The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Physical anthropology education and undergraduate students’ socioscientific decision-making and interest in science


School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University

March 28, 2015 , Archview Ballroom Add to calendar

In the U.S., there is a national agenda to increase numbers of qualified STEM professionals and a movement to promote science literacy among the public. This project explores the association between formal human evolutionary biology education (HEB) and high school (HS) science class enrollment, interest in a STEM degree, motivation to pursue a STEM career, and socioscientific decision-making. The Grounded Theory Method was the foundation for a mixed-methods analysis of qualitative and quantitative data from interviews, focus groups and a survey. The survey, developed to test hypotheses, was completed by 486 ASU undergraduates, age 18-22, who graduated from U.S. public HS.

Higher HEB exposure correlated with greater HS science enrollment and, for some students, HEB may have influenced enrollment because students found content interesting and relevant. Results suggested students with more HEB felt more prepared for undergraduate science coursework. There was a positive correlation between HEB and interest in a science degree and an indirect positive relationship between HEB and motivation to pursue a science career. Regarding socioscientific issues, including but not limited to climate change and stem cell research, students’ decision-making more closely reflected a scientific viewpoint—or less-closely aligned to a religion-based perspective—with greater HEB, but this was sometimes contingent on lifetime exposure to religious doctrine and acceptance of evolution.

This study has implications for K-12 and higher education and justifies a paradigm shift in evolution education research, focusing on students’ interests, academic preparation and goals, and potential societal contributions, rather than just evolution knowledge and acceptance.