Theses Doctoral

The Domain-Specificity of Epistemological Understanding in Making Aesthetic Judgments

Crow, William Brice

Literature in arts education suggests that experiences in the arts support the development of thinking skills such as critical thinking and reasoning (Fiske, 1999; Eisner, 2004; Greene, Kisida, and Bowen, 2014). But do individuals make aesthetic judgments supported by critical thinking and reasoning, or are these judgments based only on subjective preferences or personal taste? The present study examines whether undergraduate college students from an elite private university serving primarily students of high socioeconomic status (SES) and a public university serving primarily low SES students (n=150) invoke criteria when making evaluative judgments across the domains of visual art, music, and a non-aesthetic more general domain. Students were asked to compare two works of art (visual art or music), and to compare two fictional political candidates and to indicate whether one could be judged superior to the other and if so on what basis. Responses reflected levels of epistemological understanding—that is, whether judgments are based primarily on facts (Absolutist level), subjective opinions (Multiplist level), or criteria (Evaluativist level).
The majority of participants displayed Multiplist levels in the aesthetic domains. Evaluativist levels were more common in the non-aesthetic domain, although significantly so only in comparison to the music domain among the students from the private elite university.
Group comparisons across the two aesthetic domains showed that individuals scored at the Evaluativist level with more frequency in the visual art domain as compared to the music domain. However, this difference was significant only among the participants from the private elite university and not among the participants from the public university. The general educational and social background of the participants (private elite university setting versus public university setting) proved to be the strongest predictor of Evaluativist-level responses.
Continued research in epistemological understanding in the aesthetic domain is needed, as development in epistemological thinking may afford insights into the degree to which individuals exercise critical thinking about the arts, and how such thinking can be fostered.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cognitive Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Kuhn, Deanna
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 6, 2017