Paulsen and Wells (1998) stated that, “it seems unlikely that substantial differences in
epistemological beliefs across domains would persist in studies of faculty or other more
advanced experts,” (p. 380).
According to Schommer’s work, epistemological beliefs as a whole appear to be more
or less domain general when controlling for a variety of background characteristics including
academic discipline, which indicates a certain degree of association of academic discipline with
epistemological beliefs. When not controlling for academic discipline (as did Paulsen and Wells
(1998)), Jehng et al. (1993) discerned differences in epistemological beliefs of college students,
“who study in the soft fields (i.e. social science and arts/humanities) have a stronger tendency of
believe that knowledge is uncertain, are more reliant on their independent reasoning ability, and
have a stronger feeling that learning is not an orderly process than students in hard fields,” (p.
23). Hofer (2000) found strong disciplinary differences among college students whereas students
in psychology more so viewed personal knowledge as a basis for justification of knowing than
students in science while students in science viewed authority and expertise more as the source
of knowledge than students in psychology.
In concluding their study examining the epistemological beliefs of college students across
domains of study, Paulsen and Wells (1998) stated that, “it seems unlikely that substantial
differences in epistemological beliefs across domains would persist in studies of faculty or other
more advanced experts,” (p. 380). This statement of Paulsen and Wells regarding experts implies
the existence of an upper limit or ceiling effect in epistemological beliefs as delimited by
expertise across domains. While Hofer and Pintrich (1997) have noted that, “it is unclear where
the process of epistemological understanding begins” (p. 122), the researcher contends that it is
equally unclear where the process of epistemological understanding ends except perhaps as
associated with the achievement of expertise as an outcome. An examination of differences in
the epistemological beliefs of any group of experts however has yet to be studied, thus the
existence of an expert ceiling effect in these beliefs has not been substantiated either way by any
empirical evidence despite its significance to the study of epistemological understanding and the
development of expertise.
As while much literature discusses how novices and experts differ,
there is little research discussing how experts are similar as a whole, where research is restricted
to the study of particular expertise in isolation to one another (e.g. Berliner, 1986 & Sternberg &
Horvath, 1995 in re expert teachers; Lichtenberg, 1997 for counseling psychologists; Rolfe, 1997
for nurse practitioners; Tanaka & Curran, 2001 studying recognition capabilities of bird and dog
experts; Wood, 1999 in re visual expertise of radiologists).
The results of this study lend support to the statement of Paulsen and Wells (1998) that it
is, “unlikely that substantial differences in epistemological beliefs across domains would persist
in studies of faculty or other more advanced experts,” (p. 380). Evidence from this study further
lends support for the hypothesis of an upper limit or ceiling effect in the sophistication of
epistemological beliefs among experts given that the researcher empirically studied the self-
reported epistemological beliefs of faculty members across forty-six academic disciplines
represented. No other study to date has examined the epistemological beliefs of experts across
such a variety of disciplines. The overarching significance of this study is that (1) a ceiling effect
in the epistemological beliefs among experts can be supported and (2) that we can determine an
important characteristic of experts in general as having highly sophisticated and similar
An understanding by faculty members as to how they are epistemologically different from their students given evidence supporting an expert ceiling in these beliefs can only improve faculty’s understanding of how their students may best learn. A faculty member knowing for instance that their students’ beliefs about knowledge are generally more naive or less sophisticated in nature permits faculty members to be sensitive to the epistemological development of their students and to scaffold and differentiate appropriately.
Possible research question:
To what extent do faculty members understand the difference of epistemological beliefs between theirs and their students?
To read list:
- EBI (Schraw, Bendixen, & Dunkle, 2002)
- Schommer (1990): omniscient
authority; simple knowledge; certain knowledge; fixed (innate) ability; and quick learning.
- Paulsen and Wells (1998)