Education and Human Sciences, College of (CEHS)


First Advisor

Roger Bruning

Date of this Version

Fall 10-11-2016


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Psychological Studies in Education (Cognition, Learning, and Development), Under the Supervision of Professor Roger Bruning. Lincoln, Nebraska: October, 2016

Copyright (c) 2016 Ruomeng Zhao


Constructing quality argumentation to justify one’s own beliefs on a topic is important both for a thorough topic understanding and the development of argumentation writing skills. Also, one’s change or retention of topic beliefs should be based on quality argumentation, such that the belief can be considered rational. The purpose of this study was to test whether a cognitive strategy, elaborative interrogation, can improve the understanding of belief-inconsistent arguments on a controversial topic and then improve argumentation quality, as well as result in reflective belief change. Elaborative interrogation is a cognitive strategy which prompts individuals to answer “why” questions on the to-be-learned information. The present study also examined the role of individuals’ need for cognition in argumentation and its role in the relationship between using elaborative interrogation and quality of argumentation.

This study used a mixed model pretest-posttest experimental design with random assignment to three experimental conditions (elaborative interrogation treatment condition, summary control condition, and no-processing control condition) to test three hypotheses on effects of elaborative interrogation and need for cognition. It was hypothesized individuals who used elaborative interrogation strategy when reading belief-inconsistent arguments would demonstrate improvement in quality of argumentation (Hypothesis 1) and reflective belief change (Hypothesis 2) after reading, whereas individuals who did not use this strategy would not. Argumentation quality and topic beliefs were measured before and after the experimental manipulation to examine pre-post changes, if any. It was also hypothesized high need for cognition would be associated with high quality of argumentation (Hypothesis 3). Based on the experimental results, Hypotheses 1 and 2 were confirmed. Hypothesis 3 was rejected.

In the end, implications of the findings about each hypothesis are discussed, along with possible cognitive mechanisms underlying these findings. Contributions of this study also are summarized, highlighting the connection between the psychology literature on cognitive biases and the education literature on learning strategies. Finally, limitations of the study are discussed, followed by suggestions for future research.

Advisor: Roger Bruning