The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013) mandates that schools provide students an understanding of the skills and knowledge that scientists use to engage in scientific practices. In this article, I argue that one of the best ways to accomplish this goal is to have students take the perspective of the scientist by reading nonfiction narratives written by scientists and science writers. I explore the anthropological and neurological evidence that suggests that perspective-taking is an essential component in the learning process. It has been shown that by around age 4, the human child begins to be able to take the perspective of others—a process that neuroscientists have shown engages episodic memory, a memory type that some neurocognitive scientists believe is central in organizing human cognition. Neuroscientists have shown that the brain regions in which episodic memory resides undergo pronounced anatomical changes during adolescence, suggesting that perspective-taking assumes an even greater role in cognition during adolescence and young adulthood. Moreover, I argue that the practice of science itself is narrative in nature. With each new observation and experiment, the scientist is acting to reveal an emerging story. It is the story-like nature of science that motivates the scientist to push onward with new experiments and new observations. It is also the story-like nature of the practice of science that can potentially engage the student. The classroom studies that I review here confirm the power of the narrative in increasing students’ understanding of science.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Adolphs, R. (2009). The social brain: neural basis of social knowledge. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 693–716.
Akkerman, S. F., & Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary crossing and boundary objects. Review of Educational Research, 2, 132–169.
Allchin, D. (2003). Scientific myth-conceptions. Science Education, 87, 329–351.
Allchin, D. (2012). The Minnesota case study collection: new historical inquiry case studies for nature of science education. Science & Education, 21, 1263–1281.
Arya, D. J., & Maul, A. (2012). The role of the scientific discovery narrative in middle school science education: an experimental study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 1–11.
Atance, C. M., & O'Neill, D. K. (2005). The emergence of episodic thinking in humans. Learning and Motivation, 36, 126–144.
Avraamidou, A., & Osborne, J. (2009). The role of narrative in communicating science. International Journal of Science Education, 31, 1683–1707.
Baram-Tsabari, A., & Yarden, A. (2005). Text genre as a factor in the formation of scientific literacy. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42, 403–428.
Blumberg, B. S. (2008). Obituary: Joshua Lederberg (1925-2008). Nature, 452, 422.
Boland Jr., R. J., & Tenkasi, R. V. (1995). Perspective making and perspective taking in communities of knowing. Organization Science, 6, 350–372.
Bosco, F. M., Gabbatore, I., & Tirassa, M. (2014). A broad assessment of theory of mind in adolescence: the complexity of mindreading. Consciousness and Cognition, 24, 84–97.
Bower, G. H., & Morrow, G. H. (1990). Mental models in narrative comprehension. Science, 247, 44–48.
Bruner, J. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Bruner, J. (1996). The culture of education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Buckner, R. L., & Carroll, D. C. (2007). Self-projection and the brain. Trends in Cognitive Science, 11, 49–57.
Bzdok, D., Langner, R., Schilbach, L., Engemann, D. A., Laird, A. R., Fox, P. T., & Eickhoff, S. B. (2013). Segregation of the human prefrontal cortex in social cognition. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 1–17.
Carroll, S. B. (2016). The Serengeti rules: the quest to discover how life works and why it matters. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Chalmers, A. F. (2013). What is this thing called science? Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.
Chinn, C. A., & Malhorta, B. A. (2002). Epistemologically authentic inquiry in schools: a theoretical framework for evaluating inquiry tasks. Science Education, 86, 175–218.
Choudhury, S., Blakemore, S.-J., & Charman, T. (2006). Social cognitive development during adolescence. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 1, 165–174.
Clough, M. P. (2006). Learners’ responses to the demands of conceptual change: considerations for effective nature of science instruction. Science & Education, 15, 463–494.
Clough, M. P. (2011). The story behind the science: bringing science and scientists to life in post secondary science education. Science & Education, 20, 701–717.
Conant, J. B. (1947). On understanding science: an historical approach. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Cunliffe, A. L., Luhman, J. T., & Boje, D. M. (2004). Narrative temporality: implications for organizational research. Organization Studies, 25, 261–286.
Curie, M. (1904). Radioactive substances. London: Chemical News Office.
Czarniawska, B. (1998). A narrative approach to organization studies. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
Czarniawska-Joerges, B. (1995). Narration or science? Collapsing the division in organizational studies. Organization, 2, 11–33.
De Kruif, P. (1926/1996). Microbe hunters. New York: Harcourt, Inc..
Dumontheil, I., Apperly, I. A., & Blakemore, S.-J. (2010). Online usage of theory of mind continues to develop in late adolescence. Developmental Science, 13, 331–338.
Egan, K. (1997). The educated mind: how cognitive tools shape our understanding. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Ellis, H. (2012). Medical biography and the surgeon. Journal of Medical Biography, 20, 154.
Fair, D. A., Cohen, A. L., Dosenbach, N. U. F., Church, J. A., Miezin, F. M., Barch, D. M., Raichle, M. E., Petersen, S. E., & Schlaggar, B. L. (2008). The maturing architecture of the brain’s default network. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105, 4028–4032.
Fivush, R., & Nelson, K. (2004). Culture and language in the emergence of autobiographical memory. Psychological Science, 15, 573–577.
Fletcher, P. C., Happé, F., Frith, U., Baker, S. C., Dolan, R. J., Frackowiak, R. S. J., & Frith, C. D. (1995). Other minds in the brain: a functional imaging study of “theory of mind” in story comprehension. Cognition, 57, 109–128.
Fludernik, M. (2007). Identity/alterity. In D. Herman (Ed.), The Cambridge companion to narrative (pp. 260–273). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ford, M. (2008a). Disciplinary authority and accountability in scientific practice and learning. Science Education, 92, 404–423.
Ford, M. (2008b). ‘Grasp of practice’ as a reasoning resource for inquiry and nature of science understanding. Science & Education, 17, 147–177.
Ford, M. J., & Forman, E. A. (2006). Redefining disciplinary learning in classroom contexts. Review of Research in Education, 30, 1–32.
Frith, U., & Frith, C. (2010). The social brain: allowing humans to boldly go where no other species has been. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 365, 165–175.
Fuchs, H. U. (2015). From stories to scientific models and back: narrative framing in modern macroscopic physics. International Journal of Science Education, 37, 934–957.
Gabriel, Y. (2004). The narrative veil: truth and untruths in storytelling. In Y. Babriel (Ed.), Myths, stories, and organizations (pp. 17–31). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Galston, A. W. (2002). An accidental plant biologist. Plant Physiology, 128, 786–787.
Gee, J. P. (2001). Reading as situated language: a sociocognitive perspective. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 44, 714–725.
Ghetti, S., & Bunge, S. A. (2012). Neural changes underlying the development of episodic memory during middle childhood. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 2, 381–395.
Greenberg, D. L., & Verfaellie, M. (2010). Interdependence of episodic and semantic memory: evidence from neuropsychology. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 16, 748–753.
Hadzigeorgiou, Y., Klassen, S., & Klassen, C. F. (2012). Encouraging a “romantic understanding” of science: the effect of the Nikola Tesla story. Science & Education, 21, 1111–1138.
Herbert, D. M. B., & Burt, J. S. (2004). What do students remember? Episodic memory and the development of schematization. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18, 77–88.
Herrmann, E., Call, J., Hernández-Lloreda, M. V., Hare, B., & Tomasello, M. (2007). Humans have evolved specialized skills of social cognition: the cultural intelligence hypothesis. Science, 317, 1360–1366.
Hodson, D. (1996). Laboratory work as scientific method: three decades of confusion and distortion. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 28, 115–135.
Hong, H.-Y., & Lin-Siegler, X. (2012). How learning about scientists’ struggles influences students’ interest and learning in physics. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 1–16.
Jordan, W. C. (1998). Books that changed the lives of black scholars. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Spring, 1998, 100–101.
Kell, D. B., & Oliver, S. G. (2004). Here is the evidence, now what is the hypothesis? The complementary roles of inductive and hypothesis-driven science in the post genomic era. BioEssays, 26, 99–105.
Kilford, E. J., Garrett, E., & Blakemore, S.-J. (2016). The development of social cognition in adolescence: an integrated perspective. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 70, 106–120.
Kimmel, C. B., Miller, C. T., Kruze, G., Ullman, B., BreMiller, R. A., Larison, K. D., & Snyder, H. C. (1998). The shaping of pharyngeal cartilages during early development in the zebrafish. Developmental Biology, 203, 245–263.
Kintsch, W. (1986). Learning from text. Cognition and Instruction, 3, 87–108.
Klassen, S. (2006). A theoretical framework for contextual science teaching. Interchange, 37, 31–62.
Klein, P. D. (2006). The challenges of scientific literacy: from the viewpoint of second-generation cognitive science. International Journal of Science Education, 28, 143–178.
Klein, S. B. (2013). The complex act of projecting oneself into the future. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 4, 63–79.
Klein, S. B. (2015). What memory is. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 6, 1–38.
Klein, S. B., Cosmoses, L., Toby, J., & Chance, S. (2002). Decisions and the evolution of memory: multiple systems, multiple functions. Psychological Review, 109, 306–329.
Klopfer, L. E. (1960). History of science cases for high schools. Middletown: Wesleyan University School Services and Publications.
Klopfer, L. E., & Cooley, W. W. (1963). The history of science cases for high schools in the development of student understanding of science and scientists. Journal of Research in Science Education, 1, 33–47.
Koshland Jr., D. E. (1996). How to get paid for having fun. Annual Review of Biochemistry, 65, 1–13.
Kubli, F. (2005). Science teaching as a dialogue—Bakhtin, Vygotsky and some applications in the classroom. Science & Education, 14, 501–534.
Kuhn, D. (2006). Do cognitive changes accompany developments in the adolescent brain? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 59–67.
Kyriakopoulou, N., & Vosniadou, S. (2014). Using theory of mind to promote conceptual change in science. Science & Education, 23, 1447–1462.
Larison, K. D., & BreMiller, R. (1990). Early onset of phenotype and cell patterning in the embryonic zebrafish retina. Development, 109, 567–576.
Larison, K. D., BreMiller, R., Wells, K. S., Clements, I., & Hoagland, R. P. (1995). Use of a new fluorogenic phosphatase substrate in immunohistochemical applications. Journal of Histochemistry and Cytochemistry, 43, 77–83.
Lederman, N. G. (1992). Students' and teachers’ conceptions of the nature of science: a review of the research. Journal of Research on Science Education, 29, 331–359.
Mano, Y., Harada, T., Sugiura, M., Saito, D. N., & Sadato, N. (2009). Perspective-taking as part of narrative comprehension: a functional MRI study. Neuropsychologia, 47, 813–824.
Mar, R. A. (2004). The neuropsychology of narrative: story comprehension, story production and their interrelation. Neuropsychologia, 42, 1414–1434.
Mar, R. A. (2011). The neural bases of social cognition and story comprehension. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 103–134.
Markowitsch, H. J., & Stanilou, A. (2011). Memory, autonoetic consciousness, and the self. Consciousness and Cognition, 20, 16–39.
Martin, B. E., & Brouwer, W. (1991). The sharing of personal science and the narrative element in science education. Science Education, 75, 707–722.
McComas, W. F. (2008). Seeking historical examples to illustrate key aspects of the nature of science. Science & Education, 17, 249–263.
McNamara, D. S., Louwerse, M. M., Cai, Z., & Graesser, A. (2005). Coh-Metrix (Version 1.4) [Computer Software].
Millar, R., & Osborne, J. (1998). Beyond 2000: science education for the future. London: King's College London, School of Education.
Milne, C. (1998). Philosophically correct science stories? Examining the implications of heroic science stories for school science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35, 175–187.
Mitchell, J. P., Banaji, M. R., & Macrae, C. N. (2005). The link between social cognition and self-referential thought in the medial prefrontal cortex. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 17, 1306–1315.
Monteagudo, J. C. (2011). Jerome Bruner and the challenges of the narrative turn. Narrative Inquiry, 21, 295–302.
Murty, V. P., Calabro, F., & Luna, B. (2016). The role of experience in adolescent cognitive development: integration of executive, memory, and mesolimbic systems. Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews, 70, 46–58.
NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next generation science standard: for states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Nielson, K. H. (2013). Scientific communication and the nature of science. Science & Education, 22, 2067–2086.
Norris, S. P., & Phillips, L. M. (2003). How literacy in its fundamental sense is central to scientific literacy. Science Education, 87, 224–240.
Norris, S. P., Guilbert, S. M., Smith, M. L., Hakimelahi, S., & Phillips, L. M. (2005). A theoretical framework for narrative explanation in science. Science Education, 89, 535–563.
Osborne, J. (2014). Teaching scientific practices: meeting the challenge of change. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 25, 177–196.
Osborne, J. F., Collins, S., Ratcliffe, M., Millar, R., & Duschl, R. A. (2003). What “ideas-about- science” should be taught in school science? A Delphi study of the expert community. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40, 692–720.
Pickering, A. (1992). From science as knowledge to science as practice. In A. Pickering (Ed.), Science as practice and culture (pp. 1–26). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Rhodes, C., & Brown, A. D. (2005). Narrative, organizations and research. International Journal of Management Reviews, 7, 167–188.
Rosenblum, Y., & Markovits, A. (1976). Scientific prose or narrative style in a science program for the culturally disadvantaged. Studies in Education Evaluation, 2, 53–56.
Ruby, P., & Decety, J. (2004). How would you feel versus how do you think she would feel? A neuroimaging study of perspective-taking with social emotions. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 16, 988–999.
Rudolf, J. L. (2005). Epistemology for the masses: the origins of “the scientific method” in American schools. History of Education Quarterly, 45, 341–376.
Ryder, J. (2002). School science education for citizenship: strategies for teaching about the epistemologies of science. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 34, 637–658.
Schacter, D. L., Addis, D. R., & Buckner, R. L. (2007). Remembering the past to imagine the future: the prospective brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 8, 657–661.
Schacter, D. L., Addis, D. R., & Buckner, R. L. (2008). Episodic simulation of future events: concepts, data, and applications. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1124, 39–60.
Schiappa, E., Gregg, P. B., & Hewes, D. E. (2005). The parasocial contact hypothesis. Communication Monographs, 72, 92–115.
Schiffer, H., & Guerra, A. (2015). Electricity and vital force: discussing the nature of science through a historical narrative. Science & Education, 24, 409–434.
Schwartz, R., & Lederman, N. (2008). What scientists say: scientists’ views of nature of science and relation to science context. International Journal of Science Education, 30, 727–771.
Sebastian, C., Burnett, S., & Blakemore, S.-J. (2008). Development of the self-concept during adolescence. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12, 441–445.
Seligman, M. E. P., Railton, P., Baumeister, R. F., & Sripada, C. (2013). Navigating into the future or driven by the past. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8, 119–141.
Sfard, A., & Prusak, A. (2005). Telling identities: in search of an analytic tool for investigating learning as a culturally shaped activity. Educational Researcher, 34, 14–22.
Shamay-Tsoory, S. G., Aharon-Peretz, J., & Perry, D. (2009). Two systems for empathy: a double dissociation between emotional and cognitive empathy in inferior frontal gyrus versus ventromedial prefrontal lesions. Brain, 132, 617–627.
Solomon, J., Duveen, J., Scot, L., & McCarthy, S. (1992). Teaching about the nature of science through history: action research in the classroom. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 29, 409–421.
Spreng, R. N., Mar, R. A., & Kim, A. S. N. (2009). The common neural basis of autobiographical memory, prospection, navigation, theory of mind, and the default mode: a quantitative meta-analysis. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21, 489–510.
Stinner, A., & Williams, H. (1993). Conceptual change, history, and science stories. Interchange, 24, 87–103.
Suddendorf, T., & Corballis, M. C. (2007). The evolution of foresight: what is mental time travel, and is it unique to humans? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 30, 299–313.
Summers, W. C. (1998). Microbe Hunters revisited. International Microbiology, 1, 65–68.
Szpunar, K. K. (2010). Episodic future thought: an emerging concept. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5, 142–162.
Tala, S., & Vesterinen, V.-M. (2015). Nature of science contextualized: studying nature of science with scientists. Science & Education, 24, 435–457.
Tomasello, M. (1999). The cultural origins of human cognition. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.
Tomasello, M., & Herrmann, E. (2010). Ape and human cognition: what’s the difference? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19, 3–8.
Tulving, E. (1972). Episodic and semantic memory. In E. Tulving & W. Donaldson (Eds.), Organization of memory (pp. 381–403). New York: Academic Press.
Tulving, E. (1982). Synergistic ecphory in recall and recognition. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 35, 130–147.
Tulving, E. (1983). Elements of episodic memory. Oxford: Claredon Press.
Tulving, E. (1985). Memory and consciousness. Canadian Psychology, 26, 1–12.
Tulving, E. (2005). Episodic memory and autonoesis: uniquely human? In H. S. Terrace & J. Metcalfe (Eds.), The missing link in cognition: origins of self-reflective consciousness (pp. 3–56). New York: Oxford University Press.
Van Dijk, E. M. (2011). Portraying real science in science communication. Science Education, 95, 1086–1100.
Von Der Heide, R. J., Skipper, L. M., Klobusicky, E., & Olson, I. R. (2013). Dissecting the uncinate fasciculus: disorders, controversies and a hypothesis. Brain, 136, 1692–1707.
Vygotsky, L. (1934/2012). Thought and language. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Wagner, D. D., Haxby, J. V., & Heatherton, T. F. (2012). The representation of self and person knowledge in the medial prefrontal cortex. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 3, 451–470.
Weick, K. E., & Browning, L. D. (1986). Argument and narration in organizational communication. Journal of Management, 12, 243–259.
Weismann, I. L. (2002). The road ended up at stem cells. Immunological Reviews, 185, 159–174.
Wong, S. L., & Hodson, D. (2009). From the horse’s mouth: what scientists say about scientific investigation and scientific knowledge. Science Education, 93, 109–130.
Zeliadt, N. (2013). Profile of Michael B. A. Oldstone. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 110, 4144–4157.
Conflict of Interest
The author reports no conflict of interest.
About this article
Cite this article
Larison, K.D. Taking the Scientist’s Perspective. Sci & Educ 27, 133–157 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-018-9957-z
- Nonfiction narrative
- Scientific practices
- Social cognition