Why Do Giraffes Have Long Necks?

The Huffington Post:

Anyone who has seen this majestic creature in the wild, nibbling away at the top of an acacia tree, has to marvel at the wonder of evolution. The giraffe’s long neck is a perfect adaptation to the animal’s natural habitat. Clearly the giraffe evolved this uncommon and helpful trait in order to reach those nourishing leaves. That’s how natural selection works.

If you’re a 6-year-old.

As appealing as this explanation is, it shows a complete misunderstanding of the concept of adaptation by natural selection, a key concept in the theory of evolution. What’s wrong with the 6-year-old’s idea is not its focus on the neck’s function. It’s the mistaken notion that an individual giraffe, by its own effort and action, can transform its essential nature in a beneficial way.

That’s in part why we don’t try to teach kids such biological concepts. We wait until they are older and more cognitively mature. But this may be a serious error, according to psychological scientist Deb Kelemen of Boston University. According to Kelemen and her colleagues, if kids’ intuitions about the biological world are allowed to go uncorrected, they may coalesce and become deeply entrenched — so that they are more difficult to alter when teenagers learn about evolution later on.

Read the whole story: The Huffington Post

Wray Herbert is an author and award-winning journalist who writes two popular blogs for APS, We’re Only Human and Full Frontal Psychology. Follow Wray on Twitter @wrayherbert.

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