The Development of Epistemological Understanding: Testing for Effects of Conversational Framing on Children’s Epistemological Judgments and Testimonial Learning
Sarah Suárez

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Minnesota

Primary Discipline

Individuals’ epistemological understanding—that is, their beliefs about the nature of knowledge and knowing is thought to have important implications for critical thinking in both formal and informal learning contexts (CCSSO, 2010; NGSS Lead States, 2013; Kuhn, 1999; Burr & Hofer, 2002). Indeed, our epistemological beliefs are thought to influence the questions we ask, the sources of information we place trust in, the certainty of our beliefs, and even academic outcomes (Greene, Sandoval, & Bråten, 2016). However, most of the literature describes the developmental patterns of epistemological understanding in adolescence and adulthood, without characterizing the cause-effect mechanisms at play, particularly those in childhood. Although there is observational evidence suggesting that parent-child conversations are a context in which epistemological understanding may develop (Luce, Callanan & Smilovic, 2013), and parent epistemological beliefs have been found to predict children’s critical evaluations of speakers who reason about evidence with varying competence (Suárez & Koenig, under review; in prep), the role of adult influences on children’s epistemological development has not been examined experimentally. In the present study, I investigate: 1) How children develop the ability to consider the nature of knowledge within the context of conversation; 2) Whether improved epistemological understanding supports children’s critical thinking in informal social learning; 3) Whether cognitive self-control and verbal IQ moderate or mediate epistemological development; and 4) Whether individual differences in epistemological understanding relate to parent characteristics.
About Sarah Suárez
Sarah Suárez is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development. She holds an M.A. in Child Psychology from the Institute of Child Development and a B.S. in Animal Science from Cornell University. Sarah is dedicated to researching the ways by which children optimize their own informal social learning, or learning from and about the people in their lives. She currently focuses on understanding sources of individual differences in epistemological understanding and testimonial learning, and hopes to bridge the fields of educational and developmental psychology. In her spare time, Sarah serves as an Evaluation Intern and member of the Research Advisory Council for the Minnesota Children’s Museum.

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