2009 Portland GSA Annual Meeting (18-21 October 2009)

Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 2:30 PM


LIBARKIN, Julie C., Department of Geological Sciences and Division of Science and Mathematics Education, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, PETCOVIC, Heather L., Department of Geosciences and The Mallinson Institute for Science Education, Western Michigan University, 1903 W Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5241 and HAMBRICK, D. Zachary, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, 320 Psychology Building, East Lansing, MI 48824, libarkin@msu.edu

Researchers generally assume that geologists are good spatial visualizers. This assumption perhaps stems from several different places, including the recognition that traditional field geology requires projection of separated rock outcrops to create a coherent picture of surficial geology; subsurface geologic maps are projections of surficial features; interpretation of geologic structures requires mental rotation of features; and students as a whole seem to improve spatial visualization scores over the course of geology instruction. In addition, some researchers have suggested that either individuals with good visualization skill self-select into the geological sciences or the practice of geology produces stronger visualization skill. In this study, nearly seventy research subjects, including non-scientists, undergraduate and graduate geology students, and professional geologists completed an array of cognitive tasks including two well-established visualization tasks. Multiple regression analysis across the variables of visualization score, two measures of geologic expertise, gender and age reveals only minor correlations between visualization and expertise. This finding challenges a long held assumption, and provides a deeper understanding of geoscientific expertise that should be utilized in studies of expertise development.