligent and understood concepts but were able to pick holes in the data to match their belief systems.

"So we were surprised to find that in UK schoolchildren there was no evidence of psychological conflict in the low acceptors – it was simply that they were unlikely to accept evolution if they were struggling to understand the concepts.

"It's unclear as to why our study on children showed contrasting results to previous studies on adults.

"It could be that there is no psychological because younger people's systems are not yet fully formed, or alternatively the students avoid the conflicts by the taking the attitude that religious and scientific acceptance are compatible. We found some evidence for the latter.

"Also there are different cultural demographics in UK compared with the USA in terms of religious beliefs and acceptance of science. People tend to adopt the same mindset of folks around them. In the UK this is mostly secular and accepting of the importance of evidence."

Teaching science differently

Dr. Rebecca Mead, a former teacher and first author of the paper, added: "Our findings tell us we need to teach science differently—The way we are currently teaching science is leaving some students behind.

"Perhaps students should instead be taught according to learning styles rather than ability, to help all students understand the basic concepts of ."

The study included schools from both the state and private systems and comprised a large breadth of social, religious and economic demographics.

The research team previously showed that genetics before evolution improves the students' understanding of concepts by an average of seven per cent.

Explore further

Improve evolution education by teaching genetics first

More information: Rebecca Mead et al. Scientific aptitude better explains poor responses to teaching of evolution than psychological conflicts, Nature Ecology & Evolution (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0442-x
Journal information: Nature Ecology & Evolution

Provided by University of Bath
Citation: Evolution acceptance in children linked to aptitude, not belief (2018, January 9) retrieved 20 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2018-01-evolution-children-linked-aptitude-belief.html
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Jan 09, 2018
Flaws throughout the presentation.
Among other things, it it "aptitude" claimed lacking in those who don't accept "evolution" or their willingness to accept the propaganda passed off as "truth" in "schools" today?
The article talks about "evidence" supporting "evolution". There was supposedly a lot of "evidence" that cholesterol was dangerous and, now, it's accepted that it does not represent hazards.
And, frankly, consider how many lies have been told, many for political gain, pretending to be "science".
And, to the extent that "truth" as defined here is what the major consensus of individuals called "scientists" say, consider the situation for such as Copernicus whose view differed from the general accepted view of natural philosophers. He certainly failed to display what would then have been called aptitude.

Jan 09, 2018
Well jp, in your comments you have presented plenty of evidence confirming the research reported in this article.

It shows you have some character, being willing to expose your limitations on a public site.

Thanks, buddy!


Their speculation on reasons is on the right track. The effect has at least to do with these two aspects:

1) Falling for the imprisonment in religious belief dogmas is a tendency that can unfortunately be inherited. So, the poor babies in the USA are mostly already born with a legacy of their ancestors who were in great numbers outsiders, fundamentalist, followers of sects with a difficult stand in European countries, making them migrate.

2) A little child is never born as a believer, it requires indoctrination, poor education to get mentally infected. Thus, testing children or youth, even if already somewhat handicapped by a prison of a religious belief, will usually demonstrate less dramatic effects, as their schemes of flawed thinking and therefore distorted seeing of reality are not yet that degenerated and crippled.

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