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1 August 2012 Reading Phylogenetic Trees: The Effects of Tree Orientation and Text Processing on Comprehension
Laura R. Novick, Andrew T. Stull, Kefyn M. Catley
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Although differently formatted cladograms (hierarchical diagrams depicting evolutionary relationships among taxa) depict the same information, they may not be equally easy to comprehend. Undergraduate biology students attempted to translate cladograms from the diagonal to the rectangular format. The “backbone” line of each diagonal cladogram was slanted either up or down to the right. Eye movement analyses indicated that the students had a general bias to scan from left to right. Their scanning direction also depended on the orientation of the “backbone” line, resulting in upward or downward scanning, following the directional slant of the line. Because scanning down facilitates correct interpretation of the nested relationships, translation accuracy was higher for the down than for the up cladograms. Unfortunately, most diagonal cladograms in textbooks are in the upward orientation. This probably impairs students' success at tree thinking (i.e., interpreting and reasoning about evolutionary relationships depicted in cladograms), an important twenty-first century skill.

© 2012 by American Institute of Biological Sciences. All rights reserved.
Laura R. Novick, Andrew T. Stull, and Kefyn M. Catley "Reading Phylogenetic Trees: The Effects of Tree Orientation and Text Processing on Comprehension," BioScience 62(8), 757-764, (1 August 2012).
Published: 1 August 2012

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diagrammatic reasoning
evolution education
tree thinking
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