Some Cognitive Characteristics of Night-Sky Watchers: Correlations between Social Problem-Solving, Need for Cognition, and Noctcaelador

By Kelly, William E. | Education, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Some Cognitive Characteristics of Night-Sky Watchers: Correlations between Social Problem-Solving, Need for Cognition, and Noctcaelador


Kelly, William E., Education


For most of history, humans have been watching the night-sky (Brecher & Feirtag, 1979; Hawkins, 1983). Despite the long history of night-sky watching among humans and the apparent importance of the behavior to portions of the contemporary population (i.e., amateur astronomers, astro-tourists, etc.), this behavior has only recently become a focus of scientific study. In two of the first studies examining night-sky watching as a psychological variable, Kelly (2003) and Kelly and Kelly (2003) identified a single latent construct which accounted for a majority of the variance in night-sky watching attitudes and behaviors. Kelly (2003) termed this construct noctcaelador, defined as strong interest in, or psychological attachment to the night-sky. Recently identified, little research has examined correlates of noctcaelador. One of the few studies on this topic found that higher scores on a measure of noctcaelador were related to higher scores on the openness to experience factor of the five-factor model of personality (Kelly, 2004a).

Across several studies, openness to experience has been identified as a correlate of cognitive effort and engagement (Ackerman & Heggestad, 1997; Ferguson & Patterson, 1998). Two cognitive variables which have been empirically associated with openness to experience are need for cognition (Sadowski & Cogburn, 1997; Tuten & Bosnjak, 2001) and social problem-solving (McMurran, Egan, Blair, & Richardson, 2001).

Need for cognition refers to enjoyment of engaging in effortful thought (Cacioppo & Petty, 1982). Individuals who score higher on measures of need for cognition tend to have more positive attitudes towards complex stimuli which require reasoning and effortful thought (Cacioppo, Petty, Feinstein, & Jarvis, 1996). The night-sky might be considered a complex stimuli. Therefore, it is possible that individuals higher in need for cognition would find the night-sky to be appealing and worthy of effortful contemplation.

Social problem-solving can be conceptualized as the cognition and behavioral processes by which individuals attempt to approach problems and identify solutions in everyday living or "in the real world" (p. 116, Maydeu-Olivares & D'Zurilla, 1996). In general, social problem solving refers to orientation to problems (i.e., positive or negative attitude) and their approach to solving problems (i.e., active rational approach, carelessness in solving problems, and avoidance). Based on previous findings, it appears that individuals with a more positive attitude towards problems and a rational approach to problem solving are more likely to engage with stimuli, systematically seek-out additional information regarding stimuli, and construct new meanings of stimuli (D'Zurilla & Chang, 1995; Maydeu-Olivares & D'Zurilla, 1996). If this interpretation is correct, it is possible that individuals higher in positive problem orientation and rational problem-solving approaches would be more likely to engage a complex stimuli such as the night-sky and be able to identify and re-construct patterns and personal meaning in that complex stimulus.

The purpose of the current study was to investigate whether or not the nomological network for night-sky watching, operationalized as noctcaelador, also includes need for cognition and problem solving approaches. Such information might be helpful to researchers interested in further understanding characteristics of individuals who enjoy engaging in night-sky watching. Also, this information might

be helpful to occupational and academic counselors in assisting individuals to determine whether or not their interests and characteristics are consistent with pursuit of the discipline of astronomy. Based on previous findings that noctcaelador, need for cognition, and problem solving are correlated with the broad domain of openness to experience, it was hypothesized that a measure of noctcaelador would be significantly, positively correlated with measures of problem-solving (rational problem-solving and positive problem-solving orientation) and need for cognition. …

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