Abstract for: Can people learn behaviours of stock and flow using their ability to calculate running total? An experimental study

Stocks and flows are basis of dynamics. Understanding of stock and flow is crucial in comprehending and managing problems such as global warming and national debt. Yet previous experimental studies have found that people perform poorly in simple stock-flow tasks. However, many do have a notion of accumulation in terms of calculating running total, adding or subtracting items to keep track of a running tally. Here a pre-test-treatment-post-test experiment was designed to test the hypothesis that people’s understanding of stock and flow behaviours will improve after being asked to reflect on a cognitive conflict, generated by utilizing their running total calculation. Comparisons with a conventional approach to teach stock and flow dynamics and without teaching were also done. Results show that improvements were not significant; the hypothesis lacks support. On the other hand, the conventional approach produced significant improvement. Possible explanations of the results and their implications for education on dynamics, communication of complex dynamic problems and policy insights are discussed.