Knowledge in transition: Adults' developing understanding of a principle of physical causality

Michelle Perry, Anastasia Danos Elder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What are the conditions that make it likely that cognitive change will occur? We investigate this issue with respect to 25 college students' developing understanding of gear movement (a particular problem in the domain of physical causation). The participants solved problems, then received minimal instruction, and solved additional problems. Significantly, only some of the participants changed their approach to solving the problems after receiving instruction; the remainder of the participants were stable in their understanding and either continued to solve all problems correctly or continued to solve key problems incorrectly. Most analyses focused on the participants who began by solving problems incorrectly. In particular, we attempted to differentiate those participants who exhibited cognitive change from those who did not. To do this, we examined precursors of knowledge change that were motivated by different theoretical positions on mechanisms of cognitive change and development (i.e., consideration of multiple approaches, cognitive conflict, and instruction as an example of a sociocultural process). Results suggest that having multiple approaches available and using instructional information to build on not-well-developed conceptions are likely candidates for understanding knowledge change for adult participants with respect to their developing understanding of physical causality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-157
Number of pages27
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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