Memory & Cognition

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 308–312

Intuitive reasoning about abstract and familiar physics problems


  • Mary Kister Kaiser
    • NASA Ames Research Center
  • John Jonides
    • University of Michigan
  • Joanne Alexander
    • University of Michigan

DOI: 10.3758/BF03202508

Cite this article as:
Kaiser, M.K., Jonides, J. & Alexander, J. Mem Cogn (1986) 14: 308. doi:10.3758/BF03202508


Previous research has demonstrated that many people have misconceptions about basic properties of motion. In two experiments, we examined whether people are more likely to produce dynamically correct predictions about basic motion problems involving situations with which they are familiar, and whether solving such problems enhances performance on a subsequent abstract problem. In Experiment 1, college students were asked to predict the trajectories of objects exiting a curved tube. Subjects were more accurate on the familiar version of the problem, and there was no evidence of transfer to the abstract problem. In Experiment 2, two familiar problems were provided in an attempt to enhance subjects' tendency to extract the general structure of the problems. Once again, they gave more correct responses to the familiar problems but failed to generalize to the abstract problem. Formal physics training was associated with correct predictions for the abstract problem but was unrelated to performance on the familiar problems.

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© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1986