Curriculum/Education Article

Evolution: Education and Outreach

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 527-532

First online:

Does the Segregation of Evolution in Biology Textbooks and Introductory Courses Reinforce Students’ Faulty Mental Models of Biology and Evolution?

  • Ross H. NehmAffiliated withCollege of Education and Human Ecology, The Ohio State UniversityDepartment of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University Email author 
  • , Therese M. PooleAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Georgia State University
  • , Mark E. LyfordAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, University of Wyoming
  • , Sally G. HoskinsAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, The City College
  • , Laura CarruthAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Georgia State University
  • , Brent E. EwersAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, University of Wyoming
  • , Patricia J. S. ColbergAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming

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The well-established finding that substantial confusion and misconceptions about evolution and natural selection persist after college instruction suggests that these courses neither foster accurate mental models of evolution’s mechanisms nor instill an appreciation of evolution’s centrality to an understanding of the living world. Our essay explores the roles that introductory biology courses and textbooks may play in reinforcing undergraduates’ pre-existing, faulty mental models of the place of evolution in the biological sciences. Our content analyses of the three best-selling introductory biology textbooks for majors revealed the conceptual segregation of evolutionary information. The vast majority of the evolutionary terms and concepts in each book were isolated in sections about evolution and diversity, while remarkably few were employed in other sections of the books. Standardizing the data by number of pages per unit did not alter this pattern. Students may fail to grasp that evolution is the unifying theme of biology because introductory courses and textbooks reinforce such isolation. Two goals are central to resolving this problem: the desegregation of evolution as separate “units” or chapters and the active integration of evolutionary concepts at all levels and across all domains of introductory biology.


Evolution education Textbooks Mental models Undergraduates