Epistemic authority of professors and researchers

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 is or is 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 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.

  • Hornikx, J. (2011). Epistemic authority of professors and researchers: Differential perceptions by students from two cultural-educational systems. Social Psychology of Education, 14 (2), 169-183.

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