Using fMRI to compare cerebral activations between novices and experts in science during a task in mechanics involving a common misconception

Brault Foisy, L.-M., Masson, S., Potvin, P., & Riopel, M. (2012, May 24-26). Using fMRI to compare cerebral activations between novices and experts in science during a task in mechanics involving a common misconception. Paper presented at the Meeting of the Special Interest Group (SIG) 22 "Neuroscience and Education" of the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI), University of London, United Kingdom. url: labneuroeducation.org/s/BraultFoisy2012.pdf

Abstract

In the process of teaching science, educational interventions are often challenged by students’ misconceptions about various natural phenomena. Those misconceptions are not only common, but they are also particularly difficult to eradicate, their persistence thus becoming a fundamental obstacle to science learning. Specifically, mechanics is an important field of physical sciences that has been shown to be one of the most difficult to learn for students. The main objective of this research was to determine whether the brain regions usually associated with inhibition (including the anterior cingulate cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) play a role in the expertise in mechanics. Two groups of participants were compared: a group of novices who have not undergone a conceptual change in learning mechanics and a group of experts who are presumed to have already achieved a conceptual change. An fMRI protocol was used to obtain functional brain images while doing a cognitive task in mechanics. Two types of movies were presented: Newtonian movies, which were consistent with Newton's laws of motion and naive movies, which were not. Participants were asked to judge whether the movies were scientifically correct or incorrect. First results will be presented at this conference. 

Does inhibition have a key role to play in overcoming intuitive interferences in science?

Lafortune, S., Masson, S., & Potvin, P. (2012, May 24-26). Does inhibition have a key role to play in overcoming intuitive interferences in science? Paper presented at the Meeting of the Special Interest Group (SIG) 22 "Neuroscience and Education" of the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI), University of London, United Kingdom. url: labneuroeducation.org/s/Lafortune2012.pdf

Abstract

Over the past few decades, a major research concern in science education has been the topic of pre-instructional misconceptions concerning various phenomena that students bring to class. Recent research suggested that some students’ firmly held misconceptions could stem from the interference of intuitive reasoning. This study takes into account the contributions of neuroscience and psychology to aim to understand mental processes associated with overcoming intuitive interference in science. To do so, a computerized task usable in brain imaging devices was developed. Methodological choices surrounding the construction of this task, which present intuitive and counter-intuitive stimuli related to the concept of density, will be described in this communication. Using this task, empirical data (reaction time, accuracy of responses) was collected from hundreds of students aged from 8 to 14, and will be analyzed. The anticipated results will potentially corroborate the hypothesis that inhibitory control mechanisms are involved in overcoming intuitive interference.

Expertise in electric circuits relies on brain areas involved in inhibition

Masson, S., Potvin, P., & Riopel, M. (2011, June 4). Expertise in electric circuits relies on brain areas involved in inhibition. Poster presented at the Third Conference of the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society (IMBES), Catamaran Resort, United States, San Diego, CA. url: labneuroeducation.org/s/Masson2011.pdf

Students often have erroneous and persistent conceptions about electric circuits that are a real challenge for science teachers. We used fMRI to identify the brain mechanisms underlying conceptual change in electricity. To do so, we asked 12 experts (physics students who achieved a conceptual change) and 11 novices (humanities’ students who did not) to evaluate the correctness of simple electric circuits in a fMRI scan. When they evaluate electric circuits related to a common misconception (a single wire is sufficient to light a bulb), experts show greater activations than novices in many regions, including the anterior cingulate cortex, the medial frontal gyrus and regions of the prefrontal cortex. Since these brain regions are usually activated in inhibition tasks such as Stroop, Go/No-Go, Hayling and Counting Stroop, experts seem to rely primarily on inhibition networks when they evaluate these "naive circuits". This could mean that experts have not changed their naive conception and have to inhibit it to answer correctly. Consequently, our data do not support conceptual change models postulating that conceptions are transformed into something else after a conceptual change. However, our data are compatible with conceptual change models that postulate that conceptions are built with cognitive resources that still exist after a conceptual change, or with models that postulate a cohabitation of conceptions. For science teaching, it could mean that teachers should try to develop students’ capacity of inhibition rather than trying to eradicate or fundamentally transform students’ misconceptions.