Social Psychology of Education

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 169–183 | Cite as

Epistemic authority of professors and researchers: differential perceptions by students from two cultural-educational systems

  • Jos Hornikx
Open Access


Teachers and researchers are considered epistemic authorities that provide reliable information if that information is relevant to their discipline. Students differentiate between relevant and irrelevant disciplines when assessing teachers’ expertise. In this paper, it is investigated whether students’ cultural-educational background plays a role in this differentiation between relevant and irrelevant disciplines. In large power distance cultures such as France, students learn to respect and obey their teacher, whereas in smaller power distance cultures such as the Netherlands, the relationships between students and teachers are more informal. Therefore, French students may be less sensitive to the actual discipline when assessing a source’s expertise. In an experiment, it was empirically tested whether French students perceived smaller differences than Dutch students between fictitious professors and researchers who put forward information that was or was not related to their own discipline. Results showed that the French participants indeed differentiated to a much lesser degree between professors and researchers with a relevant and an irrelevant discipline than did the Dutch participants. Further analyses indicated that students’ obedience partially mediated this effect of nationality on the difference between relevant and irrelevant disciplines. This study underlines the role that cultural-educational background can play in the assessments of epistemic authorities.


Culture Discipline Epistemic authority Obedience Power distance 



The author wishes to thank Remieg Aerts, Thomas Beaufils, Michèle Bitour, Jacqueline de Bony, Hans Hoeken, Claudia Huisman, Frank van Meurs, Margot van Mulken, and Evelyne Vos-Fruit for their suggestions regarding this research.

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Language Studies, Department of Business Communication StudiesRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

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