Why do experts disagree? The role of conflict topics and epistemic perspectives in conflict explanations

Eva Thomm, Sarit Barzilai, Rainer Bromme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study examined the role of conflict topics and individual differences in epistemic perspectives (absolutism, multiplism, and evaluativism) in students' explanations of expert conflicts. University students (N = 184) completed an epistemic thinking assessment and a conflict explanation assessment regarding two controversies in biology and history. Additionally, thirty students were interviewed and provided detailed conflict explanations that were used to interpret and extend the quantitative results. In the biology problem, conflicts were predominantly attributed to topic complexity and to research methods. In the history problem, conflicts were also predominantly attributed to topic complexity, but also to researchers' personal backgrounds and motivations. Epistemic perspectives were related to specific conflict explanations, suggesting that these perspectives have a role beyond topic differences. Thus, both conflict topics and epistemic perspectives shape lay explanations of experts' conflicts. The findings highlight differences in students’ interpretations of the roles experts play in knowledge construction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-26
Number of pages12
JournalLearning and Instruction
StatePublished - Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Conflict explanations
  • Domain-specificity
  • Epistemic thinking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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