By Stephen M. Fiore
What are the attitudinal, behavioral, and cognitive issues that influence interdisciplinary collaborations?
The illustrations I provide here are based upon 20 years of experience working in research environments with scholars ranging from philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists, to historians, economists, and ecologists, to psychologists, computer scientists, and neuroscientists. This experience has helped to illuminate what creates challenges during interdisciplinary interactions and what also can contribute to effective collaborations and help scholars learn from each other.
Often times interaction is stifled when collaborators maintain some form of disciplinary disdain. The characteristics of disciplinary disdain include lack of respect or a form of contempt for another disciplinary approach, or condescension toward another discipline. An example is the view basic researchers sometimes show for applied research.
A related attitudinal problem is that of disciplinary arrogance. This is characterized by an overbearing pride in one’s own discipline and/or a belief that one’s own method/theory/approach is superior to others. Disciplinary arrogance can characterize the view those in physical sciences sometimes have for the social sciences.
A positive characteristic is disciplinary tolerance. This is an openness to, or acceptance of, ideas and inputs from those in other disciplines. Disciplinary tolerance is often manifest in research cultures that have a long history with, or some prior experience in, the benefits of interdisciplinarity (eg., research centers).
Potential interdisciplinary collaborations may not even be considered due to what can be referred to as disciplinary apprehension. This is characterized as a fear of negative consequences resulting from one’s treading into a new domain or discipline or from adopting a concept from another discipline. Disciplinary apprehension can characterize the consequence of negative reinforcement tenure-review committees may sometimes give young faculty for trying to work outside their field.
A more subtle behavioral issue is that of disciplinary ignorance. This describes a lack of willingness on the part of a researcher to improve one’s understanding of some problem he/she is trying to understand by considering or assimilating knowledge from another discipline. As an example, disciplinary ignorance can characterize a rigid experimentalist who will not pursue the adoption of potentially useful or relevant methods from field research.
A positive behavioral concept is that of disciplinary benevolence. This can be used to characterize when one within a discipline shows some form of charity or kindness towards those naïve about their discipline so as to encourage pursuit of potentially innovative ideas.
Sometimes discipline-bound researchers suffer from disciplinary myopia. This occurs when a scholar is unable to see distant disciplines as clearly as near disciplines, hence the relevance of the other discipline is not apparent, and not even in view. This can manifest itself when, for example, scientists believe something is “not possible” because they cannot even imagine what might be feasible if alternative approaches were brought to bear on a given problem.
A common problem is disciplinary multilingualism. This arises when differing disciplines use the same term to describe different concepts or use a different term to describe similar concepts. This may arise when a discipline appropriates a term from another discipline – creating a form of negative common ground (ie., the misperception that they are discussing something similar). Or it can occur when the varied epistemological approaches arising in differing disciplines lead them to label the same phenomenon differently.
On the more positive side is what can be called disciplinary naivety. This describes one who is unhampered by knowledge of, or experience in, a given domain which can result in an “out of the mouths of babes” phenomenon where fresh and productive insights emerge. In this sense, one is not “held back” or fixated on a particular way of thinking about a problem and is free to offer innovative solutions those within a discipline may never have considered.
What has your experience been of the nature of the interactions required for interdisciplinary research? What have you found to be important supports, or problematic impediments, when coordinating research across disciplines and learning from each other while collaborating? What interdisciplinary attitudes, behaviors, or cognitive processes have you found to be relevant to learning on your own cross-disciplinary teams?
To find out more:
Fiore, S. M. (2012). President’s Essay: The “ABC’s” of Interdisciplinarity: Understanding the Attitudinal, Behavioral, and Cognitive Factors Involved in Interdisciplinary Research. INGRoup Newsletter, October, 2, 3: 1, 4-6. https://csl.ist.ucf.edu/Portals/3/INGRoup_ABCs_of_Interdisciplinary_Research.pdf?ver=2016-02-29-154947-697
Biography: Stephen M. Fiore PhD is Director, Cognitive Sciences Laboratory, and Professor with the Cognitive Sciences Program in the Department of Philosophy and Institute for Simulation and Training at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, USA. He is President-elect, International Network for the Science of Team Science (INSciTS), and a founding member of the Inter- and Trans-disciplinarity Alliance (ITD Alliance), as well as Past-President of the Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research. He maintains a multidisciplinary research interest that incorporates aspects of the cognitive, social, organizational, and computational sciences in the investigation of learning and performance in individuals and teams.