Ban, Yih-Hsin A.
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Previous studies have shown that many adults, including those who have had formal instruction in biology, hold pervasive misconceptions about evolution by natural selection. While one possible source of misunderstanding is the devaluation of within-species variation (Shtulman & Schulz, 2008), another possible source is the misperception of nature. The processes supporting evolution are factors that drive interactions among animals of the same species as well as between animals of different species. Thus, misperceptions of such interactions, such as the underestimation of within- or between-species competition or the overestimation of cooperative behaviors, may impede learning. The current study investigates students' perceptions of nature and how these perceptions are related to a correct understanding of evolution. We also investigate the malleability of these perceptions through exposure to direct, visual evidence of cooperative or competitive behaviors in nature. Thirty-two college undergraduates estimated the frequency of specific cooperative and competitive behaviors after watching clips of one of these types of behaviors from nature documentaries. In addition, they completed various assessments of their evolution understanding. Preliminary findings indicate that, across conditions, participants perceived animals as exhibiting cooperative, intra-species behaviors more frequently than any other type of behavior, perhaps suggesting a bias toward a benevolent view of nature. Exposure to clips of cooperative behavior also seemed to prime participants to perceive cooperative behaviors as more frequent than otherwise, but had no effects on perceptions of competitive behavior. Such malleability of perception may be valuable to science education, as an aid to correcting commonly-held misconceptions.