Students’ reasons for preferring teleological explanations

<p>The teleological bias, a major learning obstacle, involves explaining biological phenomena in terms of purposes and goals. To probe the teleological bias, researchers have used acceptance judgement tasks and preference judgement tasks. In the present study, such tasks were used with German high school students (<i>N</i> = 353) for 10 phenomena from human biology, that were explained both teleologically and causally. A sub-sample (<i>n </i>= 26) was interviewed about the reasons for their preferences. The results showed that the students favoured teleological explanations over causal explanations. Although the students explained their preference judgements etiologically (i.e. teleologically and causally), they also referred to a wide range of non-etiological criteria (i.e. familiarity, complexity, relevance and five more criteria). When elaborating on their preference for causal explanations, the students often focused not on the causality of the phenomenon, but on mechanisms whose complexity they found attractive. When explaining their preference for teleological explanations, they often focused not teleologically on purposes and goals, but rather on functions, which they found familiar and relevant. Generally, students’ preference judgements rarely allowed for making inferences about causal reasoning and teleological reasoning, an issue that is controversial in the literature. Given that students were largely unaware of causality and teleology, their attention must be directed towards distinguishing between etiological and non-etiological reasoning. Implications for educational practice as well as for future research are discussed.</p>