Differences in Brain Activation Between Novices and Experts in Science During a Task Involving a Common Misconception in Electricity

Masson, S., Potvin, P., Riopel, M., & Brault Foisy, L.-M. (2014). Differences in brain activation between novices and experts in science during a task involving a common misconception in electricity. Mind, Brain, and Education, 8(1), 37-48. doi: 10.1111/mbe.12043

Science education studies have revealed that students often have misconceptions about how nature works, but what happens to misconceptions after a conceptual change remains poorly understood. Are misconceptions rejected and replaced by scientific conceptions, or are they still present in students’ minds, coexisting with newly acquired scientific conceptions? In this study, we use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare brain activation between novices and experts in science when they evaluate the correctness of simple electric circuits. Results show that experts, more than novices, activate brain areas involved in inhibition when they evaluate electric circuits in which a bulb lights up, even though there is only one wire connecting it to the battery. These findings suggest that experts may still have a misconception encoded in the neural networks of their brains that must be inhibited in order to answer scientifically.