Conceptual complexity: Understanding how we think about cause and effect

| What cause and effect can teach us about cognition and learning |

How we describe the world and the things that happen in it are informed by our understanding of causes, effects, and their relationships. This understanding evolves over time as we learn and grow through experience: things shift from black and white to subtler and subtler shades of gray; either/or becomes both/and; words have definitions, but their meanings depend on context. The complexity of our thinking is reflected in the way we explain causes and effects, but how might the subject of cause and effect also be used to develop complex thinking?

In his work on a multidimensional measure of conceptual complexity, Nathaniel Brown presented a framework for evaluating students’ understanding of concepts in science. While his focus was on its usefulness as an assessment tool, the framework also suggests a developmental path by which our underlying concepts of cause and effect become increasingly complex. What if this developmental path is not just evidence of but also a possible scaffold for developing conceptual complexity in other areas?


The multidimensional measure of conceptual complexity | Nathaniel Brown