Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Psychology


Educational Psychology

First Committee Member

Michael Nussbaum, Chair

Second Committee Member

Gregory Schraw

Third Committee Member

Gale M. Sinatra

Graduate Faculty Representative

P. G. Schrader

Number of Pages



Critical thinking is important for today's life, where individuals daily face unlimited amounts of information, complex problems, and rapid technological and social changes. Therefore, critical thinking should be the focus of general education and educators' efforts (Angeli & Valanides, 2009; Oliver & Utermohlen, 1995). Despite passively agreeing or disagreeing with a line of reasoning, critical thinkers use analytical skills to comprehend and evaluate its merits, considering strengths and weaknesses. Critical thinkers also analyze arguments, recognizing the essentiality of asking for reasons and considering alternative views and developing their own point of view (Paul, 1990). Kuhn and Udell (2007) emphasize that the ability to participate in sound argument is central to critical thinking and is essential to skilled decision making.

Nussbaum and Schraw (2007) emphasized that effective argumentation includes not only considering counterarguments but also evaluating, weighing, and combining the arguments and counterarguments into support for a final conclusion. Nussbaum and Schraw called this process argument-counterargument integration. The authors identified three strategies that could be used to construct an integrative argument in the context of writing reflective essays: a refutation, weighing, and design claim strategy. They also developed a graphic organizer called the argumentation vee diagram (AVD) for helping students write reflective essay.

This study focuses on the weighing and design claim strategies. In the weighing strategy, an arguer can argue that the weight of reasons and evidence on one side of the issue is stronger than that on the other side. In a design claim strategy, a reasoner tends to form her opinion or conclusion based on supporting an argument side (by taking its advantages) and eliminating or reducing the disadvantages of the counterargument side. Based on learning other definitions for argumentation, I define argumentation in this study as a "reasoning tool of evaluation through giving reasons and evidence for one's own positions, and evaluating counterarguments of different ideas for different views."

In cognitive psychology, cognitive load theory seems to provide a promising framework for studying and increasing our knowledge about cognitive functioning and learning activities. Cognitive load theory contributes to education and learning by using human cognitive architecture to understand the design of instruction. CLT assumes limited working memory resources when information is being processed (Sweller & Chandler, 1994; Sweller, Van Merriënboer & Paas, 1998; Van Merriënboer & Sweller, 2005).

The Present Research Study
Research Questions
1- What is the cognitive load imposed by two different argument-counterargument integration strategies (weighing, and constructing a design claim)?
2- What is the impact of using the AVDs on amount of cognitive load, compared to using a less diagrammatic structure (linear list)?

It is hypothesized that the weighing strategy would impose greater cognitive load, as measured by mental effort rating scale and time, than constructing a design claim strategy. As proposed by Nussbaum (2008), in using weighing strategy a larger number of disparate (non-integrative) elements must be coordinated and maintained in working memory. It is also hypothesized that the AVDs would reduce cognitive load, compared to a linear list, By helping individuals better connect, organize, and remember information (various arguments) (Rulea, Baldwin & Schell, 2008), and therefore freeing up processing capacity for essential cognitive processing (Stull & Mayer, 2007).

The experimental design of the study consisted of four experimental groups that used strategies and two control groups. I tested the hypotheses of the study by using a randomized 2x3 factorial design ANOVA (two strategies prompt x AVD and non- AVD) with a control group included in each factor. Need for cognition (NFC), a construct reflecting the tendency to enjoy and engage in effortful cognitive processing (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986), was measured and used as an indication of participants' tendency to put forth cognitive effort.

Thinking and argument-counterargument integration processes took place through electronic discussion board (WebCampus), considering analysis questions about grading issue "Should students be graded on class participation?" I chose that analysis question as it represents an issue that is meaningful and important for college students, in that they can relate and engage easily in thinking about it.

The results of the first research question pointed to a significant relationship between the complexity of an essay, as measured by complexity of weighing refutation, and cognitive load as measured by time and cognitive load scale. Weighing refutations also involved more mental effort than design claims even when controlling for the complexity of the arguments. The results also revealed that there was a significant interaction effect for NFC.

The results of the second research question were non-significant. The results showed that the linear list that was used by the control group was as productive as the AVDs. There was no difference between the control and experimental groups in the amount of cognitive load that they reported in terms of mental effort and time spent on the thinking and integration process. Measuring the cognitive load of different argument-counterargument integration strategies will help inform instructional efforts on how best to teach these strategies, design effective instructional techniques for teaching critical thinking, and will also help provide theoretical insight in the cognitive processes involved in using these strategies.


Cognitive load; Critical thinking; Debates and debating


Cognition and Perception | Cognitive Psychology | School Psychology

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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