Forming a belief: The contribution of comprehension to the evaluation and persuasive impact of argumentative text

Diakidoy, Irene‐Anna N., Christodoulou, Stelios A., Floros, Georgios, Iordanou, Kalypso orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-5930-9393 and Kargopoulos, Philip V. (2015) Forming a belief: The contribution of comprehension to the evaluation and persuasive impact of argumentative text. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85 (3). pp. 300-315. ISSN 0007-0998

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Research has shown substantial belief change as a result of reading text and the pervasive influence of prior belief in the evaluation of short arguments. Both outcomes have been attributed to the depth to which the text or the argument has been processed. This study brings together critical thinking and text comprehension research by employing an extended argumentative text and varying the quality of its arguments.

The study examines the contribution of comprehension outcomes to the critical evaluation and persuasive impact of argumentative text.

One hundred and sixteen first‐year graduate and third‐ and fourth‐year undergraduate university students.

Measures of initial topic‐related beliefs, perceived topic knowledge, and need for cognition were obtained. Students read one of two versions of a two‐sided, implicitly persuasive argumentative text (677 words) varying in argument quality. Post‐reading tasks included main claim recall, overall recall, inference generation, claim agreement, and text evaluation.

The text was positively evaluated and highly persuasive regardless of argument quality, but half of the students either failed to identify the main claim promoted or confused it with individual arguments. Despite a modest but positive association between inference generation and text evaluation, no comprehension measure had a significant main or interactive effect. Need for cognition contributed to positive evaluations in the absence of prior topic knowledge regardless of argument quality.

The findings suggest a dissociation between the elaboration associated with deep comprehension and the elaboration associated with critical evaluation with implications for belief formation and the teaching of thinking.

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