From feeling forces to understanding forces: The impact of bodily engagement on learning in science

Asnat R. Zohar, Sharona T. Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Embodied cognition theories view sensorimotor activity as fundamental to learning, knowing, and reasoning. To investigate the role of physical movement in conceptual learning, we developed and explored an Embodied Learning Interactive Chemistry environment (ELI-Chem). The ELI-Chem learning environment includes a computer simulation, a device for interacting with the simulation, and an online activity guide. In particular, we focused on the topic of chemical bonding—an abstract and nonintuitive phenomenon that is crucial to chemistry learning and that presents pervasive problems in learning. The ELI-Chem learning environment embodies atoms' movement through four increasing degrees of bodily engagement in terms of range of motion and forces—movie, simulation, joystick, and haptic device (applies force feedback). A randomly assigned pretest-intervention-posttest four-group comparison design was used with a mixed-methods research approach. Quantitative analysis of pretest and posttest questionnaires tested the conceptual learning. Qualitative analysis of students' filled activity guides explored students' perceptions of the learning process and features of understanding. The participants were 48 high school chemistry students, 12 students in each degree of bodily engagement. During the activity, students were prompted to discover the forces underlying chemical bonding and to explore the energy changes involved. We found an increase in students' conceptual understanding in all four degrees of bodily engagement, with significantly higher learning gains and causal understanding in the haptic condition with a greater range of motion and forces. This study highlights the states in which embodied learning uniquely contributes to understanding and perception: absence of prior embodied experience, learning about a nonvisual concept related to forces, and a high congruence with the concept learned.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1203-1237
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Research in Science Teaching
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Association for Research in Science Teaching.


  • chemical bonding
  • embodied learning
  • haptic technology
  • interactive learning environments
  • science learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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