Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Psychology

First Committee Member

Gale M. Sinatra

Number of Pages



In line with the "warming trend" (Sinatra, 2005), this study examined the influence of emotions during controversial conceptual change. Issues in science may trigger highly emotional responses (e.g., evolutionary theory). However, it is unclear whether these emotions facilitate or inhibit change; I investigated the nature of emotions engendered when learning about a controversial science topic, Pluto's reclassification, including the valence (positive/negative) and activation (activating/deactivating) of emotions (Pekrun et al., 2002). I also investigated whether belief, attitude, and/or conceptual change could be facilitated through rereading a refutation text and/or rereading during small group discussions. Refutation texts directly state a common misconception, refute it, and provide the scientific explanation as a plausible alternative (Hynd, 2001). Participants were randomly assigned to a group (reread text; reread text plus small group discussions). Participants in both groups read the same refutational text regarding the recent change in the definition of planet and Pluto's reclassification; The findings show that students' experienced a range of emotions towards Pluto's reclassification. Students reported experiencing more negative than positive emotions. Both positive and negative emotions were shown to be predictive of student's attitudes and attitude change. Emotions were also predictive of students' knowledge of planets and conceptual change. This suggests that emotions may have promoted deep engagement and critical thinKing Negative emotions may also be linked with resistance to attitude and conceptual change; The refutation text was effective in promoting belief change, attitude change, and conceptual change across both conditions. Students in both conditions reported more constructivist nature of science beliefs after rereading the text. Students also reported a greater level of acceptance about Pluto's reclassification. Conceptual change was promoted through the text as students' initial misconceptions about why scientists rewrote the definition of planet. Students in the reread plus discussion group showed greater conceptual change regarding the reasons for rewriting the definition of planet than those in the reread group; This study supports the "warming trend" (Sinatra, 2005) in conceptual change research because it shows the interplay between emotions and the change process. The findings also suggest that belief, attitude, and conceptual change can be fostered through small group discussions.


Attitudes; Attitude; Belief; Beliefs; Conceptual Change; Debate; Emotions; Influence; Knowledge; Nature Of Science Beliefs; Persuasion; Pluto; Persuasion; Pluto; Refutation Text; Small Group Discussions

Controlled Subject

Educational psychology; Science--Study and teaching

File Format


File Size

3256.32 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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