Southeastern Section - 64th Annual Meeting (19–20 March 2015)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:30 AM


DOUGLAS, Morgan L. and FORCINO, Frank L., Geosciences and Natural Resources Department, Western Carolina University, 331 Stillwell Building, Cullowhee, NC 28723,

There is a plethora of research on the acceptance of the theory of evolution in the US. There has been less research on the understanding of evolution. In order to improve education of evolution in the US, educators and researchers must better constrain current gaps in and misconceptions of the public’s understanding of evolution. States in the southeastern (SE) US are of particular interest because they have higher rates of conservatism, which correlates with lower evolution acceptance. In addition, SE states historically have had more lax evolution education standards. Here, to gauge the current state of evolution understanding in the south, we compare the evolution understanding of university non-science majors in the south to the general public from the rest of the US.

Using Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a survey of six valid multiple choice evolution understanding items was administered to 305 participants, 63 from SE states and 242 from non-SE states. We used Turk because the results are fast and more diverse than a random sampling of the general public. In addition, the six questions also were asked to 157 students attending a medium-sized public liberal arts university in western North Carolina. We also asked participants to provide demographics and to complete a religiosity scale.

The MTurk population from non-SE states scored significantly higher (3.6 out of 6) than then the college students (2.7; p < 0.001). Thus, the general public from the non-SE has a better understanding of evolution than those enrolled in a university in the south. MTurk participants from SE states also had a significantly higher score (3.1) than the southern university students (p = 0.04). This finding is troubling in that a population of university students in the south, who mostly attended high school in the SE, has a poorer understanding of evolution than the southern general public. This difference was likely influenced by the higher religiosity of the university students compared to those on MTurk. Gender, ethnicity, and income had no effect on score for any population. These results suggest that students from the south attending college have not had sufficient biological education.