Assessing epistemic sophistication by considering domain-specific absolute and multiplicistic beliefs separately

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Abstract

Background.

Particularly in higher education, not only a view of science as a means of finding absolute truths (absolutism), but also a view of science as generally tentative (multiplicism) can be unsophisticated and obstructive for learning. Most quantitative epistemic belief inventories neglect this and understand epistemic sophistication as disagreement with absolute statements.

Aims.

This article suggests considering absolutism and multiplicism as separate dimensions. Following our understanding of epistemic sophistication as a cautious and reluctant endorsement of both positions, we assume evaluativism (a contextually adaptive view of knowledge as personally constructed and evidence-based) to be reflected by low agreement with both generalized absolute and generalized multiplicistic statements.

Samples.

Three studies with a total sample size of N = 416 psychology students were conducted.

Methods.

A domain-specific inventory containing both absolute and multiplicistic statements was developed. Expectations were tested by exploratory factor analysis, confirmatory factor analysis, and correlational analyses.

Results.

Results revealed a two-factor solution with an absolute and a multiplicistic factor. Criterion validity of both factors was confirmed. Cross-sectional analyses revealed that agreement to generalized multiplicistic statements decreases with study progress. Moreover, consistent with our understanding of epistemic sophistication as a reluctant attitude towards generalized epistemic statements, evidence for a negative relationship between epistemic sophistication and need for cognitive closure was found.

Conclusions.

We recommend including multiplicistic statements into epistemic belief questionnaires and considering them as a separate dimension, especially when investigating individuals in later stages of epistemic development (i.e., in higher education).

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