A Study of Cognitive Factors Which Contribute to Competence in the Biological Sciences

MacNab, Wilhelmina (1988) A Study of Cognitive Factors Which Contribute to Competence in the Biological Sciences. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The aim of this study was to investigate factors which might contribute to competence in the biological sciences. Spatial skills are required for all biological studies which involve microscopy; form recognition, ability to recognise objects when their orientation is altered, ability to visualise from 2-D to 3-D, in a 3-D to 2-D direction. Ability to abstract information from a background which contains irrelevant material is required in microscopy, and also for morphological studies where tissues and organs are embedded in organisms. In all sciences, ability to abstract information, to reorganise it and then use it, is required, i.e. the skill of analysis. The biological sciences differ from the physical sciences in that there are a great number of anomalies at structural, functional and developmental levels. The ability to review a range of similarities and differences, in order to consider possible inter-relationships, would probably be enhanced by the ability to think divergently. The factors which were chosen were all of a cognitive nature -spatial ability, Field Independence, analytical skills and divergence. The following tests were constructed. Test A - Test of ability to visualise a 2-D section taken from a 3-D diagram. Test B - Test of ability to visualise a 3-D object when given appropriate 2-D sections. Test C - Test of ability to recognise a shape when its orientation was changed. Test D - Test of ability to find a number of solutions to a problem using the technique of grouping items into like categories (sets). This was a test for divergence; those who gave the greatest number of responses were judged to be more divergent than those who gave fewer answers. Test E - Test of ability to abstract relevant information from a distracting background. This was a dual purpose test, testing for the spatial skill of form recognition, and also for the cognitive style of Field Independence. Test F - Test of ability to abstract relevant information, to group characteristics which were similar but not identical, and to use it in a new situation. This was a test of analytical ability. After a trial run, the tests were amended and the following samples were taken. Primary 4/5 - primary school children aged 8-9 years Primary 7 - primary school children aged 10-11 years Secondary 2 - secondary school children aged 13-14 years Secondary 4 - pupils aged 15-16 studying Scottish 'O' Grade Biology Secondary 6 - pupils aged 17-18 studying Scottish 'H' Grade Biology or G.S.Y.S. in Biology. Undergraduate Biology students - in a first year University Glass of Biology I - most students were 18-19 years. Post-graduate biologists made up of teachers, lecturers and research students. Undergraduate students in the Arts and Divinity Faculties. Post-graduate non scientists made up of teachers, lecturers, social workers and others. All tests showed an age related trend, the young children having lower scores than the older pupils; the post-graduates performing better than the undergraduates. The different aspects of spatial ability did not develop at the same rate, the 3-D to 2-D skill taking the longest to develop. Analytical ability was poorly developed at the primary school level. There were more Field Independent individuals in the biology groups than in the non science groups. Post-graduate biologists showed the following characteristics -they had good spatial ability, good analytical skills, and tended to be Field Independent. The biology students, and the S. 6 (17-18 yrs) group also had these skills but to a lesser extent. The results of Test D for divergence were inconclusive so it was not possible to judge whether the biologists were more divergent than other groups. It might be argued that the study of biology improved the cognitive skills of spatial ability, Field Independence and analysis, but what was more likely was that those who did not have these potential skills were "siphoned off" during their school years. However, these skills would be used, extended and refined in biology courses. Those who did not have the above skills would be likely to select subjects more suited to a different cognitive repertoire, and would not opt for the sciences. Although the cognitive skills of spatial ability, analysis and Field Independence seemed to contribute success in the biological sciences, they probably play a similar role in the physical sciences.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Cognitive psychology
Date of Award: 1988
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1988-77673
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2020 11:53
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2020 11:53
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/77673

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