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Recent research efforts have argued for the persistence of some of students’ frequent scientific misconceptions, even after correct answers are produced. Some of these studies, based on the analysis of reaction times, have recorded latencies for counter-intuitive or incongruent stimuli compared to intuitive or congruent ones. The proposed interpretations were that prior knowledge survives learning and still coexists with new closer-to-scientific knowledge, producing conflicts that delay correct answers. But these conclusions are based on the assumption that stimuli from different conditions only differ in the presence/absence of interfering misconceptions, which is sometimes, in our opinion, a rather fragile claim. Thus, we have designed a task in which it is possible to test different levels of interference and not only its effects in contrast to another condition. Then, we have used it to see if different intensities of interference produce different levels of conflict. The task tested the persistence of the misconception that “heavy objects sink more than lighter ones”. One hundred twenty-eight 14- to 15-year-olds were asked to tell which of the 2 balls presented (3 different materials and 3 different sizes) would “sink more” than the other. Analysis verified the presence of latencies and negative priming. For the most part, results show that the intensity of interference does produce corresponding latencies, which suggests greater conflict and therefore supports the hypothesis of persistence and coexistence of conceptions, even after correct answers are produced, and beyond other plausible effects due to the used stimuli. Prescriptions for theory and teaching are proposed.


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Correspondence to Patrice Potvin.

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Potvin, P., Masson, S., Lafortune, S. et al. PERSISTENCE OF THE INTUITIVE CONCEPTION THAT HEAVIER OBJECTS SINK MORE: A REACTION TIME STUDY WITH DIFFERENT LEVELS OF INTERFERENCE. Int J of Sci and Math Educ 13, 21–43 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-014-9520-6

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Key words

  • buoyancy (sink/float)
  • conceptual change
  • misconception
  • negative priming
  • persistence
  • reaction time
  • science education