Abductive reasoning and limitations of the knower

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Smith, Rebecca Marit
Hertzog, Christopher
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Previous research has shown that a person’s epistemic beliefs, cognitive style, and religiosity affect the level at which they are able to reason about a variety of topics. These studies have primarily focused on ill-structured, existential, and moral problems. This study examined the effects of epistemic beliefs, foreclosed cognitive styles, and religiosity on a newly designed measure of abductive reasoning (Hertzog, Hale, & Krepps, 2015). Abductive reasoning is reasoning to the best explanation based on given evidence. This evidence can be incomplete and the best explanation does not need to be the correct explanation. This is similar to scientific thinking because it involves generating and gathering support for or against a given hypothesis. This study also used a religious salience manipulation to prime participants. Previous work has shown that a religious salience manipulation alters behavior and has caused participants to perform more poorly on a scientific reasoning task (Rios et al., 2015), and reason less complexly about religious topics (Pancer et al., 1995). Undergraduate college students with different religious backgrounds completed computerized measures of abductive reasoning, epistemic beliefs, cognitive style, and cognitive ability. The religious salience prime did not shift participants’ epistemic beliefs or reasoning style and there was no evidence of these variables affecting abductive reasoning. However, there were interesting relationships among the variables. Epistemic beliefs were related to cognitive style and religiosity. Religiosity was related to cognitive style. Right wing authoritarianism predicted epistemic beliefs in certain knowledge and omniscient authority. Epistemic beliefs, religiosity and cognitive reflection did not influence two critical aspects of abductive reasoning: the total number of candidate explanations generated, and the rated quality of reasoning. Need for closure, however did predict AR quality scores. Results suggest that aspects of beliefs that can influence reasoning quality have little impact on advanced critical thinking about scientific scenarios.
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