Harvard Freshmen

It was D. E. Montgomery who proposed in 1992 the term ‘folk epistemology’ to describe the part of folk psychology that deals with theoretical problems on the nature of knowledge and its acquisition. However, it was not until Karen Strohm Kitchener (2002) that the term ‘folk epistemology’ was used, to my mind, in a strategically successful way: to gather and articulate subjects on the theory of the mind and metacognition. If we accept Fagnant and Crahay’s (2011) interpretation of Montgomery, the existence of a kind of common-sense theory of knowledge generally present in people meant an implicit combination of two fields of research: theories of mind and personal epistemology.

Folk epistemology is understood as the system of common-sense beliefs we ordinarily accept in our everyday understanding of the world. One dominant feature in this field is the wide variety of research on folk psychology in children and students. As several authors have pointed out, from William Perry’s first enquiry in 1970 into the epistemological assumptions of Harvard freshmen, almost all research into folk epistemology has been focused almost exclusively on college students. Later, young people in their adolescent and preadolescent years were also analysed, as well as the ones in their pre-school and primary years. One of the main purposes of this research has been to identify stages and levels of epistemological development.

The large volume of research that has been made in the area of educational psychology is extraordinarily valuable although it has led to apparent contradictions. In their comparative analyses of the results in the mentioned studies, Chandler and Carpendale, and Kitchener concluded that no matter what age group researchers were discussing, they claimed to observe the same developmental sequence unfolding. Chandler and his colleagues have tried to explain the existence in the literature of apparently similar observations about different age groups. Their conclusions suggest that domain differences may account for some of the discrepancies in obtained results.



Annick Fagnant, & Marcel Crahay (2011). Theories of Mind and Personal Epistemology: Their Interrelation and Connection with the Concept of Metacognition European Journal of Psychology of Education, 29 (2), 257-271 DOI: 10.1007/s10212-010-0045-2