And guess what? As reported in the April issue of the journal Psychological Science, the professors did better than the undergraduates but not as brilliantly as one might expect of the scientific elite. Even these experts were significantly worse at classifying plants than they were at categorizing animals. That is, even a lifetime of advanced scientific training did not trump the tendency to view plants as artifacts. What’s more, the biologists were not much better than undergrads at classifying nonliving things such as clouds and rivers. Goldberg, Thompson-Schill and their colleagues are following up with neuroimaging work to see if they can identify the roots of such naive thinking in the developing brain.
Children may be natural-born taxonomists, but they are not all that good at it. That is because they have a deep-wired urge to see the world as designed and simple—and to be at the center of it all. Apparently that impulse never entirely goes away.
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Don't Know Much Biology."
This article was originally published with the title Don't Know Much Biology.