Distinguishing facts from beliefs: fuzzy categories

Open access


This paper presents results from five studies that investigate how people perceive the distinction between facts and beliefs. The central question being asked is whether the features that distinguish the categories of facts and beliefs are distinct or overlapping. In each of the five studies, participants are presented with content statements and asked the degree to which they agree with a given statement, the degree to which they think others would agree with it, and whether the statement was a fact or a belief. From these ratings, six possible patterns were derived. The results showed that in many content areas the patterns that describe the statements they categorized as facts and those that they categorized as beliefs had considerable overlap. In addition, participant consensus as to which statements were to be considered facts versus beliefs varied from high to low depending on the specific content being evaluated.

Banerjee, R., Yuill, N., Larson, C., Easton, K., Robinson, E., & Rowley, M. (2007). Children’s differentiation between beliefs about matters of fact and matters of opinion. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1084-1096.

Cohen, M.R. & Nagel, E. (1934). An introduction to logic and scientific method. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

Collins, A.M. & Quillian, M.R. (1969). Retrieval time from semantic memory. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 8, 240-247.

Dewey, J. & Bentley, A.F. (1949). Knowing and the known. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Dewey, J. & Bento, J. (2009). Activating children’s thinking skills (ACTS): The effects of an infusion approach to teaching thinking in primary schools. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 79, 329-351.

James, W. (2007). The meaning of truth. Radford, VA: Wilder Publications.

Johnson, M.K., Raye, C.L., Wang, A.,Y., & Taylor, T.H. (1979). Fact and fantasy: The roles of accuracy and variability in confusing imaginations with perceptual experiences. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 5, 229-240.

Kuhn, T.S. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gazzaniga, T.F. & Heatherton, T.F. (2006). Psychological science (2nd ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Gettier, E.L. (1963). Is justified true belief knowledge? Analysis, 23, 121-123.

Goodwin, G.P. & Darley, J.M. (2012). Why are some moral beliefs perceived to be more objective than others? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 250-256.

Greene, J.D. & Paxton, J.M. (2009). Patterns of neural activity associated with honest and dishonest moral decisions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 106(30), 12506-12511.

Henretta, J., Brody, D., & Dumenil, L. (2006). America: A concise history (Vol. 2; 3rd. ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Marsh, E.J., Balota, D.A., & Roediger III, H.L. (2005). Learning facts from fiction: Effects of healthy aging and early-stage dementia of the Alzheimer type. Neuropsychology, 19, 115-129.

Marsh, E.J., Meade, M.L., & Roediger III, H.L. (2003). Learning facts from fiction. Journal of Memory and Language, 49, 519-536.

McCloskey, M.E. & Glucksberg, S. (1978). Natural categories: Well defined or fuzzy sets. Memory & Cognition, 6, 462-472.

New York State Education Department (2010). Curriculum Instruction and Instruction Technology. Retrieved 20.06.2010 from http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/.

Nickerson, R.S., Perkins, D.N., & Smith, E.E. (1985), The teaching of thinking. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Perman, M. & Paterson, T. (1998). Major problems in the civil war and reconstruction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Purves, W.K., Sadava, D., Orians, G.H., & Heller, C. (2001). Life, the Science of Biology: The Science of Biology. New York: Macmillan.

Rauch, J. (1993). Kindly inquisitors. University of Chicago Press.

Russell, B. (1940). An inquiry into meaning and truth. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Starmans, C. & Friedman, O. (2012). The folk conception of knowledge. Cognition, 124, 272-283.

Wierzbicka, A. (1992). Defining emotion concepts, Cognitive Science, 16, 539-581.

Journal Information

CiteScore 2017: 0.34

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.144
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2017: 0.359

Cited By


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 513 513 172
PDF Downloads 257 257 89