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The Role of Consistency, Order, and Structure in Evaluating and Comprehending Competing Scientific Explanations


ISAIJLS Volume 43, Number 4, ISSN 0020-4277


Research shows that when evaluating competing explanations people usually discount an explanation in favor of an alternative explanation and, at the same time, prefer the explanation that is provided before an alternative explanation. In this article, we examine how inconsistencies in one but not the other explanation influence the evaluation and comprehension of pairs of competing explanations. In an experiment with N = 46 university students, we manipulated the consistency, the order, and the structure of competing explanations. The results showed that the inclusion of inconsistencies reduced the perceived quality of an explanation. However, regardless of whether inconsistencies were included or omitted, there was a bias towards preferring the first explanation to the second explanation. Structuring the explanations by using headings helped to counteract this bias to some extent. In addition, even though participants seemed to detect the inconsistencies in the explanations, they failed to resolve the inconsistencies in order to achieve a deeper understanding. The results suggest that although readers are able to notice inconsistencies in competing explanations their evaluation is systematically biased by the order in which explanations are presented. At the same time, their evaluation processes do not completely mirror their comprehension processes.


Ihme, N. & Wittwer, J. (2015). The Role of Consistency, Order, and Structure in Evaluating and Comprehending Competing Scientific Explanations. Instructional Science: An International Journal of the Learning Sciences, 43(4), 507-526. Retrieved December 15, 2019 from .

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