European Journal of Psychology of Education

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 369–384 | Cite as

“Probably true” says the expert: how two types of lexical hedges influence students’ evaluation of scientificness

  • Monja Thiebach
  • Elisabeth Mayweg-Paus
  • Regina Jucks
Article

Abstract

Contemporary school learning typically includes the processing of popular scientific information as found in journals, magazines, and/or the WWW. The German high school curriculum emphasizes that students should have achieved science literacy and have learned to evaluate the substance of text-based learning content by the end of high school. Alongside the content of science-related information, two issues are important when students gauge its substance: (a) information about its source, such as whether an expert has provided it (attribution shields) and (b) its wording, for example, whether so-called markers of tentativeness such as “probably” point to a preliminary assessment (plausibility shields). Based on the outcomes of a content analysis of the usage of such shields, we report an experiment that varied the occurrence of both types of shields in single arguments. Results showed effects of both manipulations on the perception and evaluation of arguments. However, information about the source impacted more strongly on the evaluation than the wording. We relate this finding to the formulation of as well as students’ processing of text-based learning content and suggest practical implications for teaching students how to handle scientific information.

Keywords

Science learning Evaluation of scientific arguments Source information Hedging Scientific uncertainty 

Notes

This research was supported by a grant from the German Science Foundation given to the second and third authors [JU 471/2-3]. The authors thank Jonathan Harrow for language editing and Christina Hanna and Julia Wichelmann for help with the data analysis.

References

  1. Appel, M., & Schreiner, C. (2014). Digitale Demenz? Mythen und wissenschaftliche Befundlage zur Auswirkung von Internetnutzung [Digital dementia? Myths and scientific evidence on the effect of internet use]. Psychologische Rundschau, 65(1), 1–10. doi: 10.1026/0033-3042/a000186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Blankenship, K. L., & Holtgraves, T. (2005). The role of different markers of linguistic powerlessness in persuasion. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 24(1), 3–24. doi: 10.1177/0261927X04273034.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bråten, I., Ferguson, L. E., Strømsø, H. I., & Øistein, A. (2013). Justification beliefs and multiple-documents comprehension. Journal of Psychology of Education, 28(3), 879–902.Google Scholar
  4. Brem, S. K., & Rips, L. J. (2000). Explanation and evidence in informal argument. Cognitive Science, 24(4), 573–604. doi: 10.1016/S0364-0213(00)00033-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Britt, M., & Aglinskas, C. (2002). Improving students’ ability to identify and use source information. Cognition and Instruction, 20(4), 485–522. doi: 10.1207/S1532690XCI2004_2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burrell, N. A., & Koper, R. J. (1998). The efficacy of powerful/powerless language on attitudes and source credibility. In M. Allen & R. W. Preiss (Eds.), Persuasion: advances through meta-analysis (pp. 203–215). Cresskill: Hampton Press.Google Scholar
  7. Butler, C. (1990). Qualifications in science: modal meanings in scientific texts. In W. Nash (Ed.), The writing scholar: studies in academic discourse (pp. 137–170). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  8. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  9. Connolly, T. M., Boyle, E. A., MacArthur, E., Hainey, T., & Boyle, J. M. (2012). A systematic literature review of empirical evidence on computer games and serious games. Computers & Education, 59(2), 661–686. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.03.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Corner, A., & Hahn, U. (2009). Evaluating science arguments: evidence, uncertainty, and argument strength. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 15(3), 199–212. doi: 10.1037/a0016533.Google Scholar
  11. Crismore, A., & Farnsworth, R. (1990). Metadiscourse in popular and professional science discourse. In W. Nash (Ed.), The writing scholar: studies in academic discourse (pp. 45–68). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  12. Durik, A. M., Britt, M., Reynolds, R., & Storey, J. (2008). The effects of hedges in persuasive arguments: a nuanced analysis of language. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 27(3), 217–234. doi: 10.1177/0261927X08317947.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hahn, U., Harris, A. J. L., & Corner, A. J. (2009). Argument content and argument source: an exploration. Informal Logic, 29, 337–367.Google Scholar
  14. Hosman, L. A. (2002). Language and persuasion. In J. P. Dillard & M. W. Pfau (Eds.), The persuasion handbook: developments in theory and practice (pp. 233–258). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  15. Hosman, L. A., & Siltanen, S. A. (2011). Hedges, tag questions, message processing, and persuasion. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 30(3), 341–349. doi: 10.1177/0261927X11407169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hyland, K. (1994). Hedging in academic writing and EAF textbooks. English for Specific Purposes, 13(3), 239–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hyland, K. (1996). Talking to the academy: forms of hedging in science research articles. Written Communication, 13, 251–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jensen, J. D. (2008). Scientific uncertainty in news coverage of cancer research: effects of hedging on scientists’ and journalists’ credibility. Human Communication Research, 34(3), 347–369. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2008.00324.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jucks, R., & Paus, E. (2012). What makes a word difficult? Insights into the mental representation of technical terms. Metacognition & Learning, 7, 91–111. doi: 10.1007/s11409-011-9084-6.
  20. Jucks, R., & Paus, E. (2013). Different Words for the Same Concept: Learning Collaboratively From Multiple Documents. Cognition and Instruction 31(2), 497–518. doi: 10.1080/07370008.2013.769993.
  21. Lakoff, R. (1972). Language in context. Language, 48(4), 907–927. doi: 10.2307/411994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lewin, B. A. (2005). Hedging: an exploratory study of authors’ and readers’ identification of “toning down” in scientific texts. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 4(2), 163–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Liu, X. (2009). Beyond science literacy: science and the public. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 4, 301–311.Google Scholar
  24. Meyer, P. G. (1997). Hedging strategies in written academic discourse: strengthening the argument by weakening the claim. In R. Markkanen & H. Schröder (Eds.), Hedging and discourse: approaches to the analysis of a pragmatic phenomenon in academic texts (pp. 21–41). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  25. Mayweg-Paus, E. & Jucks, R. (2014). Evident or doubtful? How Lexical Hints in Written Information Influence Laypersons' Understanding of Influenza. Psychology, Health & Medicine. doi: 10.1080/13548506.2014.986139.
  26. Ministerium für Schule und Weiterbildung des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen (2014). Kernlehrplan für die Sekundarstufe II Gymnasium/Gesamtschule in Nordrhein-Westfalen. Deutsch. Retrieved from http://www.schulentwicklung.nrw.de/lehrplaene/upload/klp_SII/d/KLP_GOSt_Deutsch.pdf.
  27. Pellechia, M. G. (1997). Trends in science coverage: a content analysis of three US newspapers. Public Understanding of Science, 6, 49–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Perfetti, C. A., Britt, M. A., & Georgi, M. C. (1995). Text-based learning and reasoning: studies in history. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  29. Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). Communication and persuasion: central and peripheral routes to attitude change. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pinto, M. A., Iliceto, P., & Melogno, S. (2011). Argumentative abilities in metacognition and in metalinguistics: a study on university students. Journal of Psychology of Education, 27(1), 35–58.Google Scholar
  31. Prince, E. F., Frader, J., & Bosk, C. (1982). On hedging in physician-physician discourse. In R. J. Di Prieto (Ed.), Linguistics and the professions (pp. 83–97). Norwood: Alex.Google Scholar
  32. Scharrer, L., Britt, M., Stadtler, M., & Bromme, R. (2013). Easy to understand but difficult to decide: Information comprehensibility and controversiality affect laypersons’ science-based decisions. Discourse Processes, 50(6), 361–387. doi: 10.1080/0163853X.2013.813835.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Søvik, N., Samuelstuen, M., & Flem, A. (2000). Cognitive and linguistic predictors of text comprehension. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 15(2), 135–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sparks, J. R., & Rapp, D. N. (2011). Readers’ reliance on source credibility in the service of comprehension. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37(1), 230–247. doi: 10.1037/a0021331.Google Scholar
  35. Spiewak, M. (2012). Macht uns der Computer dumm [Do computers make us dumb]? ZEIT, 37, 1–3. Retrieved from http://www.zeit.de/2012/37/Jugendliche-Medienkonsum-Spitzer-Vorderer.Google Scholar
  36. Stadtler, M., & Bromme, R. (2008). Effects of the metacognitive computer-tool met.a.ware on the web search of laypersons. Computers in Human Behavior, 24, 716–737. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2007.01.023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Stocking, S. H. (1999). How journalists deal with scientific uncertainty. In S. Friedman, S. Dunwoody, & C. Rogers (Eds.), Communicating uncertainty: media coverage of new and controversial science (pp. 23–42). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  38. Strømsø, H. I., Bråten, I., & Britt, M. A. (2011). Do students’ beliefs about knowledge and knowing predict their judgment of texts’ trustworthiness? Educational Psychology, 31, 177–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Strømsø, H. I., Bråten, I., Britt, M., & Ferguson, L. E. (2013). Spontaneous sourcing among students reading multiple documents. Cognition and Instruction, 31(2), 176–203. doi: 10.1080/07370008.2013.769994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tankard, J. W., & Ryan, M. (1974). News sources’ perceptions of accuracy in science coverage. Journalism Quarterly, 51, 219–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Thomm, E., & Bromme, R. (2011). “It should at least seem scientific!” Textual features of “scientificness” and their impact on lay assessments of online information. Science Education, 96(2), 197–201. doi: 10.1002/sce.20480.Google Scholar
  42. Toulmin, S. E. (2003). The uses of argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Varttala, T. (1999). Remarks on the communicative functions of hedging in popular scientific and specialist research articles on medicine. English for Specific Purposes, 18(2), 177–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada, Lisboa, Portugal and Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Monja Thiebach
    • 1
  • Elisabeth Mayweg-Paus
    • 1
  • Regina Jucks
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Sport StudiesWestfälische Wilhelms-Universität MünsterMünsterGermany

Personalised recommendations