In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Epistemic Beliefs

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Conceptualizations
  • Dimensionality
  • Metacognition
  • New Media
  • Cultural Differences

Education Epistemic Beliefs
Dorothe Kienhues
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0084


(Personal) epistemology or epistemic beliefs have become a target of increased research interest in developmental and educational psychology. In the following, the term “epistemic beliefs” shall be consistently used to refer to a person’s beliefs about the nature of human knowledge, like its certainty and how it is conceptualized, and a person’s beliefs about the criteria for and the process of knowing. While acknowledging the different notions in the literature for either the whole construct or special facets of it (e.g., epistemic cognition, epistemic resources, epistemological reflection, personal epistemology, reflective judgment), these shall be subsumed under the widely used label “epistemic beliefs” for reasons of readability. Empirical investigations of epistemic beliefs began in the late 1960s, and previously epistemology was solely a topic of philosophy but not of empirical psychological research. The increased research interest in epistemic beliefs can not only be ascribed to empirical evidence for a relation between epistemic beliefs and academic performance, cognition, or the learning process but also to the need for advanced epistemic beliefs in a knowledge-based society. Epistemic beliefs are a rather complex construct, and researchers have not yet reached consensus or clarity about many issues. This chapter provides an overview of the most relevant issues in research on epistemic beliefs. It will point to different conceptualizations and models and will outline various approaches on the dimensionality and specificity of epistemic beliefs. Furthermore, attempts to assess epistemic beliefs will be outlined. In addition, different approaches to the development and change of epistemic beliefs (including how change might be promoted) will be summarized, as well as studies on the role of epistemic beliefs in learning. This chapter also considers research on the interplay of epistemic beliefs and metacognition, the role of epistemic beliefs in dealing with new media, and cultural differences in epistemic beliefs.

General Overviews

There are a number of edited volumes on epistemic beliefs. The first—and probably most influential—was Hofer and Pintrich 2002. Later edited volumes focus on specific aspects: Khine 2008 takes into account the interplay of culture and epistemic beliefs and comprises contributions from various Asian and European countries as well as from Australia, Israel, and the USA. Bendixen and Feucht 2010 predominately considers aspects of epistemic beliefs in classroom learning, while Elen, et al. 2011 focuses on the relationship between epistemic beliefs and cognitive flexibility. Perry 1970 summarizes the author’s research on student beliefs about knowledge and knowing and their development during the college years: this study became the cornerstone for empirical research on the topic. Out of the vast amount of theoretical and review articles on epistemic beliefs, Hofer and Pintrich 1997, Buehl and Alexander 2001, and Hofer and Bendixen 2012 provide brief overviews of research on epistemic beliefs. They also provide insight into relevant conceptual and methodological issues—and both prove that research on epistemic beliefs is complex and contains various unsolved or not (yet) agreed on issues.

  • Bendixen, Lisa D., and Florian C. Feucht, eds. 2010. Personal epistemology in the classroom: Theory, research, and implications for practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511691904

    With a specific focus on school learning, this edited volume covers various aspects of both students’ and teachers’ epistemic beliefs and their relation to learning and teaching. Provides excellent examples on the importance of the construct epistemic beliefs.

  • Buehl, Michelle M., and Patricia A. Alexander. 2001. Beliefs about academic knowledge. Educational Psychology Review 3:385–418.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1011917914756

    Provides an early review of literature on epistemic beliefs in educational literature. Good introductory paper for understanding the different conceptualizations of the construct with a special focus on the discipline-specificity of epistemic beliefs.

  • Elen, Jan, Elmar Stahl, Rainer Bromme, and Geraldine Clarebout, eds. 2011. Links between beliefs and cognitive flexibility: Lessons learned. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-1793-0

    This edited volume brings together two core concepts of sophisticated problem solving in a knowledge society: cognitive flexibility and epistemic beliefs. All contributions focus on the interrelation of these two concepts and formulate and discuss three theoretical propositions.

  • Hofer, Barbara K., and Lisa D. Bendixen. 2012. Personal epistemology: Theory, research, and future directions. In APA educational psychology handbook. Vol. 1, Theories, constructs, and critical issues. Edited by Karen R. Harris, Steve Graham, and Tim Urdan, 227–256. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/13273-000

    Probably the most recent overview on epistemic beliefs; very useful as an introduction to the research field.

  • Hofer, Barbara K., and Paul R. Pintrich. 1997. The development of epistemological theories: Beliefs about knowledge and knowing and their relation to learning. Review of Educational Research 67:88–140.

    DOI: 10.2307/1170620

    A detailed critical review of various epistemological models. Provides a comprehensive overview of the research field at that time. This is also a fundamental theoretical paper on important theoretical and methodological issues and probably the most cited article on the definition of the construct.

  • Hofer, Barbara K., and Paul R. Pintrich, eds. 2002. Personal epistemology: The psychology of beliefs about knowledge and knowing. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    First edited volume on research on epistemic beliefs. Provides a wide-ranging selection of nineteen chapters on various aspects of the study of epistemic beliefs such as conceptual and methodological issues.

  • Khine, Myint S., ed. 2008. Knowing, knowledge and beliefs: Epistemological studies across diverse cultures. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-6596-5

    Although this edited volume takes a specific focus on cultural aspects within epistemic beliefs research, it also provides various chapters on conceptual and methodological issues, with a special emphasis on the discipline-specificity of epistemic beliefs.

  • Perry, William G., Jr. 1970. Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years. New York: Holt.

    Perry’s pioneering longitudinal research with male Harvard students points to a developmental sequence of distinct views of knowledge. Also gives insight into the roots of the construct in psychological research.

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