What would you draw if somebody told you to draw a neuron?
According to a new study, your sketch will depend on how much science education you have, but not in the way you'd expect. In the image above, the top row -- those detailed, labeled, neat renderings -- are the work of undergraduates. The bottom row, with their janky, sparse lines, come from the leaders of neuroscience research laboratories. That martini-glass looking thing over there on the left? That's a neuron, as drawn by a professional scientist. The middle row, some intermediary step, shows drawings from postdocs and graduate students.
These drawings come from a new study published in the journal Science Education. Its authors, a team at King's College London led by education professor David Hay, found that nearly every single undergraduate student they studied (all but three of 126) faithfully reproduced textbook-style neurons, something akin to a canonical image from an 1899 book detailing the brain, which, the authors say, "has enjoyed an unusually pervasive influence." These drawings are "typified by a multipolar cell body and truncated, feathery dendritic processes around a clearly demarcated nucleus." Many of the drawings were annotated.