University of Sussex

File(s) not publicly available

Is the world round or flat? Children's understanding of the earth

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 18:01 authored by Georgia Panagiotaki, Gavin Nobes, Robin Banerjee
Investigation of children's understanding of the earth provides important insights into the origins of children's knowledge, the structure of their concepts, and the development of scientific ideas. Vosniadou & Brewer (1992) proposed that, under the influence of intuitive constraints and observations, children form nave but coherent mental models of the earth: for example they believe it to be flat, or that we live inside a hollow sphere. To test this claim, 59 children aged 6 - 8 years and 33 adults were given multiple-choice questions and a 3D model selection task. This approach avoided the criticisms of recent studies by providing participants with a full range of possible answers. Even the youngest children preferred scientific responses and so demonstrated some knowledge of the earth. Only 10% of the children showed any evidence of nave mental models; other participants who gave non-scientific answers were inconsistent and unsystematic. It is argued that intuitive constraints have little or no influence on the development of children's ideas in this domain, and that emerging knowledge of the earth progresses from being fragmented to consistently scientific.


Publication status

  • Published


European Journal of Developmental Psychology





Page range


Department affiliated with

  • Psychology Publications


Third author; first author was my research student

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Publications)


    No categories selected