Learning and Transfer Effects of Embodied Simulations Targeting Crosscutting Concepts in Science

Robb Lindgren, Jason W. Morphew, Jina Kang, James Planey, José P. Mestre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Science students frequently struggle to apply crosscutting concepts such as scale or rates of change, and do not always effectively differentiate between linear and nonlinear processes. We approach this challenge from an embodied cognition perspective, which suggests learning can be facilitated by engaging students in physical activities that are aligned with target concepts. This article describes two experiments where participants learned about exponential scales applied to measuring earthquakes (Richter scale) and the strength of acids/ bases (pH scale). Whether participants engaged with an embodied simulation or used traditional instructional media for none, one, or both of these topics was manipulated across the two experiments. Experiment 1 recruited high school-aged participants and Experiment 2 recruited non-STEM undergraduate majors. Results from the experiments showed that using the embodied simulation led to greater declarative knowledge gains for the earthquake topic but not for acids/bases. Learning gains for the crosscutting concept (exponential growth) were higher for the embodied simulation participants on both topics. Especially notable was the finding that learning the crosscutting concept from an embodied simulation in one domain transferred to a second domain where the same concept was relevant. We discuss implications for applications of embodied cognition to the design of learning environments and to interventions that support learning transfer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)462-481
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 25 2021


  • Crosscutting concepts
  • Embodied learning
  • Gestures
  • Learning transfer
  • Science education simulations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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