This article offers an interpretation of scientific concepts’ understanding in terms of mental simulation.
A series of studies are reviewed, showing that mental simulation is a fundamental form of computation in the brain, underlying many cognitive skills such as mindreading, perception, memory, and language. Current investigations in cognitive neuroscience are then considered, that relate mental simulation with brain regions involved in episodic memory, future thinking and problem solving. The role of mental simulation in scientific thinking is described and a link is made with model-based reasoning in scientists and students. The simulation and linguistic systems are shown to be integrated and mutually reinforcing. The reviewed studies provide a set of ideas that are applied to science education.
Finally, instructional design guidelines are proposed to facilitate the mental simulation-based process of concept understanding, together with a list of possible difficulties in concept comprehension and conceptual change.
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