Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reflective Judgment: Concepts of Justification and Their Relationship to Age and Education

Kitchener & King

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is the most referred to when it comes reasoning ability, but there is little discussion about the development of reasoning ability beyond adolescence. In 1977, King and Kitchener develop a seven-stage model of post-adolescent reasoning styles which is called “Reflective Judgment.” This model outlines the process of how a person’s reasoning ability develops over time, spread out in 7 sequential stages. Each stage represents different assumption of knowledge and reality, and how it affects the justification of beliefs. Lower stages are characterized by immense, unexamined dependence on an authority figure, and this develops into higher stages in term of its complexity, comprehensiveness, and ability to consciously reflect on one’s own beliefs. 

An initial test of this model was conducted previous to this study, employing a series of pilot interviews to 18 subjects between 18 and 35 years old. Each subject was presented a problem revolving around 6 intellectual topics, including scientific, religious and historical issues. They then proceed to give their opinions and defend it. The result of this initial study is 1) subjects’ responses could be scored at each of these 7 stages, and 2) older subjects score at higher stages that did younger ones. It was then followed by this study, which is intended to find out whether or not relative judgment is related to age and education, and if so, to what this differences might be accounted for.  To find out about the second question, four additional factors which are related to intellectual development were also tested. These factors are verbal ability, formal operation, socio-economic status and verbal fluency.

There are 60 subjects; 20 high school students, 20 college freshman and 20 graduate students, half of them are male and half of them are female. Each subject was tested on the five variables mentioned above.  The result for reflective judgment was that highschool students mainly scored between 2 and 4, college students scored between 2.5 and 5.5, and graduate students put themselves between 4 and 7. 

For the other 4 factors, meaningful differences between groups were found for verbal ability, socio-economic status and word count, while for formal operation, all groups were found to be more or less on the same level. To find out whether or not these differences are contributing factor to reflective judgment, analysis of covariance was then run with verbal ability, socio-economic status and word count act as covariate (held constant). Aside from verbal ability, for which the result for highschool and college students were almost equal, the result for the other groups on each covariates still shows significant differences. It was then followed by analysis of covariance for combining covariates, for which the result was more or less the same. 

The result for this study therefore can be concluded.  Reflective judgment is related to age and educational level; older and more educated individual tend to have a more complex and sophisticated way in justifying belief than their younger, less educated individual. This cannot be statistically accounted to the other factors related to intellectual development; even though verbal ability was found to be closely related to reflective judgment, differences of reflective judgment’s scores between groups cannot be solely accounted to this factor. It will be the task of future researcher to find out whether or not this is a result of uncovered, confounding trait, or that those variables merely covary within given population. 

Considering this is a study that judge, compares and rank people in term of their justification of belief, the information in this paper was presented very well without being insulting. Regarding the methods itself, the author did a quite extensive explanation on how the study is done, although more information is needed on the scoring protocol. However the sampling procedure creates a room for a debate since the age and education factors are confounded. It is questionable whether or not age and education affect it separately. To find out about that, the study will have to gather sampling which includes subjects in all age, in every educational level.  Unless the age limit of the subjects is set to be older, the study must include 18 years old graduate students, which is not impossible but the sample will not be statistically reliable. The author itself also provided explanation on why the confounding age and educational level are still reliable.

Further and more detailed information regarding this topic is provided in a presentation below.

Kitchener, K. S., & King, P. M. (1981). Reflective judgment: Concepts of justification and their relationship to age and education. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 2, 89-116.

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