Evaluating Scientific Controversies: The Influence of Beliefs Regarding the Uncertainty of Knowledge and Cognitive Engagement

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URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10900/93774
Dokumentart: PhDThesis
Date: 2019-10-18
Language: English
Faculty: 6 Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Department: Soziologie
Advisor: Gerjets, Peter (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2019-09-24
DDC Classifikation: 150 - Psychology
Keywords: Bildungsforschung , Empirie , Naturwissenschaften , Blickbewegung , Wissenschaftspropädeutik
Other Keywords:
scientific controversies
epistemic beliefs
cognitive engagement
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Scientific controversies are abundant in the modern-day knowledge society. Individuals are increasingly confronted with multiple and contradictory scientific knowledge claims pertaining to issues that are relevant for their personal lives. Hence, in order to make informed decisions individuals must be able to evaluate the conflicting information they encounter in scientific controversies. Whereas a direct (i.e., first-hand) evaluation of the underlying causes of a scientific controversy is usually not possible for laypeople, research has identified several factors that are beneficial for successful indirect (i.e., second-hand) evaluation of scientific controversies. The present dissertation combined two prominent and emerging constructs in educational research to explain individuals’ (second-hand) evaluation of scientific controversies: epistemic beliefs and engagement. Epistemic beliefs refer to individuals’ perceptions of knowledge and knowing. The present dissertation focused on beliefs regarding the uncertainty of knowledge (or uncertainty beliefs), that is, individuals’ beliefs that knowledge is either tentative and evolving or absolute and fixed. Engagement, on the other hand, refers to individuals’ commitment or effort regarding a learning task or activity. The present dissertation investigated cognitive engagement, which can be defined as the effortful investment of mental resources during a task. Several theoretical models as well as empirical evidence suggest that both of these variables, uncertainty beliefs and cognitive engagement, are particularly relevant for the evaluation of scientific controversies. Moreover, epistemic belief research has emphasized the importance of engagement when individuals are confronted with contradictory information, and in engagement research epistemic beliefs are assumed to have a strong influence. Surprisingly, however, these two research areas have not yet been integrated. Furthermore, past research has mainly focused on single aspects of the respective constructs, whereas it must be assumed that both uncertainty beliefs and cognitive engagement are multifaceted constructs including trait-like and state-like aspects. Three empirical studies were conducted to address these issues and to advance the understanding of how individuals evaluate scientific controversies. Using multiple indicators based on offline measures (e.g., questionnaires) and online measures (e.g., eye tracking), data from two samples of N = 44 and N = 40 university students was collected. Study 1 investigated the combined influence of uncertainty beliefs and cognitive engagement on students’ evaluations of scientific controversies. Uncertainty beliefs were assessed in a preceding online questionnaire, and cognitive engagement was measured using a pupil dilation measure. This measure was provided by eye-tracking technology while participants were working on an evaluation test that consisted of different scientific controversies in the lab. Results showed that both uncertainty beliefs and cognitive engagement were positively correlated with participants’ results in the controversy-evaluation test. Moreover, the relation between uncertainty beliefs and the controversy-evaluation test was partly mediated by cognitive engagement. Study 2 had the aim of differentiating multiple indicators of cognitive engagement and their relation to the evaluation of scientific controversies. Specifically, general cognitive engagement was assessed in a preceding online questionnaire, self-reported situational cognitive engagement was assessed repeatedly during the abovementioned controversy-evaluation test using a single-item measure, and process-related situational cognitive engagement was assessed with fixation time measures and the same pupil dilation measure as used in Study 1. Results showed that general and situational measures of cognitive engagement were not correlated, but a negative correlation self-reported and process-related situational cognitive engagement was found. Furthermore, general and situational cognitive engagement were differentially related to other variables. Whereas general cognitive engagement was related to motivational variables and evaluation outcomes, situational cognitive engagement was related to reading comprehension ability. Finally, Study 3 investigated different facets of uncertainty beliefs and their relation to evaluating scientific controversies. To measure participants’ professed uncertainty beliefs, the same preceding online questionnaire was used as in Study 1. Enacted uncertainty beliefs were measured with a verbalization technique in which participants retrospectively verbalized what they thought when working on the controversy-evaluation test guided by a recording of their own eye movements. Results revealed that professed and enacted uncertainty beliefs were correlated, and that both variables predicted evaluation outcomes. Furthermore, the relation between professed uncertainty beliefs and the controversy-evaluation test was partly mediated by enacted uncertainty beliefs. The present dissertation provides both a broader and a deeper understanding of the investigated constructs by combining separate research traditions and integrating innovative measurement approaches. The findings of the three studies are discussed in a broader context, both regarding the conceptualization of the investigated constructs in research as well as the relevance of uncertainty beliefs and cognitive engagement in the light of scientific controversies for science education and beyond.

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