The Effect of Priming Intellectual Virtues on Individual Effort and Understanding

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Melissa Hopkins, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA
The purpose of this research is to contribute to creating more effective strategies for science communication. Specifically, this study deals with the employment of intellectual virtues. Intellectual virtues are cultivated intellectual dispositions (such as intellectual curiosity or open-mindedness) which epistemologists believe may contribute to increased understanding of a subject. Recent philosophical work identifies various categories of intellectual virtues. We focused on three — endurance, motivation, and focus — for their hypothesized relevance for promoting science comprehension. This research aims to determine whether intellectual virtues from these categories can be primed and whether the priming of intellectual virtues will contribute to increased effort in understanding of a scientific process. Participants are randomly assigned one of four word scramble tasks containing priming words associated with the intellectual virtue categories of either endurance, motivation, focus, or a neutral, control test. They are then shown a diagram and explanatory text of a scientific process, and are subsequently asked to answer a series of questions that assess their understanding. Participant effort is measured by time spent with the scientific treatment and answering the conceptual questions, while understanding is measured by correctness of those answers. The resulting data from all primed participants are compared to that of the neutral control group to test the following two hypotheses: 1. Priming intellectual virtues will increase the effort put forth by the participant and therefore result in an increase in time spent studying the scientific treatment and answering understanding questions  2. Participants primed with intellectual virtues will have an increased understanding, as measured by the correctness of their answers, than the neutrally-primed group. The research team also used a 4-way (endurance, motivation, focus, and neutral) MANOVA design to determine the most effective category of intellectual virtues for increasing effort and understanding. If priming intellectual virtues is conducive to promoting individual effort and understanding of scientific concepts, this could have important implications for increasing the effectiveness of both science communication and education.