Research Opportunities for Students Interested in Developmental, Educational, or Cognitive Psychology


Dr. Corinne Zimmerman’s Psy 290 Scientific Reasoning Research Lab


My research focuses on the development of scientific reasoning. Reasoning, in the context of science, incorporates knowledge and skills that are both conceptual and procedural. As such, three connotations of the term "scientific reasoning" exist, each with a distinct set of questions and methods of investigation.


First, the term scientific reasoning has been used to describe the acquisition and use of conceptual knowledge in various domains of science (e.g., physics, biology) to solve problems or make predictions (e.g., predict the trajectory of a falling object). Research focuses on documenting the content and structure of intuitive theories (including misconceptions) and conceptual change as a function of experience or instruction.


Second, scientific reasoning can refer to the more domain-general set of reasoning and problem-solving skills that transcend the particular domain to which they are being applied (e.g., experimental design, evidence evaluation, coordination of theory and evidence). Research focuses on procedural skills, but in conjunction with conceptual knowledge.


A third sense, often called scientific literacy, involves understanding and critically evaluating reports of scientific research that are pervasive in newspapers, magazines, television, and the Internet.


Description of Current Research Projects


1. Research on Students’ Understanding of Scientific Concepts


My research in this area has focused on students’ understanding of ecological concepts, in particular, as they relate to the cultural idea of the "balance of nature." This line of research includes interview studies, questionnaires, and the effects of instructional interventions.


I have also done work on the balance-scale task of naive physics, a classic Piagetian developmental task. My current studies use a computerized version of the balance-scale task.


Recent Research:


Zimmerman, C., & Cuddington, K.  (2007). Ambiguous, circular and polysemous: Students’ definitions of the “balance of nature” metaphor. Public Understanding of Science, 16, 393-406.


Zimmerman, C., Gerson, S., Monroe, A., & Kearney, A. M. (2007). Physics is harder than psychology (or is it?): Developmental differences in calibration of domain-specific texts. In D. S. McNamara & J. G. Trafton (Eds.), Proceedings of the Twenty-ninth Annual Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1683 – 1688). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.


Dawson, M. R. W., & Zimmerman, C. (2003). Interpreting the internal structure of a connectionist model of the balance scale task. Brain and Mind, 4, 129-149.


Zimmerman, C., Raghavan, K., & Sartoris, M. L. (2003). The impact of the MARS curriculum on students’ ability to coordinate theory and evidence. International Journal of Science Education, 25, 1247-1271.


Wagman, J., Zimmerman, C., & Sorric, C. (2007). Which feels heavier - a pound of lead or a pound of feathers? A potential perceptual basis of a cognitive riddle. Perception, 36, 1709-1711.


Related Research:


Kuddington, C. (2001). The "balance of nature" metaphor and equilibrium in population ecology. Biology and Philosophy, 16, 463-479.



2. Research on Domain-General Scientific Reasoning


"Domain general" scientific reasoning involves strategies, heuristics, and procedures that apply regardless of the content to which they are being applied. Examples are experimentation, the coordination of theory and evidence, and evidence evaluation.


Representative Publications:


Zimmerman, C. (2007). The development of scientific thinking skills in elementary and middle school. Developmental Review, 27, 172-223.


Zimmerman, C. (2000). The development of scientific reasoning skills. Developmental Review, 20, 99-149.


Zimmerman, C., & Croker, S. (in press). Learning science through inquiry. To appear in G. Feist and M. Gorman (Eds.) Handbook of the Psychology of Science.  Springer Publishing.


Zimmerman, C., & Glaser, R. (2001). Testing positive versus negative claims: A preliminary investigation of the role of cover story in the assessment of experimental design skills (Tech. Rep. No. 554). Los Angeles, CA: UCLA National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).


Zimmerman, C., Raghavan, K., & Sartoris, M. L. (2003). The impact of the MARS curriculum on students’ ability to coordinate theory and evidence. International Journal of Science Education, 25, 1247-1271.


Zimmerman, C., & Pretz, J. (in press).  The interaction of implicit vs. explicit processing and problem difficulty in a scientific discovery task. To appear in R. Proctor and J. Capaldi (Eds.), The Psychology of Science: Implicit and Explicit Processes. Oxford University Press.



3. Research on Scientific Literacy


The popular media constitute a major source of new information about scientific research for the public and for members of the scientific community outside their areas of expertise. My interest in scientific literacy has focused on how people evaluate news briefs about scientific research. The media report recent scientific findings that are often preliminary or tentative, and that are different from classroom science in their style, substance, and potential for informing and influencing personal and public policy decisions. My research has demonstrated that manipulating the type and quality of information in news briefs affects undergraduates' judgments of the credibility of the reported findings. News briefs with more appropriate methods of investigation were regarded as more credible, but only for reports about phenomena typically studied in the natural and physical sciences. Students were more skeptical about conclusions from social and health sciences, especially when the results were inconsistent with existing knowledge.


For this line of research I am planning on combining the work on ecological concepts with work on how people read and evaluate research articles on the topics of ecology, the "balance of nature," and related environmental issues. Other projects will include further investigations of the role of "typicality," or the type of science (i.e., social science vs. physical science) on individuals’ evaluations of scientific findings.


Representative Publications:


Masnick, A. M. & Zimmerman, C. (2009). Evaluating scientific research in the context of prior belief: Hindsight bias or confirmation bias? Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology, 2, 29-36.


Zimmerman, C., Bisanz, G. L., Bisanz, J., Klein, J. S., & Klein, P. (2001). Science at the supermarket: A comparison of what appears in the popular press, experts’ advice to readers, and what students want to know. Public Understanding of Science, 10, 37-58.


Zimmerman, C., Bisanz, G. L., & Bisanz, J. (1998). Everyday scientific literacy: Do students use information about the social context and methods of research to evaluate news briefs about science? Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 44, 188-207.


Don’t see anything you’re interested in? If you have a project in mind related to scientific, causal, or statistical reasoning, scientific literacy, the development of academic skills, cognitive development, problem solving, or argumentation, I would be interested in chatting about a collaboration.


Contact Information


If you think that you might be interested in working with me, please contact me by calling 438-5215, emailing or dropping by DeGarmo 429.