, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 439-453

Impetus beliefs as default heuristics: Dissociation between explicit and implicit knowledge about motion


We examined the extent to which findings from the literature on naive physics and representational momentum studies are consistent with impetus beliefs postulating imparted internal energy as a source of motion. In a literature review, we showed that, for situations in which impetus theory and physical principles make different predictions, representational momentum effects are consistent with impetus beliefs. In three new experiments, we examined people’s implicit and explicit knowledge of the effect of mass on the rate of ascending motion. The results suggest that implicit knowledge is consistent with impetus theory and is unaffected by explicit knowledge. Expert physicists, whose explicit knowledge is in accord with Newtonian principles, exhibited the same implicit impetus beliefs as novices when asked to respond in a representational momentum paradigm. We propose that, in situations in which an immediate response is required and one does not have specific contextual knowledge about an object’s motion, both physics experts and novices apply impetus principles as a default heuristic.

This research was supported in part by the Off ice of Naval Research under Contract N00014-96-10525 to the second author.