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Young adults received information regarding the platforms of two candidates for mayor of a troubled city. Half constructed a dialogue between advocates of the candidates, and the other half wrote an essay evaluating the candidates’ merits. Both groups then wrote a script for a TV spot favoring their preferred candidate. Results supported our hypothesis that the dialogic task would lead to deeper, more comprehensive processing of the two positions, and hence a richer representation of them. The TV scripts of the dialogue group included more references to city problems, candidates’ proposed actions, and links between them, as well as more criticisms of proposed actions and integrative judgments extending across multiple problems or proposed actions. Assessment of levels of epistemological understanding administered to the two groups after the writing tasks revealed that the dialogic group exhibited a lesser frequency of the absolutist position that knowledge consists of facts knowable with certainty. The potential of imagined interaction as a substitute for actual social exchange is considered.
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Psychological Science
2017, Vol. 28(5) 578 –586
© The Author(s) 2017
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DOI: 10.1177/0956797616689248
Research Article
Central among the 2010 Common Core State Standards
(CCSS) is proficiency in nonnarrative reading and exposi-
tory argumentive writing. Similarly, the new Next Genera-
tion Science Standards (NGSS) identify argumentation as
key among the process skills these standards feature (NGSS
Lead States, 2013), as well as central to achieving mature
epistemological understanding of the nature of science
(Sandoval, 2014). However, not articulated in the CCSS or
in the NGSS is how these proficiencies are achieved. The
writing component is a particular challenge. Students of all
ages find expository writing challenging and perform
poorly in assessments (Graham, McKeown, Kiuhara, &
Harris, 2012), and it is unclear how young writers asked to
support claims with logical reasoning and relevant evi-
dence, as the CCSS (2010) stipulate, can best learn to do so.
The dialogic approach to achieving this goal, reported
on by Kuhn and Crowell (2011), rests on the view that
dialogue supports the development of written argument
by giving it a purpose. There is now someone to commu-
nicate to—the missing interlocutor (Graff, 2003)—and a
purpose for communicating. This dialogic approach to
promoting individual argumentive competence rests on a
tradition that emphasizes the close connection between
social and individual cognition. This tradition can be con-
sidered to go back as far even as Socrates, but certainly
goes back to Vygotsky (1937/1987) and Mead (1934/1967),
who described thought as a “conversation with the gener-
alized other,” and, later, Billig (1987), who emphasized
the connection between dialogic argument and the interi-
orized individual argument he claimed occurs in thought.
Walton (2014) attributed to Grice (1975) the introduction
of dialogic theory to modern analytical philosophy and
attributed the further development of this theory to
van Eemeren and his colleagues (e.g., van Eemeren &
Grootendorst, 1992), who emphasized the need to evaluate
arguments within their conversational context. According
to Grice, an argument should be evaluated on the basis of
its collaborative value as a contribution to dialogue.
Contemporary empirical studies have supported Graff’s
(2003) claim of the benefits of dialogue, demonstrating
that scrutiny of an opposing view and use of evidence are
greater in dialogic contexts than in individual written
689248PSSXXX10.1177/0956797616689248Zavala, KuhnSolitary Discourse
Corresponding Author:
Deanna Kuhn, 525 W. 120th St., New York, NY 10027
Solitary Discourse Is a Productive
Julia Zavala and Deanna Kuhn
Teachers College, Columbia University
Young adults received information regarding the platforms of two candidates for mayor of a troubled city. Half
constructed a dialogue between advocates of the candidates, and the other half wrote an essay evaluating the
candidates’ merits. Both groups then wrote a script for a TV spot favoring their preferred candidate. Results supported
our hypothesis that the dialogic task would lead to deeper, more comprehensive processing of the two positions,
and hence a richer representation of them. The TV scripts of the dialogue group included more references to city
problems, candidates’ proposed actions, and links between them, as well as more criticisms of proposed actions and
integrative judgments extending across multiple problems or proposed actions. Assessment of levels of epistemological
understanding administered to the two groups after the writing tasks revealed that the dialogic group exhibited a
lesser frequency of the absolutist position that knowledge consists of facts knowable with certainty. The potential of
imagined interaction as a substitute for actual social exchange is considered.
cognitive complexity, discourse analysis, reasoning, role taking, citizenship
Received 8/10/16; Revision accepted 12/23/16
Solitary Discourse 579
argument (Kuhn & Moore, 2015; Macagno, 2016). Middle
schoolers participating in a multiyear intervention cen-
tered around peer dialogues, Kuhn and Crowell (2011)
found, wrote superior essays, compared with a control
group who participated in a nondialogic intervention that
had equal scope but was focused on whole-class discus-
sion and essay writing.
In the study reported here, we asked whether a paral-
lel benefit might appear in the context of a much more
limited intervention, namely, a 1-hr individual session.
Instead of engaging in actual dialogue, participants were
asked to construct a written hypothetical dialogue
between two expert arguers regarding which of two may-
oral candidates who held contrasting positions was the
better candidate. A comparison nondialogic group wrote
an essay evaluating the merits of the two candidates. In
addition to comparing characteristics of the dialogues
and essays, we compared performance on a second, non-
dialogic writing task on the same topic. Our hypothesis
was that the dialogic task would lead to a deeper, more
comprehensive processing of the two positions, and
hence a richer representation of them, that would be
manifested not only in the constructed dialogue itself but
also in the second, nondialogic writing task. Finally, a
measure of epistemological understanding (asking the
respondent to account for discrepant accounts of an
event; Barzilai & Weinstock, 2015) was administered in
order for us to examine possible effects of the dialogue
task on this important competency.
Sixty undergraduate students were recruited through
notices posted around the campus of a 4-year college in a
large city in the Northeast United States. Their mean age
was 23.4 years (SD = 6.3 years, range = 17–55 years). Fifteen
percent were freshman, 12% sophomores, 30% juniors, and
42% seniors. They reported more than 20 different majors
or prospective majors. Eighty-three percent were female
and 17% male; the high percentage of females reflects the
gender distribution of the entire population of the college
(73% female). Fifty percent of the sample self-identified as
Black or African American, 38% as Hispanic or Latino, 5%
as White, and 2% as “other”; 3% did not report their race or
ethnicity. The students were compensated for their partici-
pation with a $10 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card.
The activity was conducted individually in a quiet room.
Students were allotted as much time as needed, which
ranged from 45 to 60 min. A random-number generator
was used to assign 30 students to the experimental group
and 30 to the comparison group. Upon a student’s arrival,
the activity was explained, and the student gave consent.
Following completion of the task, the student answered
a brief demographic questionnaire.
Experimental group’s task. Students in the experi-
mental group worked first on a dialogic writing task
(Kuhn, Zillmer, Crowell, & Zavala, 2013). They were
asked to construct a dialogue between two expert argu-
ers (TV commentators Chuck and Doug) regarding who
was the better candidate (Ana Cruz or Maria Diaz) for
mayor of a troubled city. A list of major problems in the
city was presented, as were lists of the actions each can-
didate proposed to take if elected. (See Table 1 for the
instructions and the information provided.)
Comparison group’s task. Students in the comparison
(essay) group received a sheet containing the same infor-
mation, but different instructions. In place of the section
introducing Chuck and Doug and the dialogic frame,
their materials had the following instruction:
Write an argumentive essay in which you consider
the merits of each of these candidates for mayor.
(Also, the word essay replaced the word script in the final
sentence of the instructions.)
TV-script task (all participants). Next, participants
from both groups were asked to write a TV script:
You’ve been asked to appear on a TV show and
make a case for either Cruz or Diaz as the best
candidate. Who would you choose and what would
you say in your 2-minute talk? Write a short script
for yourself.
Epistemological assessment (all participants). Fol-
lowing the writing tasks, all participants were presented
the Livia problem (Barzilai & Weinstock, 2015; Kuhn,
Pennington, & Leadbeater, 1983) as an assessment of
their epistemological thinking. They were asked to follow
along on a written copy as the experimenter read aloud
two accounts of the fictitious Fifth Livian War between
North and South Livia. One account was from a North
Livian historian, and the other was from a South Livian
historian. The participants then answered questions
regarding their understanding of the discrepancies
between the accounts. The questions were read aloud,
the student answered verbally, and their answers were
580 Zavala, Kuhn
We first applied a common coding scheme to the dia-
logues written by the dialogue-group participants and
the essays written by the essay-group participants. Our
intention was to identify ways in which the dialogues and
essays differed, to better understand any subsequent dif-
ferences between the groups in the TV scripts they wrote.
We then turned to the TV scripts themselves and the
assessment of epistemological thinking.
Differences between the dialogues and
For the purpose of identifying differences between the
dialogues and essays, we used the coding scheme in
Table 2 (from Kuhn et al., 2013). First, the constructed
dialogues and essays were segmented into idea units,
each of which expressed a single idea or assertion. Two
coders independently segmented six dialogues and eight
essays to establish interrater reliability. The percentage
agreement for identifying segments was 100%. Each idea
unit in those dialogues and essays was then classified
according to the coding scheme in Table 2. Percentage
agreement between the same two coders was 91%. Dis-
agreements were resolved through discussion. The
remaining dialogues and essays were coded by the first
The mean number of idea units differed significantly
between the dialogues and essays, t(58) = −2.72, p = .009,
d = 0.70. The dialogue group produced more idea units
(M = 9.33, SD = 4.49) than the essay group (M = 6.67,
SD = 2.96). (As normality was violated for the number of
idea units, a square-root transformation was applied;
results were similar for the nontransformed data.)
A multinomial logistic regression, via SAS/Nonlinear
Mixed (MLE), was conducted, with the frequencies of the
category types in Table 2 as dependent variables and
group (dialogue vs. essay) as an independent variable.
Unsubstantiated statements were set as the reference cat-
egory. The dependent variables were nested within each
participant; therefore, a mixed-effects random-intercept
logistic regression was fitted.
A significant group effect was found for two catego-
ries, simple comparisons and integrative comparisons.
The mean number of simple comparative statements was
0.20 (SD = 0.55) for the essays of the comparison group
and 1.30 (SD = 1.58) for the dialogues of the experimen-
tal group. Similarly, the mean number of integrative state-
ments was 0.40 (SD = 0.68) for the essays of the
comparison group and 1.67 (SD = 1.63) for the dialogues
of the experimental group. Relative to the odds of making
Table 1. Dialogic Task Presented to Participants in the Experimental Group
Ana Cruz and Maria Diaz are running for mayor of their troubled large city. Among the city’s problems are high housing costs,
teen crime, traffic, school dropout, and unemployment.
Chuck and Doug are TV commentators arguing about who is the better candidate. Write a script of what they might say. They are
both experts on the city; they are both expert arguers and evenly matched. So your script should present the most well argued
debate you can construct.
Begin your script like this:
CHUCK: Cruz should be elected mayor because she’ll do better than Diaz.
DOUG: I disagree, because xxxxxx
Then continue their argument, filling in what each one might say:
CHUCK: xxxxxx
DOUG: xxxxxxx
CHUCK: xxxxxx etc.
Here is some information about Cruz’ positions. She promises to:
-create job training programs
-expand city parks
-raise teachers’ pay
-open walk-in health clinics
-reduce rents
-impose a teen curfew
-employ senior citizens in city schools
Here is some information about Diaz’ positions. She promises to:
-improve public transportation
-open more centers for senior citizens
-revise the high school curriculum
-build a new athletic stadium
-improve health care
-build more housing
(You are not required to include all the above topics in your script.)
Solitary Discourse 581
an unsubstantiated statement, the odds of making a sim-
ple comparative statement were 5.17 times higher for the
dialogue group than for the essay group, and the odds of
making an integrative comparative statement were 3.31
times higher for the dialogue group than for the essay
group. Table 3 summarizes the modeling results for each
category type.
Furthermore, the essay group was less likely than the dia-
logue group to produce any comparative statements: Four
(of 30) essay-group participants and 17 (of 30) dialogue-
group participants produced simple comparative statements,
and this difference was significant, χ2(1, N = 60) = 12.38, p <
.001, φ = .45. Similarly, 9 (of 30) essay-group participants
included at least one integrative comparative statement in
Table 2. Coding Categories and Illustrations of Statements Appearing in Participants’ Constructed Dialogues and Essays
Category Example statement
Unsubstantiated statement Cruz is better and that’s final.
Positive single evaluation: single piece of evidence to
support the arguer’s positiona
Cruz will impose a teen curfew to reduce teen crime.
Critical single evaluation: single piece of evidence to
criticize the other position
Diaz has no plan for improving employment.
Integration, arguer’s position:a integrative use of evidence
across multiple dimensions to support the arguer’s position
Diaz promises to revise the high school curriculum, which will
help the school dropout and even teen crime.
Integration, other position: integrative use of evidence
across multiple dimensions to criticize the other position
It doesn’t make sense to expand city parks to give teens a place
to hang out and then impose a curfew.
Simple comparison: comparison of the two candidates on
one dimension
Diaz is improving public transportation. That resolves the traffic;
Cruz says nothing about transportation in her plan.
Integrative comparison: integrative use of evidence across
multiple dimensions to compare the positions
Reducing rent isn’t going to change anything. Diaz promises
to build more housing. Diaz will also build a new athletic
stadium. Together [this] will create jobs and reduce rent
aIn the case of a constructed dialogue, the arguer making the statement was either Chuck or Doug. In the case of an essay, the arguer was the
participant writing the essay.
Table 3. Results of the Multinomial Logistic Regression Examining the Content
Differences Between the Dialogues and Essays
Content category and
predictor Coefficient SE t(59) pOR
Positive single evaluation
Intercept 0.837 0.293 2.86 .006
Dialogue group –0.424 0.396 –1.07 .289 0.65
Critical single evaluation
Intercept –0.898 0.406 –2.21 .031
Dialogue group 0.198 0.539 0.37 .715 1.22
Integration, arguer’s position
Intercept –0.274 0.343 –0.80 .428
Dialogue group –0.128 0.491 –0.26 .796 0.88
Integration, other position
Intercept –1.814 0.562 –3.23 .002
Dialogue group 0.464 0.732 0.63 .529 1.59
Simple comparison
Intercept –1.814 0.580 –3.13 .003
Dialogue group 1.642 0.677 2.43 .018 5.17
Integrative comparison
Intercept –1.121 0.376 –2.98 .004
Dialogue group 1.198 0.470 2.54 .014 3.31
Random intercept variance 0.924 0.584 1.58 .119
Note: OR = odds ratio.
582 Zavala, Kuhn
Table 4. Results of the Multinomial Logistic Regression Examining the TV Scripts’
Attribute and predictor Coefficient SE t(58) pOR
References to an action
Intercept 0.845 0.490 1.72 .090
Dialogue group 3.249 0.973 3.34 .002 25.76
References to a problem
Intercept 0.236 0.549 0.43 .669
Dialogue group 3.316 0.963 3.44 .001 27.55
Statements linking a
problem and action
Intercept 0.209 0.544 0.38 .703
Dialogue group 3.173 0.977 3.25 .002 23.88
Comparative references
Intercept –0.736 0.575 –1.28 .206
Dialogue group 3.425 1.026 3.34 .002 30.72
Intercept –1.295 0.720 –1.80 .077
Dialogue group 3.684 1.113 3.31 .002 39.81
Random intercept variance 4.594 2.778 1.65 .104
Note: OR = odds ratio.
their essays, whereas 25 (of 30) dialogue-group partici-
pants included at least one integrative comparative state-
ment in their dialogues. This difference was also significant,
χ2(1, N = 60) = 17.38, p < .001, φ = .54.
Differences between the TV scripts of
the two groups
The TV scripts were also segmented into idea units.
Although the dialogue group produced slightly more
idea units in their TV scripts (M = 3.17, SD = 1.97) than
the essay group did (M = 2.93, SD = 1.80), this difference
was not significant, t(58) = −0.48, p = .633, d = 0.13. We
next asked whether there was evidence that the content
of the TV scripts differed between the two groups, and in
particular, whether there was evidence of the hypothe-
sized richer representation of the two positions on the
part of the dialogue group. To answer this question, we
conducted a multinomial logistic regression on the num-
ber of references to one of the stated city problems, the
number of references to a candidate’s proposed actions,
the number of statements linking a problem and an
action addressing it, the number of critical statements
regarding a candidate’s position, and the number of com-
parisons of the two candidates. In these analyses, unsub-
stantiated statements were set as the reference category.
Table 4 summarizes the modeling results.
In addition to referring to fewer problems (M = 1.23,
SD = 1.43, vs. M = 2.07, SD = 1.76) and fewer actions
addressing them (M = 2.27, SD = 1.86, vs. M = 3.53, SD =
2.47), students in the essay group were more likely than
those in the dialogue group to make claims unsubstanti-
ated by any form of support. Sixty percent of the students
in the essay group, but only 20% of those in the dialogue
group, made at least one unsubstantiated claim, χ2(1, N =
60) = 10.00, p = .002, φ = −.41. The mean number of
unsubstantiated statements was 1.07 (SD = 1.20) in the
essay group, compared with 0.20 (SD = 0.41) in the dia-
logue group. Although the majority of the students in
both groups made reference to at least some problems
and some proposed actions, and a majority of the stu-
dents in the dialogue group made links between them
and made comparisons across candidates, only half of
the students in the essay group ever referred to a link
between a problem and action to address it, and fewer
than half ever made a comparison across candidates.
The odds of referring to a problem were 27.55 times
higher for the dialogue group compared with the essay
group, and the odds of referring to a candidate’s pro-
posed action were 25.76 times higher for the dialogue
group. The odds of making a link between a problem
and an action addressing it were 23.88 times higher for
the dialogue group. The odds of noting a negative attri-
bute of one of the candidate’s positions were 39.81 times
higher for the dialogue group, and the odds of compar-
ing the two candidates were 30.72 times higher for the
dialogue group. (See Table 5 for examples of scripts writ-
ten by students in the two groups.)
Solitary Discourse 583
Group differences in epistemological
Responses to the Livia problem were coded on 22 dimen-
sions (Leadbeater & Kuhn, 1989; Weinstock & Cronin,
2003) in order to assign each participant a level of epis-
temological understanding. Table 6 characterizes the six
levels of this scheme in terms of 3 major dimensions: the
nature of the accounts, why they differ, and how claims
are justified. Levels 0 through 2 are regarded as predomi-
nantly absolutist, Level 3 as multiplist, and Levels 4 and 5
as evaluativist. A participant was assigned a level from 0
to 5 on each of the 22 dimensions, and then a dominant
level—absolutist, multiplist, or evaluativist—was assigned.
Concurrent construct validity of this coding scheme
was established by Kuhn, Cheney, and Weinstock (2000),
in a study in which participants assigned to one of the
three main epistemological levels using a different instru-
ment were independently assigned to the same episte-
mological level using their responses to the Livia problem.
To establish interrater reliability in the present study, two
researchers independently coded 20% of the data. The
percentage agreement was 83% across the 22 individual
dimensions and 96% for the overall level assigned. All
disagreements were resolved through discussion.
Figure 1 shows the percentages of participants assigned
to each level as their predominant epistemological level.
Eight participants from the essay group were categorized
as absolutist, 9 as multiplist, and 13 as evaluativist. Zero
participants from the dialogue group were categorized as
absolutist, 12 as multiplist, and 18 as evaluativist. A 2
(group) × 3 (epistemological level) Fisher exact test
revealed that epistemological levels differed significantly
by group (p = .007).
In the present work we extended the claim that dialogue
has beneficial effects to a context in which dialogue was
only hypothetical and constructed by a single individual.
We begin with discussion of effects of the dialogue-
construction task on understanding and then turn to
A mature level of epistemological understanding
provides the foundation for serious discourse (Greene,
Sandoval, & Braten, 2016; Kuhn et al., 2013; Moshman,
2015). If knowledge consists of claims not open to
question—either facts that can simply be “looked up” or
opinions that must be accepted as the unquestioned
possessions of their holders (the stances reflected in less
mature epistemological positions)—discourse serves little
purpose. Nonetheless, an adult who remains largely at an
absolutist level of epistemological understanding does
not conceive of the world in a way identical to that of
the 8-year-old absolutist, who understands all knowledge
as matters of certain fact ascertainable from direct
Table 5. Examples of TV Scripts of Students in the Essay and Dialogue Groups
Essay group Dialogue group
I would select Cruz as the better candidate as mayor. She is
reliable, trustworthy, organized, well thought out, determined
and bright. She fulfills all the characteristics that a mayor
should have. Cruz can fix all of the city’s concerns in due time.
Cruz is knowledgeable and would be a great asset to this city
if mayor.
Cruz will be the better candidate for this city. Instead of
building more housing [Diaz’s proposal], Cruz wants to
reduce housing cost. . . . Instead of revising the high
school curriculum, raising teachers’ pay would boost
instructors’ form of teaching because they are now getting
paid for it. Expanding city parks is a far better form of
recreation than a new stadium. Overall, Cruz has a better
proposal for mayor of this city.
I would choose Cruz for mayor because she seems to have
direct solutions for the city’s troubling concerns. It seems like
she is really for the people and wants to see the city grow in a
positive direction.
I think Cruz should be the mayor of the city simply because
she came up with more ways to fix most of the city’s
issues. Because Diaz left out how she will confront teen
crime, one of the most important problems they are facing
as a community. Showing that her priorities are elsewhere.
I would choose Diaz because she focuses on the wider
perspective of the community and not only on the major
problem, but from a stance where everyone can benefit from.
Diaz wants better for the community and people. The choices
that she makes are exceptional. She cares for the people’s
lifestyle. This is a plan that will work for the people of this
I personally support Cruz and think she is the far better
candidate to be our next mayor. Her plans for improving
the city are well thought out and specifically address the
needs of everyone who lives here. Her plans to increase
teachers’ pay and employ seniors in public schools
will provide a larger and more satisfied staff in all of
our schools. . . . Cruz also plans to create job training
programs which will assist anyone looking for a job as
well as those teens coming out of high school and needing
a job. Opening walk-in health clinics will help those in
need receive the care and attention they need. Diaz’s plan
to simply improve healthcare is vague. Improve how? . . .
584 Zavala, Kuhn
observation or authoritative sources. Adult absolutists
have become aware that disagreement is commonplace
and not always easily resolvable. The concept of a rigid
stage progression in epistemological understanding has
given way to one in which adults, certainly, if not chil-
dren and adolescents as well, hold a loosely connected
network of epistemological ideas that span adjacent lev-
els (Hammer & Elby, 2003). As a result, a more useful
assessment scheme may be one that categorizes individu-
als with respect to the degree to which their own set of
epistemological ideas conforms to different epistemologi-
cal levels (Barzilai & Weinstock, 2015).
If so, it is reasonable to suppose that an individual’s
context or experience prominent at a given point in time
may influence the epistemological ideas that the individ-
ual endorses at that point in time. This is the model that
we believe applies to our data on young adults’ episte-
mological thinking immediately after they have con-
structed an adversarial dialogue, as opposed to after they
have written an essay. We did not assess epistemological
understanding prior to this activity and hence, of course,
cannot say with certainty that the absence of individuals
classified as absolutists in our dialogue group reflected a
change away from absolutism that some would have
exhibited prior to engaging in the dialogue task. Nor can
we say that such a change, if it did occur, would be per-
manent. Rather, our interpretation is that performing the
dialogue-construction task heightened awareness that
conflicting claims with reasonable support can exist and
that a straightforward resolution may not be apparent.
Consistent with this view is other recent evidence that
individuals may show a shift away from an absolutist
position when they are “primed” by an experience that
highlights multiple perspectives (Fisher, Knobe, Strikland,
& Keil, 2016; Kienhues, Stadtler, & Bromme, 2011).
Another recent study provides evidence that dialogue
can have beneficial cognitive effects even though it is not
participated in directly and is only observed. Chi, Kang,
and Yaghmourian (2016) reported a parallel effect when
Table 6. Characteristics of the Six Levels of Epistemological Understanding
Level Nature of accounts Why accounts differ How claims are justified
0. Realist (absolutist) Both accounts mirror reality
Difference is not recognized No justification is needed; the
accounts are interpreted as
accurately reporting what
1. Predualist (absolutist) Each account is objective, but
limited by each historian’s
lack of access to all the facts
Differences are attributed
to incomplete, but not
contradictory, accounts
The accounts are combined to
produce the whole story
2. Dualist (absolutist) One account is objectively
correct, and the other is
distorted because of error
or bias
The accounts contradict each
other; one is right, and the
other is wrong
Judgment is made as to which
account is correct
3. Multiplist The accounts are subjective
and idiosyncratic
Overriding subjectivity
makes the accounts wholly
The assertions are personal
opinions without further
4. Objective relativist
The accounts are constructed
on the basis of evidence,
with the aim of advancing
Discrepancies are attributed to
different emphases on events
and evidence
The claims are evaluated in
relation to expert knowledge
and evidence
5. Conceptual relativist
The accounts refer to
evidence but are framed in
subjective context
Subjective context and
perspective determine the
interpretation of evidence
and events
The claims are evaluated
in relation to contexts of
evidence, events, and the
person making the claim
Absolutist Multiplist Evaluativist
Participants (%)
Level of Epistemological Understanding
Essay Group
Dialogue Group
Fig. 1. Percentage of participants in each group who were assigned to
each epistemological level.
Solitary Discourse 585
participants watched a video that was dialogic. A video
of a tutee struggling to correct misconceptions while
interacting with a tutor, Chi et al. found, was more con-
ducive to learning than was a video of the tutor alone.
In the present study, we hypothesize, constructing a
dialogue required the writer to repeatedly shift back and
forth between one perspective and the other, generating
credible arguments to support each, as well as counterar-
guments to weaken them, and rebuttals aimed at restor-
ing their strength. As a result, the writer formed a richer
representation, not only of each position and the evi-
dence bearing on it, but also of the positions in relation
to one another.
These results have both theoretical and practical impli-
cations. Theoretically, they support the close link between
interpersonal and intrapersonal forms of thought, and
practically, they support the claim that one can serve as a
bridge to the other. Close analysis of middle-school stu-
dents’ essays as they engaged deeply with a series of
topics over 2 years (Kuhn, Hemberger, & Khait, 2016a,
2016b) showed that the dialogic structure of their argu-
mentation with peers made its way into their essays.
“Others might say . . . ,” a phrase rooted in the real-life
other that dialogue provides, appeared increasingly often
in their essays. Dialogue makes an opposing position and
its accompanying arguments clear and vivid enough for a
student to represent them in an essay and address them,
but at least as important is gaining recognition of the
relevance of doing so.
Role taking is a powerful mechanism that has the
potential to substitute for actual social exchange. The
present results suggest that it can be productive even in
virtual, imagined form. One might think of imagined dia-
logue as an intermediate process between actual social
interaction and passive observation of other peoples’
interaction, which research shows may be ineffective if
the observer does not act on these observations in some
way (Jewett & Kuhn, 2016; Muldner, Lam, & Chi, 2014).
We, of course, cannot rule out additional, noncognitive
differences between the two conditions in this study. In
particular, the conditions might have differed in motiva-
tion and engagement to the extent that participants found
the dialogue task novel and hence more engaging than
the essay task. Engagement, however, is part of what is
thought to make dialogue effective, and hence its poten-
tial contribution to the cognitive outcomes we have iden-
tified need not be excluded; it would nonetheless be
desirable to further elucidate this contribution.
Although there now exists a good deal of evidence for
the positive effects of peer interaction on intellectual
development (Resnick, Asterhan, & Clarke, 2015), such
interaction may not always be feasible, and in school set-
tings especially, teachers may be disinclined to incorporate
interactive activities into their lessons. We do not mean to
suggest that the dialogue-construction activity we exam-
ined is a satisfactory substitute, or that all possible should
not be done to encourage and support authentic class-
room discourse. The virtual form of interaction we exam-
ined here may be a less desirable but still productive
substitute. In an era in which positions on an issue too
often lack the deep analysis to support them, this may be
worth knowing.
Action Editor
Gretchen B. Chapman served as action editor for this article.
Author Contributions
The authors jointly conceived the study and wrote the manu-
script. J. Zavala conducted the data collection and analysis.
We thank Bryan Keller for providing his statistical expertise.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with
respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.
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... The later form of understanding, the evaluativist one, achieved usually in adulthood, is the form of understanding which supports critical thinking. Empirical data, show that an evaluativist epistemological understanding supports individuals' ability to consider multiple perspectives on an issuebeing able to identify different dimensions of a SSI - (Baytelman, Iordanou & Constantinou, 2020), consider counterarguments (Zavala & Kuhn, 2017;Iordanou, 2016b;Iordanou, Kendeou & Michalinos, 2020;Shi, 2020), evaluate evidence (Iordanou, Muis, & Kendeou, 2019) and integrate divergent perspectives (Barzilai & Eshet-Alkalai, 2015;Bråten et al., 2011). ...
... whether wearing a mask would help with preventing or slowing down the spread of COVID-19 or whether GMF is necessary to feed the entire world population. Explicit teaching (Kienhues, Stadtler, & Bromme, 2011) and engaging individuals in argumentative-based discussions (Fisher, Knobe, Strickland, & Keil, 2017;Iordanou, 2010;2016b;Shi, 2020;Zavala & Kuhn, 2017) appear promising in supporting students to acquire an awareness that multiple viewpoints may exist about an issue, focusing on a particular dimension. Yet, the question of how we can support students to acquire an understanding of the complexity of a problem, appreciating the diversity of dimensions involved in a particular issue, is still open. ...
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The present work examines the reasoning of 19 6th graders (12-year-old), who engaged in dialogic argumentation and reflective activities, on the topic of Genetically Modified Food. Results showed that participants considered more aspects of the socio scientific issue at the final assessment, as this was reflected in the greater diversity of arguments produced (e.g. social, ecological, ethical, economic, scientific), compared to the initial assessment. Participants also produced significantly more socio-scientific arguments, combing social and scientific issues in one argument rather than focusing on either the social or the scientific aspect of the issue, at the final assessment compared to the initial assessment. The present findings show that engagement in dialogic argumentation supported the development of students’ ability to consider alternatives, which is a fundamental skill for critical thinking. Finally, educational implications are discussed, and a case is made for the value of dialogic argumentation as a means for supporting critical thinking.
... There now exists some evidence that such an effect extends to the case in which the other is totally absent (Shi, 2020;Zavala & Kuhn, 2017). Participants working alone were asked to merely construct a hypothetical dialog between two opponents on an issue (vs. a simple individual essay on the topic), before offering their own argument in the form of a script for a TV spot. ...
... The data presented here contribute to a dialogic perspective on thought by extending the effect of dialog to a borderline condition in which no actual dialog occurs (Shi, 2020;Zavala & Kuhn, 2017). If the view of thinking as essentially dialogic is correct, the placement of ideas into a dialogic structure should enhance their role in the argumentive thinking of individuals exposed to them in beneficial ways. ...
Sixty college students either read a script of a dialog between two individuals holding contrasting positions on the issue of US immigration or read texts containing their two individual position statements on the issue, expressing their same respective views. With this material removed from view, participants expressed in writing their own views on the issue. We asked whether exposure to the dialogic framing would have a greater effect on argumentive thinking, compared to non-dialogic presentation of the same arguments. Essays of the two groups differed in several ways. The dialog group showed greater investment in the task by writing more. Additionally, 78% of the dialog group (vs. 48% of the individual-position control group) made reference to the views they had read, despite no instruction to do so, over half referencing them in a comparative way (vs. 21% of the control group). The substance of the essays showed richer thought by the dialog group, including more “However” clauses (connecting two opposing statements) and more meta-level statements about the issue itself, supporting the hypothesis of a benefit of dialogic framing. Theoretical and educational implications are considered. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
... Situational support, however, cannot replace efforts to enhance reasoning competence and disposition as individual characteristics that are well developed and consolidated enough to operate across a broad range of contexts and levels of support (Zavala and Kuhn 2017), with individuals experiencing both agency and personal responsibility in accounting for their views (Kuhn 2022). For this reason alone, continued effort should be made to better understand the development of these individual reasoning competencies and dispositions so as to make them as broadly achieved and exercised as possible. ...
Simple explanations are very often inadequate and can encourage faulty inferences. We examined college students’ explanations regarding illegal immigration to determine the prevalence of single-factor explanations. The form of students’ explanations was predicted by their responses on a simple three-item forced-choice multivariable causal reasoning task in which they selected the strongest evidence against a causal claim. In a further qualitative investigation of explanations by a sample of community adults, we identified positive features among those who scored high on this multivariable causal reasoning task. We consider limitations of single-factor reasoning and means of encouraging more comprehensive explanations to support claims.
... In sum, the task is "seeing the world through the other's eyes." A concretely present other facilitates this achievement (Iordanou & Kuhn, 2020), but it can also be accomplished when the physical other is only presented secondhand (Kuhn & Modrek, 2021b) or constructed in imagination (Zavala & Kuhn, 2017). ...
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The construct of metacognition appears in an ever increasing number and range of contexts in educational, developmental, and cognitive psychology. Can it retain its status as a useful construct in the face of such diverse application? Or is it merely an umbrella term for diverse mental phenomena that are loosely if at all connected? Here I argue for metacognition playing many diverse roles yet having key features that connect these in a shared framework. Proposed as central to this framework is the exercise of inhibitory cognitive control as a necessary condition for metacognitive competence. Also argued for is greater recognition of metacognition as a disposition, not just competence. As a disposition its foundations are epistemological, and its value and importance lie in supporting individuals’ effective management of their own minds. This disposition puts them in maximum control of what they think and know and the processes they engage in to revise their beliefs, individually and in interaction with others.
... Typically, in critical thinking assessment tasks, students were asked to construct and summarize the arguments from two disagreeing individuals (Zavala & Kuhn, 2017). As social issues were often complex and ambiguous, good reasoning required that examinee weighed and integrated contrasting ideas to arrive at a cohesive and logical conclusion (Ku et al., 2014). ...
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Critical thinking is one of the important higher-order skills very much treasured in education, but hard to be measured using paper-pencil tests. In line with recent recommendation to measure high-order thinking skills with interactive tasks (vs. static one set of questions), in this study we developed an interactive and automated game-based assessment of critical thinking, using the Toulmin Model. In two real-life simulation stories, through interactive tasks in progressing scenes in the stories, students chose and rated evidence and conflicting reasons as supportive or non-supportive arguments in making the eventual decision. Critical thinking scores were awarded on choosing the appropriate evidence and reasons. The psychometric quality of the game was evaluated with 185 Chinese senior secondary students. Results showed that (i) reliabilities as measured by Cronbach’s α of the whole scale and subdomains were reasonable; (ii) parallel form reliability was high; (iii) its correlation and convergent validity with the popular Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment were comparable to those in other studies; (iv) it was generally not related to academic performance; and (v) the game was interesting and engaging. We also noted that students hesitated to query others and they were weak in applying critical thinking to problem-solving, which were in congruent with previous research showing students rarely used critical thinking to solve complex, real-world problems. In sum, we demonstrated successfully the use of interactive simulation tasks in measuring critical thinking. With the advancement of technology, our study suggested the possibility of assessing hard-to-measure important complex higher-order competence with dynamic games.
... Leitão (2003) viewed counterargument as foundational in leading to more elaborate arguments, the integration of opposing views, and even changes in views on controversial political topics. Other studies have focused on an individual's ability to juxtapose and resolve opposing perspectives in argumentative essays (Kuhn & Crowell, 2011;Kuhn et al., 2016b) and constructed dialogues between two interlocutors holding opposing views (Shi, 2020a;Zavala & Kuhn, 2017). These studies have shown that participation in argumentative activities at the interpersonal level enables internalization of the argument structure into the intrapersonal level. ...
Teaching controversial public issues is essential in preparing students for effective citizenship, with discussion and debate being widely held as the most appropriate pedagogical approach. Employing a design-based research approach, our research team collaborated with a teacher and used a popular Chinese movie, Dying to Survive, to promote dialogic teaching of controversial public issues in a Chinese 7th grade Morality and Law class. Discourse analysis showed that a large proportion of teacher's and students’ utterances were dialogic, and that the teacher transitioned between monologic, authoritative teaching and dialogic teaching to ensure student understanding and promote discussion. Students’ argumentative discourse was more common during dialogic interactions than monologic interactions dominated by teacher-centered lectures or recitations. We discuss the significance of our study in promoting deliberative discourse surrounding controversial issues to enhance civic skills and values in Chinese middle school students. We also summarize lessons learned and propose suggestions for future interventions.
Purpose The purpose of this study is to promote the understanding of the nature, development, and evaluation of argumentative competence so that teachers can feel more confident about incorporating argumentative activities into their teaching practices and assess and cultivate students’ argumentative competencies more effectively. Design/Approach/Methods The authors invited Dr. Deanna Kuhn to elaborate on her research findings and theoretical underpinnings regarding her 30 years of research that combined educational, psychological, and philosophical perspectives to conduct argumentation studies. Findings She asserted that argument should be studied not only as an individual skill but also as a social and cultural practice. She promoted the dialogic argumentation approach as a pathway for developing argumentative competence. She also emphasized that an integrated framework that links the cognitive, metacognitive, epistemological, and affective aspects of argumentative competence holds great promise to advance not only the theoretical study of argumentation but also the related empirical research, classroom practices, and evaluation reforms. Originality/Value Dr. Kuhn clarified key issues regarding the nature and development of argumentative competencies and elaborated on the values and implementations of the dialogic argumentation approach across cultures. She suggested that future researchers should study argumentation within a more integrative framework.
This study examined how students’ position on social-scientific issues (SSIs) influenced their performance on attitude toward science, science conceptual and argumentation learning. It defined two positions adopted by students regarding SSIs: affirmative and oppositional. The interactions between student position and two learning environments – online and face-to-face – were explored. A total of 214 11th-grade students from an educational priority area participated in our quasi-experimental study. They were assigned to four groups based on the two variables, position and learning environment. An online argumentation program was developed with a number of functionalities, such as sentence templates, anonymity, and asynchronous discussion blocks, to support the construction of multiple and evidence-based arguments. The findings show that the two variables significantly influenced students’ attitude toward science and science conceptual and argumentation learning. There were significant interactions between the two variables in conceptual learning and two categories of argument: warrant and qualifier. The simple main effect analysis showed that the student groups that advocated a position of environmental protection and participated in online argumentation performed best. The follow-up qualitative analysis revealed that their stronger ethical standpoint and richer learning resources facilitated their co-construction of knowledge arguments and reconciliation following dialogue conflicts.
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Socializing Intelligence Through Academic Talk and Dialogue focuses on a fast-growing topic in education research. Over the course of 34 chapters, the contributors discuss theories and case studies that shed light on the effects of dialogic participation in and outside the classroom. This rich, transdisciplinary endeavor will appeal to scholars and researchers in education and many related disciplines, including learning and cognitive sciences, educational psychology, instructional science, and linguistics, as well as to teachers, curriculum designers, and educational policy makers.
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We present experimental evidence that people's modes of social interaction influence their construal of truth. Participants who engaged in cooperative interactions were less inclined to agree that there was an objective truth about that topic than were those who engaged in a competitive interaction. Follow-up experiments ruled out alternative explanations and indicated that the changes in objectivity are explained by argumentative mindsets: When people are in cooperative arguments, they see the truth as more subjective. These findings can help inform research on moral objectivism and, more broadly, on the distinctive cognitive consequences of different types of social interaction.
The purpose of this paper is to show whether the two crucial dimensions used for assessing the quality of argumentation, argument-as-a-product (argument structure) and argument-as-a-process (relevance), are interrelated, and how they can be used to assess the effect of argumentative mode on students’ arguments. To this purpose, a twofold coding scheme will be developed, aimed at capturing: a) the argumentative function of evidence use and b) the dialogical relevance of evidence use. A study will be described in which students’ use of evidence is elicited in two distinct argumentative modes (dialogical vs. non-dialogical). According to the results, in the dialogical mode students tended to use evidence in a more sophisticated way from both argument evaluation perspectives.
In two separate studies, we found that college-aged students learned more when they collaboratively watched tutorial dialogue-videos than lecture-style monologue-videos. In fact, they can learn as well as the tutees in the dialogue-videos. These results replicate similar findings in the literature showing the advantage of dialogue-videos even when observers watched them individually. However, having the observing students watch collaboratively as dyads provided data to carry out in-depth analyses of their conversations and activities in order to understand why dialogue-videos are superior to monologue-videos. Toward that goal, transcripts of video dialogues and monologues, as well as peer-to-peer conversations of the observing students collected in a prior study were analyzed, using the ICAP framework as a lens. Three sets of analyses were carried out. The first set focuses on the content of the videos in terms of the tutors’ and the tutees’ moves. The second set focuses on the activities and behaviors of the collaborative observing dyads. The third set focuses on the role of the tutees in the dialogue-videos in eliciting constructive and interactive engagement from the observing students. Our analyses suggest that dialogue-videos naturally elicited more constructive and interactive engagement behaviors from the observers than the monologue-videos, which in turn mediated the observers’ own learning.