Understanding of energy in biology and vitalistic conceptions

Judith Barak, Malka Gorodetsky, David Chipman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The concept of energy is considered difficult to teach and some of its possible misconceptions have been addressed in the literature. There are grounds for assuming that this concept is particularly problematic in the study of biology owing to the difficulty in grasping that principles which govern the non-living world are capable of explaining the mystery of life. The present study addressed the possible connection between misconceptions regarding energy in biological systems and a vitalistic notion of biology. Specifically, 76 high school seniors and 28 biology teachers were assessed with regard to: their conception of biological phenomena (scientific vs. vitalistic); their understanding of the concept of energy in a biological context; and the correlation between the two conceptions. The results point to a strong correspondence between the ability to understand energy in biological phenomena and adherence to scientifically oriented conceptions of biology. They suggest that the conception of energy influences the conception of biology, although an effect in the opposite direction cannot be ruled out. Recommendations are made to base biology curriculum on the second law of thermodynamics, so as to promote a scientific understanding of the concept of energy and hence of biology in general.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-30
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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