Science & Education

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 27–47

Students’ intuitive explanations of the causes of homologies and adaptations

Original Paper


This paper reports data from a study aiming to explore secondary students’ preconceptions and explanations about evolutionary processes. Students may exhibit both alternative and scientifically acceptable conceptions and bring different ones into play in response to different problem contexts. Hence, the examination of their explanations before instruction within different problem contexts is expected to highlight the concepts that instruction should put more emphasis on. To achieve this, an open-ended questionnaire in conjunction with semi-structured interviews was used to allow students to express their own views on issues related to evolution. Students’ explanations highlighted their lack of knowledge of important evolutionary concepts such as common descent and natural selection. In addition, many students explained the origin of traits as the result of evolution through need via purposeful change or as carefully designed adaptations. Rather than evolutionary, final causes formed the basis for the majority of students’ explanations. In many cases students provided different explanations for the same process to tasks with different content. It seems that the structure and the content of the task may have an effect on the explanations that students provide. Implications for evolution education are discussed and a minimal explanatory framework for evolution is suggested.


Evolutionary explanations Intuitive explanations Teleological explanations Causes Homologies Adaptations 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geitonas SchoolAthensGreece
  2. 2.Department of Educational Sciences and Early Childhood EducationUniversity of PatrasPatrasGreece

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