Effect of Critical Thinking Education on Epistemically Unwarranted Beliefs in College Students
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The degree to which students hold epistemically unwarranted beliefs, beliefs not founded on reliable reasoning or credible data, can be used as a measure of critical thinking skills. To this end, college students (n = 806) were surveyed at the beginning and end of a semester. Epistemically unwarranted beliefs were pervasive. Several sections of a critical thinking class that specifically and directly addressed pseudoscience, taught by three different instructors, produced a large and significant reduction of those beliefs, but research methods classes and unrelated general education classes did not. Most likely to be reduced were beliefs in health pseudoscience and extraordinary life forms. Conspiracy theories were least likely to change. Demographic variables (gender, race, SES) were associated with beliefs at pre-test, but not related to reduction of belief as a result of the class. Similarly, academic indicators that suggest intelligence were related to belief at pre-test, but not change. The one exception was that reduction of belief in health pseudoscience was widespread in all groups at pre-test, but showed the greatest reduction among students with indicators of academic aptitude and achievement. We conclude that the educational approach of directly addressing pseudoscience is effective for changing beliefs, not just increasing knowledge, and that it works for most college students, not just a select subset.
KeywordsCritical thinking Pseudoscience General education Epistemically unwarranted beliefs Evaluation Educational outcomes
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