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What can Cognitive Science tell us about Chemistry?

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Ed Brambley.

Please note this talk takes place in the Lord Colyton Hall

In the everyday world, we rarely see substances reacting with each other. Most reactions occur through hidden mechanisms explainable only with specialized knowledge (e.g., processing of petrol by cars), or in protracted timelines (e.g., metal rusting, fossilization). Naive chemistry knowledge seems neither available nor necessary to function well in everyday life. People engage in activities relying on chemical knowledge – baking, cleaning, lighting fires, but explain them using non- chemical mechanisms. When children (and adults) encounter chemical phenomena, they often evoke hidden chemical mechanisms without deep understanding, using prior knowledge from mostly everyday domains. In this talk, I’ll discuss some recent experiments designed to investigate how humans reason about chemical phenomena. These experiments use a variety of cognitive psychology paradigms to better understand whether the way chemistry information is presented might influence understanding and what types of information humans use to make predictions about how different materials might interact (or event react) with each other. For example, one study looks at how using anthropomorphism (i.e., talking about atoms as having desires) constrains our chemistry reasoning abilities. Another study looks at how the various cues like physical appearance or naming used for different materials influences predictions young children and adults make about how that material might mix with other materials.

This talk is part of the Caius MCR/SCR research talks series.

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