Date of Award

Spring 2005

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

John Carroll


The model of conceptual change in science describes the process of learning as a complete restructuring of knowledge, when learners discover or are shown more plausible, intelligent alternatives to existing conceptions. Emotions have been acknowledged as part of a learner's conceptual ecology, but the effects of emotions on learning have yet to be described. This research was conducted to examine the role that emotions have on learning for thirteen high school students, as they dissected cats in a Human Anatomy and Physiology class. The project also investigated whether a student's emotional reactions may be used to develop a sense of connectedness with the nonhuman world, which is defined as ecological literacy.

This study utilized a grounded theory approach, in which student responses to interviews were the primary source of data. Interviews were transcribed, and responses were coded according to a constant comparative method of analysis. Responses were compared with the four conditions necessary for conceptual change to occur, and also to five principles of ecological literacy. Students who had negative reactions to dissection participated less in the activity, and demonstrated less conceptual change. Two female students showed the strongest emotional reactions to dissection, and also the lowest amount of conceptual change. One male student also had strong negative reactions to death, and showed no conceptual change. The dissection experiences of the students in this study did not generally reflect ecological principles. The two students whose emotional reactions to dissection were the most negative demonstrated the highest degree of ecological literacy. These results provide empirical evidence of the effects that emotions have on learning, and also supports the opinions of educators who do not favor dissection, because it does not teach students to respect all forms of life.