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Document Type

Psychology - Student Presentation

Publication Date

Spring 2-23-2017






The current project was designed to examine how cognitive style, cultural worldview, and conspiracy ideation correspond to various levels of agreement with scientific claims. Additionally, the kinds of justifications people provide for their position on scientific issues and the kinds of possible refutations of their scientific beliefs people are able to generate were qualitatively coded and analyzed. Participants were presented with a short survey asking about their level of agreement with scientific claims about biological evolution, anthropogenic climate change, pediatric vaccines, and genetically modified foods. Participants were asked two open-ended questions about each topic, one prompting participants to justify their level-of-agreement rating and the other prompting participants to generate possible refutations to their belief. Participants also filled in measures of cognitive style, cultural worldview, and conspiracy ideation. I predicted that analytical thinking style would be associated with overall higher levels of agreement with scientific claims, intuitive thinking and conspiracy ideation would be associated with overall lower levels of agreement with scientific claims, and agreement with scientific claims would be a function of cultural worldview. Results showed that greater agreement with all four scientific claims is related to a greater predisposition to analytical thinking and stronger self-reported political liberalism. I further hypothesized that the frequency of distinct categories of justifications and refutations would be predicted by level of agreement with scientific claims. Broadly, justifications were coded as non-justifications, subjective, evidential, or deferential, and refutations were broadly coded as denials, subjective, evidential, or deferential. Results of chi-squared analysis revealed topic-specific patterns in participants’ reasoning, suggesting that people do not reason about scientific topics consistently. Different scientific claims appear, instead, to be accepted or rejected for different reasons. For example, evidence may be cited for one socio-scientific issue, but subjective experience or reasoning may be used to justify others. Regression analyses indicated further the nuanced relationship between explicit reasoning provided by participants and their agreement with scientific claims. Higher agreement with all scientific claims was related to a greater frequency of explicitly referencing evidence in some form, but other categories of belief justification and belief refutation showed topic-specific relationships. Generally, findings from this research provide a crucial next step for better understanding why individuals reject established science, as well as for developing more effective means of improving scientific literacy.