Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2017

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



The term "folk" refers to the intuitive – as opposed to the academic – version of a discipline (e.g., folk physics). The present series of seven studies explored folk epistemology, that is, how laypeople intuitively think about their own knowledge. Concepts from academic epistemology were investigated in laypeople. In addition, folk epistemology across three domains of knowledge were compared: religious, political, and factual.Studies consisted of two parts. In Part 1, participants were presented with religious, political, and factual statements and asked how certain they were that each statement was true. In Part 2, participants were re-presented with only statements that they had rated as very certainly true in Part 1. For each statement presented in Part 2, participants were asked to reflect on epistemological concepts related to how/why they believed the statement to be true. Studies 1 and 2 helped to validate the research materials. Studies 3 and 4 investigated the extent to which laypeople use and value verification and falsification, respectively, across the three domains. Study 5 examined theories of truth – do laypeople define the truth of religious, political, and factual beliefs based on correspondence, coherence, or pragmatism? Study 6 explored objectivity – do laypeople feel their beliefs are objectively true? Study 7 explored several concepts related to overall certainty and nature of belief, including the required effort to believe, frequency of doubt, and obviousness and reasonableness of truth. Participants also were asked how they would react to those who disagreed with them and to counterarguments as another window into the nature of their beliefs.Results showed that (i) folk epistemology differed systematically across the three domains; (ii) intuitions about factual knowledge were more closely related to normative, academic standards; and (iii) intuitions about religious and political knowledge were strikingly different from normative standards. That is to say, religious and political beliefs were regarded as less verifiable, less falsifiable, less consistent with other true propositions, more dubious, less reasonable, and more subjective.These results suggest that current conceptions of why/how people believe propositions to be"true" insufficiently describe belief in the political and religious domains. Truth determination is neither domain-general, nor does it rely exclusively on propositional content. Laypeople appear to be less certain that religious and political propositions accurately track reality. Exactly which factors motivate belief in these domains is still not fully understood.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Leonard Green

Committee Members

Leonard Green, Alan Lambert, Lori Markson, Robert Kurzban,


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