RJ Stages

RJ Underlying Assumptions



The Reflective Judgment Model

In the twenty years since its inception, The Reflective Judgment Model has distinguished itself by its ability to describe the development of reasoning from adolescence to adulthood. An extensive database containing both longitudinal and cross-sectional research has informed the work of developmental and educational psychologists, college faculty, student affairs educators, and those concerned with college outcomes assessment. The Reflective Judgment Model describes changes in epistemic assumptions and how these affect the development of critical or reflective thinking skills and related constructs in young adults and adults, especially college students.

John Dewey (1933, 1938) observed that reflective thinking is called for when people recognize that some problems cannot be solved with certainty. Drawing from this observation, King and Kitchener chose the term "reflective judgment" to describe the kind of epistemic cognition that includes the recognition that real uncertainty exists about some issues. The Reflective Judgment Model describes development in reasoning about such issues in late adolescence through adulthood.

Reflective judgment is drawn from the theoretical work of many scholars. Listed below are scholars whose work informed the development of the Reflective Judgment Model, and how their work contributed to the model.

  • John Dewey (1933, 1938): definition of reflective thinking; the observation that uncertainty is a characteristic of the search for knowledge
  • Piaget (1960, 1970 [1956], 1974): assumptions of stage-related development; the processes of assimilation and accommodation account for changes in the conceptual structures used to understand the world
  • Flavell (1963, 1971, 1977): stage models generally assume that there are qualitatively different structures organized into logically coherent systems or stages; stages appear in an invariant sequence
  • Perry (1968, 1981): sequential development in college students' underlying assumptions about knowledge, truth, and values
  • Broughton (1975, 1978): epistemological development after relativism; earliest stages of epistemological development are more characteristic of children than college students
  • Fischer (1980; Lamborn & Fischer, 1988): cognitive skill theory model of the development of complex reasoning; an individual's developmental range falls between optimal and functional levels
  • Kegan (1982, 1994): evolution of the self; interpersonal relationships as a developmental continuum

The Reflective Judgment Model describes a dimension of cognitive development based on the work of these scholars.

Overview of the Reflective Judgment Model's Three Developmental Periods

The conceptual framework for reflective judgment is that of a stage model characterized by seven distinct but developmentally related sets of assumptions about the process of knowing (view of knowledge) and how it is acquired (justification of beliefs). Each successive set of epistemological assumptions is characterized by a more complex and effective form of justification. The seven developmental stages of the Reflective Judgment Model may be broadly summarized into three levels: prereflective (Stages 1-3), quasi-reflective (Stages 4 and 5), and reflective (Stages 6 and 7) thinking.

Prereflective Reasoning (Stages 1-3): Belief that "knowledge is gained through the word of an authority figure or through firsthand observation, rather than, for example, through the evaluation of evidence. [People who hold these assumptions] believe that what they know is absolutely correct, and that they know with complete certainty. People who hold these assumptions treat all problems as though they were well-structured" (King & Kitchener, 2002, p. 39).

Quasi-Reflective Reasoning (Stages 4 and 5): Recognition "that knowledge-or more accurately, knowledge claims-contain elements of uncertainty, which [people who hold these assumptions] attribute to missing information or to methods of obtaining the evidence. Although they use evidence, they do not understand how evidence entails a conclusion (especially in light of the acknowledged uncertainty), and thus tend to view judgments as highly idiosyncratic" (King and Kitchener, 2002, p. 40).

Reflective Reasoning (Stages 6 and 7): People who hold these assumptions accept "that knowledge claims cannot be made with certainty, but [they] are not immobilized by it; rather, [they] make judgments that are "most reasonable" and about which they are "relatively certain," based on their evaluation of available data. They believe they must actively construct their decisions, and that knowledge claims must be evaluated in relationship to the context in which they were generated to determine their validity. They also readily admit their willingness to reevaluate the adequacy of their judgments as new data or new methodologies become available" (King & Kitchener, 2002, p. 40).