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Laura R. Novick

Associate Professor of Psychology and Human Development
Associate Professor of Psychology, College of Arts and Science

Abstract diagrams are critical for both doing and communicating science and thus are a key component of science literacy. Professor Novick’s research program is investigating students’ understanding of and ability to reason with hierarchical diagrams (specifically, cladograms) that are used to represent evolutionary relationships among taxa (i.e., to depict the Tree of Life), a suite of skills referred to as tree thinking. Cladograms are the most important tool used by evolutionary biologists because they document and organize existing knowledge about the properties of species and higher-order taxa. By using patterns of most recent common ancestry to systematize the 3.5 billion year history of life on Earth, cladograms (a) enable evidence-based inference and (b) provide a conceptual framework for basic and applied biology. Professor Novick’s interdisciplinary research on tree thinking falls into three broad categories: (a) Influences of diagram design on interpretations of evolutionary relationships, (b) assessing and improving students’ tree-thinking skills, and (c) effects of prior knowledge about taxonomic relationships on tree thinking. Studies in the first group have a primarily cognitive psychological basis, with strong implications for education. Studies in the second group are rooted in science education while being informed by cognitive psychology. Studies in the third group reflect a more even mix of psychological and educational foundations. All studies are informed by expert knowledge of evolutionary biology. More detailed information about Professor Novick’s research may be found on her personal web page.

Lab Website

Representative Publications

Novick, L. R., & Fuselier, L. C. (2019). Perception and conception in understanding evolutionary trees. Cognition, 192.

Novick, L. R., & Catley, K. M. (2018). Teaching tree thinking in an upper level organismal biology course: Testing the effectiveness of a multifaceted curriculum. Journal of Biological Education, 52, 66-78.

Novick, L. R., & Catley, K. M. (2014). When relationships depicted diagrammatically conflict with prior knowledge: An investigation of students’ interpretations of evolutionary trees. Science Education, 98, 269-304.

Novick, L. R., Pickering, J., MacDonald, T., Diamond, J., et al. (2014). Depicting the Tree of Life in museums: Guiding principles from psychological research. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 7:25. doi:10.1186/s12052-014-0025-0.

Singer, S. R., Nielsen, N. R., & Schweingruber, H. A., (Eds.); Committee on the Status, Contributions, and Future Directions of Discipline-Based Education Research (Novick, L. R., member). (2012). Discipline-based education research: Understanding and improving learning in undergraduate science and engineering. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Bassok, M., & Novick, L. R. (2012). Problem solving. In K. J. Holyoak & R. G. Morrison (Eds.), Oxford handbook of thinking and reasoning (Ch. 21, pp. 413-432). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


2014: “Highly Accessed” designation from Springer Publications for Novick et al. (2014). Depicting the Tree of Life in museums: Guiding principles from psychological research. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 7:25.

2014: Fellow of the Psychonomic Society

2011: Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science