Distortion via Assimilation

As was mentioned earlier, in learning, new information is typically assimilated to existing schemas. Thus, one reason that misconceptions persist is that, when an instructor states the more veridical theory so it contradicts the learner's prior misconceived knowledge, the new information is typically distorted in the process of being assimilated to the prior misconceived knowledge. To illustrate, consider a young child who believes that the Earth is as flat as it looks to the unaided eye. What happens if he or she is told that the Earth is round? Nussbaum (1979; 1985), Nussbaum and Novak (1976), Vosniadou (1994a, 1994b), and Vos-niadou and Brewer (1992) observed two intuitive schemas that we are tempted to interpret as consequences of distortion by assimilation. Some children draw the Earth as a flat entity with a circular periphery (like a pancake); others claim that the Earth is spherical but hollow and half-filled with dirt (thus providing a flat surface for people to walk on). In both cases, the Earth is both flat and round. Instruction to the effect that the Earth is round was thus assimilated to a prior flat-Earth conception without any significant changes in the latter.

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