Belief in evolution linked to children's aptitude in science

"Our findings tell us we need to teach science differently," said researcher Rebecca Mead.
By Brooks Hays  |  Jan. 11, 2018 at 2:17 PM
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Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Among adults, a belief in evolution is most closely correlated with a person's belief system, not education or intelligence. New research shows the opposite is true for children.

When researchers from the University of Bath surveyed and tested 1,200 students aged 14 to 16 in Britain, they found those who accepted evolution were more likely to understand related, but less emotive, scientific subjects like genetics. Non-acceptance was linked with an inability to understand the science of both evolution and genetics.

The findings -- detailed in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution -- suggest aptitude is the primary driver of acceptance or denial of evolution among children.

"Previous studies in the U.S. found strong rejecters of evolution were often highly intelligent and understood concepts but were able to pick holes in the data to match their belief systems," Laurence Hurst, director of the Milner Center for Evolution at the University of Bath, said in a news release. "So we were surprised to find that in U.K. schoolchildren there was no evidence of psychological conflict in the low acceptors -- it was simply that they were unlikely to accept evolution if they were struggling to understand the concepts."

The data collected during the study can't explain the discrepancy, but scientists hypothesize belief systems among children aren't fully formed yet, making them less likely to influence decisions about emotive subjects like evolution.

According to researchers, science education in Britain is leaving some students behind. Study authors argue education most be improved to better serve low aptitude students.

"Our findings tell us we need to teach science differently. The way we are currently teaching science is leaving some students behind," said researcher Rebecca Mead. "Perhaps students should instead be taught according to learning styles rather than ability, to help all students understand the basic concepts of science."

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