Factors Influencing Learner Conceptions of Force: Exploring the Interaction among Visuospatial Ability, Motivation, and Conceptions of Newtonian Mechanics in University Undergraduates from an Evolutionary Perspective




Vallett, David Bruce

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This study examined the relationships among visuospatial ability, motivation to learn science, and learner conceptions of force across commonly measured demographics with university undergraduates with the aim of examining the support for an evolved sense of force and motion. Demographic variables of interest included age, ethnicity, and gender, which served to determine the ubiquity of the effects of the exogenous variables. Participants (n=91) self selected from introductory physics courses at a large public university in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Utilizing a single-group exploratory design, all participants completed a series of anonymous online instruments to assess the variables of interest. Analysis consisted of an ANOVA for significance testing of demographic variables and a single-level structural equation model (SEM) to ascertain the causal influence of visuospatial ability and affect in the form of motivation on learner conceptions of force. Results of the SEM indicated that while motivation had a nonsignificant (p>.05) impact with this sample, visuospatial ability had a strong (.5 unit change in physics achievement per unit of VSA, p<.05) influence on Newtonian conceptions of mechanics. The results of this study inform physics educators as to the factors underlying conceptual change in Newtonian physics and generate hypotheses regarding the cognitive processes and corresponding neural substrates associated with successful Newtonian reasoning.



Science education, Cognitive psychology, Educational Evolutionary Psychology, Learner Cognition, Motivation, Physics Education, Visuospatial Reasoning