Evolution: Education and Outreach

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 666–679

What Do Experts and Novices “See” in Evolutionary Problems?

Original Scientific Article

DOI: 10.1007/s12052-011-0369-7

Cite this article as:
Nehm, R.H. & Ridgway, J. Evo Edu Outreach (2011) 4: 666. doi:10.1007/s12052-011-0369-7


Considerable research has focused on differences in expert and novice problem representation and performance within physics, chemistry, and genetics. Here, we examine whether models of problem solving based on this work are useful within the domain of evolutionary biology. We utilized card sort tasks, interviews, and paper-and-pencil tests to: (1) delineate problem categorization rules, (2) quantify problem solving success, and (3) measure the relationships between the composition, structure, and coherence of problem solutions. We found that experts and novices perceived different item features to be of significance in card sort tasks, and that sensitivity to item surface features was adversely associated with problem solving success. As in other science domains, evolutionary problem representation and problem solving performance were tightly coupled. Explanatory coherence and the absence of cognitive biases were distinguishing features of evolutionary expertise. We discuss the implications of these findings for biology teaching and learning.


EvolutionNatural selectionProblem solvingMisconceptionsExpertiseUndergraduates

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Teaching and Learning and Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal BiologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Center for Life Sciences EducationThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA