What Science Can Learn from Fiction: Utilizing the Power of Narrative Structures to Teach Science

Science is used to inspire the fictional media (i.e., media that depicts concepts or events that are unlike reality) (Hopkins & Weisberg, 2017) that many of us love.

Whether it is comic books about superheroes who gain powers after being hit by lightning, or children’s television shows in which house cats secretly go on adventures in the wild outdoors, science is all around us, including in the fictional media we consume.

So, why is it that fictional media, which distorts scientific information, is more engaging than media containing factually correct scientific information.

Does this have to be the case?

Science, which to many holds the promise of actualizing what is currently impossible, inspires imagination. Maybe we don’t currently have superheroes with superspeed, but what if we could use technology to gift people with such superpowers one day?

That “what if” question is what keeps people reading, watching, playing, or otherwise consuming this media. Curiously enough, more often than not, sources that teach factually correct science information fail to have that same effect.

As a scientist and a student of developmental and educational psychology, I’ve spent at least the last two years wondering why this is the case. Science is, after all, all about answering questions. Human curiosity about the impossible is what keeps viewers engaged with fictional science. Can this curiosity be used to keep people engaged in actual science?

Because I’ve spent the last two years conducting research on educational media, I believe the answer to my former question is “yes”, and I think I know one way we can go about doing so.

I think that people stay engaged in fictional stories because they use a narrative structure. Every story has a beginning, middle and an end. Because of this structure, every event that following the beginning of the story can be explained mechanistically, or through cause-and-effect: Cinderella has to leave the prince at midnight because her fairy godmother warned her that all of her things would change back into their original form.

Given that science is all about finding answers, or explanations to our questions, I began to wonder: Would people stay engaged in science if it sounded more like a story?

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Turning a new leaf: what it’s been like moving away from home for graduate school

Normally, this is the type of thing that I would post about on my personal blog (which I’ll link here for you to peruse if you want to), but I realized that this particular post, despite how personal this is to me, belongs here. I want this blog to reflect my journey, how I’ve made realizations about my research and the things I’m interested in, etc, etc, but part of this journey is also my personal choice to go down this path. Not every part of that path is going to be an easy step to take.

About six months ago, I made the decision to move from the West Coast to the East Coast for graduate school. Two months after that, I graduated from the University of Washington; 2 months after that, I moved to the Philadelphia area, and 2 months after that- here I am, typing up this post. I was really really excited for my first big move- also really nervous. When I’m around new people and unfamiliar places, I tend to close up, and in the past I’ve had a hard time making friends and really immersing my self in things because of that, and I didn’t want to repeat that mistake. But (believe it or not), the East Coast, or at least Philadelphia, not only presented a new place, but also a different culture, some parts of which were not easy to get used to.

The first month of my being here was not easy. I was homesick a lot, and it was really annoying that I didn’t know where to go to get what I needed. I felt like I was wasting lots of time just wandering around. I also ended up spending more money than I intended when I first got here (shocker), and that really made me feel powerless for a while. I kept telling myself that these little things- though they often felt big- weren’t bad things- they were lessons, and opportunities for me to be more creative. But they didn’t often feel like that. For a long time, it felt like things just sucked, and that’s not the story that I wanted to tell friends and family back home, all of whom had been so supportive of my move here, and who I didn’t want to disappoint by having a negative perspective of all of the changes that happened.

A view of Philly from the rooftop Garden, Cira Green. This park is completely FREE and it’s beautiful!

I think things finally started feeling better for me when went on my first trip to Wawa. For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, Wawa is a convenience store, but it’s not like 7-11. It’s amazing, and if you’re ever in Philly or surrounding parts, you have to go! When a good friend of mine (hi Maria!) heard that I’d never been there, she offered to take me. I was expecting a fancier 7-11, but what I found was sooo much better! In fact, me and our other friend (hi Ravneet!) who joined us on this little adventure loved it so much, we decided to make it a weekly thing. Now we go once a week after class.

Things also started to feel better after I went to the Museum for the first time with my lab. We’re running a really cool study at the Academy of Natural Sciences right now which looks at how children explore science exhibits. Watching kids realize how amazing it feels to learn science made me feel like everything that had been difficult for me during the last couple months was worth it, because I’m in the right place for me right now.

Taken at Love Park

I think the biggest realization that I had was that there are little things that can really add up and make your life hard after you move, even if you stand by your decision. These ‘things’ can be different for everyone. But, there are also lots of little things that can make the entire experience amazing, and it’s those things that you have to be on the lookout for, even when life is hard.

Taken from at the top of the Rocky steps

All about APS

On the morning of Wednesday, May 22nd, I got up at  3:30 AM to go on one of my most exciting career-related adventures yet! The Association for Psychological Science Convention. This was the first big psychology conference that I had the opportunity to participate in.

A short summary of my experience? I had a blast!

A slightly more detailed one? I learned so much, and I’m excited for what lies ahead of me as I advance in this field.

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The Grey Matters: How Adversity May Impact Children’s Creative Growth and Development

Alex, a six-year-old child, and her six other friends are trying to divide 11 cookies evenly amongst themselves.

At first, this is a difficult problem to solve: who gets one cookie and who gets two? The children discuss different strategies of dividing the cookies, including each taking one, and leaving four in the jar for their other friend who is at home sick, or cutting up the remaining four cookies in halves so they each get one and one-half of a cookie. They finally agree that 4 of them will get one cookie, 3 of them will get two, and who gets two cookies will be decided by playing rock-paper-scissors.- The extra will be left for their sick friend for when she comes back to play group. Next time, those who only got one cookie would be the ones who get two cookies. An adult might have suggested that the children each take a cookie, and leave the remaining four cookies for another day, or, that they each take one and one-half of a cookie. But what fun would this be when, through creative thinking and problem-solving, some of them could enjoy two cookies instead of just one?

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‘Scientific Collaboration Means Collective Celebration’: My First Experience Planning and Presenting at a Research Conference

The first annual Northwest Social Cognitive Development Conference (NSCDC) was my first ever research conference, and the first time I was able to assist in organizing a research conference. The purpose of this conference was to gather researchers from all across the Cascadia Corridor to discuss and present on current topics in developmental science, specifically pertaining to social and cognitive development. I did a poster presentation about my current project on infants’ prosocial expectations. Aside from being my first presentation opportunity, I also had the chance to network with many talented researchers and professionals in the field, and learn from their work and experiences in academia.

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