Most students think that if an object is moving, there must be a force in the direction of its motion

Forces and Motion


This idea is likely to be extremely resistant to change.

Resources to Address This

  • Drag forces and motion (11-14)

    Source - SPT/ Fo02PN10

    Looking at the forces that affect the speed of a moving object

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Clement, J. () Students' preconceptions in introductory mechanics. American Journal of Physics, 50 (1),


    Review sheet

  • Trumper, R. and Gorsky, P. () A cross-college age study about physics students' conceptions of force in pre-service training for high school teachers. Physics Education, 31 (4),


    Review sheet

  • Ogborn, J. () Understanding students' understandings: An example from dynamics. International Journal of Science Education, 7 (2),


    Review sheet

  • Watts, D. M. () A study of schoolchildren's alternative frameworks of the concept of force. International Journal of Science Education, 5 (2),


    This study used an interview approach to identify the conceptions of force of 12 students aged 11-17. Students were drawn from a range of schools in the Greater London area, from both junior science classes and advanced-level physics classes.
    Review sheet

  • Watts, D. M. and Zylbersztajn, A. () A survey of some children's ideas about force. Physics Education, 16 (6),


    This study investigated the conceptions of force of a sample of 125 students aged 14. Data was collected using a multiple-choice-with-explanation questionnaire.
    Review sheet

  • White, B. Y. () Sources of Difficulty in Understanding Newtonian Dynamics. Cognitive Science, 7 (1),


    This study examined the responses of 40 high school science students (mean age 16.4) from an upper-middle class suburb of the Boston metropolitan area to a series of questions on Newtonian dynamics. Solutions and any comments made during the questions were recorded, as well as interviews and diagrams drawn.
    Review sheet

  • McCloskey, M., Caramazza, A. and Green, B. () Curvilinear Motion in the Absence of External Forces: Naïve Beliefs About the Motion of Objects. Science, 210 (4474),


    University students were asked to draw the path a moving object would follow in several different situations. Over half of the students, including many who had taken physics courses, evidenced striking misconceptions about the motion of objects. In particular, many students believed that even in the absence of external forces, objects would move in curved paths. The sample comprised 47 students, 15 of which had no formal physics education, 22 of which had high school physics, and 10 of which had college-level physics.
    Review sheet

  • Clement, J. () "Students' alternative conceptions in mechanics: a coherent system of preconceptions?" In H. Helm, and J. D. Novak (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Seminar: Misconceptions in Science and Mathematics. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.


    Review sheet

  • Gilbert, J. K.; Watts, D. M. and Osborne, R. J. () Students' Conceptions of Ideas in Mechanics. Physics Education, 17 (2),


    Review sheet

  • Finegold, M. and Gorsky, P. () Students' Concept of Force as Applied to Related Physical Systems: A Search for Consistency. International Journal of Science Education, 13 (1),


    This study aimed to determine the percentage of students consistent in their beliefs about forces and the percentage of those able to consistently apply a given correct (or incorrect) framework of beliefs. The study also sought to identify the various categories of thought and framework of which these beliefs were a part.

    The study was conducted in Israel and examined a sample of 534 students using a 10-item written test which asked students questions about different mechanical scenarios. The sample was made up of two groups: 333 university students and 201 high school students. After the written tests, a further sample of 5-10% of each group were interviewed.
    Review sheet

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