“Critical thinking is the ability to apply reasoning and logic to new or unfamiliar ideas, opinions, and situations. Thinking critically involves seeing things in an open-minded way and examining an idea or concept from as many angles as possible. This important skill allows people to look past their own views of the world and to better understand the opinions of others.”
The following description of critical thinking from the wise geek website is very clear and straightforward. Critical thinking is an essential approach to creative problem-solving, similar to what some call systems thinking. An observation from the comments area worth pondering: “Doesn’t it seem like the people in power, whether it be in business or government, often have the worst critical thinking skills?”
“Critical thinking is the ability to apply reasoning and logic to new or unfamiliar ideas, opinions, and situations. Thinking critically involves seeing things in an open-minded way and examining an idea or concept from as many angles as possible. This important skill allows people to look past their own views of the world and to better understand the opinions of others. It is often used in debates, to form more cogent and well-rounded arguments, and in science.
The ability to think critically is essential, as it creates new possibilities in problem solving. Being “open-minded” is a large part of critical thinking, allowing a person to not only seek out all possible answers to a problem, but to also accept an answer that is different from what was originally expected. Open-minded thinking requires that a person does not assume that his or her way of approaching a situation is always best, or even right. A scientist, for example, must be open to the idea that the results of an experiment will not be what is expected; such results, though challenging, often lead to tremendous and meaningful discoveries.
Another aspect of critical thinking is the ability to approach a problem or situation rationally. Rationality requires analyzing all known information, and making judgments or analyses based on fact or evidence, rather than opinion or emotion. An honest approach to reasoning requires a thinker to acknowledge personal goals, motives, and emotions that might color his or her opinions or thought processes. Rational thought involves identifying and eliminating prejudices, so that someone can have a fresh and objective approach to a problem.
Critical thinking often relies on the ability to view the world in a way that does not focus on the self. Empathizing with a person usually involves a thinker trying to put himself or herself in the place of someone else. This is often done by students of history, for example, in an attempt to see the world as someone would have while living in an ancient civilization or during a violent conflict. Communication skills, teamwork, and cooperation are typically improved through empathy, which makes it valuable in many professional fields.
How to Apply It
Effective critical thinking often begins with a thinker analyzing what he or she knows about a subject, with extra effort made to recognize what he or she does not know about it. This forms an initial knowledge base for consideration. The thinker can then look at what research has been done on the subject, and identify what he or she can learn simply by looking over such work. This approach is often used in science, as it allows a scientist to determine what people do not yet know or understand, and then look for ways to discover this information through experimentation.
When someone applies this approach to his or her own life, he or she often places more emphasis on finding prejudices and preconceived notions he or she holds. This lets the thinker strive to eliminate or avoid these opinions, to come to a more honest or objective view of an issue. Someone struggling with a fear of heights, for example, might strive to determine the cause of this fear in a rational way. By doing so, he or she might be better able to deal with the root cause directly and avoid emotional responses that could prevent self-improvement.
Critical thinking is used in many situations. Students often use it to evaluate the plot of a book or a character’s motives in a literature class. Members of a debate team frequently think critically about a subject to form a strong argument and anticipate points their competitors might make. Diets using common sense, in which the focus is on how weight is gained and lost through calories and exercise, can require that the dieter thinks critically about his or her lifestyle. Many people use open-mindedness and empathy in their professional lives, allowing them to work better with others and complete tasks more effectively.
Teaching This Skill
School systems in the US usually teach critical thinking from elementary school up through college-level courses. Teachers encourage students to learn through writing assignments and problem solving. For example, younger students might be asked how their lives would be different if they were born in another country or in a different time period. Such assignments push students to let go of what they know about the world around them, to better consider other perspectives and apply new ideas to their own lives.”
Text source: Wise Geek: What is Critical Thinking Image: source
About Christopher ChaseCo-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
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People are very open-minded about new things…as long as they're exactly like the old ones! - Charles Kettering
This week’s featured strength is Open-Mindedness.
Open-mindedness is the willingness to search actively for evidence against one’s favored beliefs, plans, or goals, and to weigh such evidence fairly when it is available.
Being open-minded does not imply that one is indecisive, wishy-washy, or incapable of thinking for one’s self. After considering various alternatives, an open-minded person can take a firm stand on a position and act accordingly.
The opposite of open-mindedness is what is called the myside bias which refers to the pervasive tendency to search for evidence and evaluate evidence in a way that favors your initial beliefs. Most people show myside bias, but some are more biased than others.
Benefits of Open-Mindedness
Research suggests the following benefits of open-mindedness:
- Open-minded, cognitively complex individuals are less swayed by singular events and are more resistant to suggestion and manipulation.
- Open-minded individuals are better able to predict how others will behave and are less prone to projection.
- Open-minded individuals tend to score better on tests of general cognitive ability like the SAT or an IQ test. (Of course we don’t know whether being open-minded makes one smarter or vice versa.)
Open-Mindedness as a “Corrective Virtue”
Social and cognitive psychologists have noted widespread errors in judgment/thinking to which we are all vulnerable. In order to be open-minded, we have to work against these basic tendencies, leading virtue ethicists to call open-mindedness a corrective virtue.
In addition to the myside bias described above, here are three other cognitive tendencies that work against open-minded thinking:
1) Selective Exposure
We maintain our beliefs by selectively exposing ourselves to information that we already know is likely to support those beliefs. Liberals tend to read liberal newspapers, and Conservatives tend to read conservative newspapers.
2) Primacy Effects
The evidence that comes first matters more than evidence presented later. Trial lawyers are very aware of this phenomenon. Once jurors form a belief, that belief becomes resistant to counterevidence.
We tend to be less critical of evidence that supports our beliefs than evidence that runs counter to our beliefs. In an interesting experiment that demonstrates this phenomenon Anchor, researchers presented individuals with mixed evidence on the effectiveness of capital punishment on reducing crime. Even though the evidence on both sides of the issue was perfectly balanced, individuals became stronger in their initial position for or against capital punishment. They rated evidence that supported their initial belief as more convincing, and they found flaws more easily in the evidence that countered their initial beliefs.
What Encourages Open-Mindedness?
Research suggests that people are more likely to be open-minded when they are not under time pressure. (Our gut reactions aren’t always the most accurate.)
Individuals are more likely to be open-minded when they believe they are making an important decision. (This is when we start making lists of pros and cons, seeking the perspectives of others, etc.)
Some research suggests that the way in which an idea is presented can affect how open-minded someone is when considering it. For example, a typical method of assessing open-mindedness in the laboratory is to ask a participant to list arguments on both sides of a complicated issue (e.g., the death penalty, abortion, animal testing). What typically happens is that individuals are able to list far more arguments on their favored side. However, if the researcher then encourages the participant to come up with more arguments on the opposing side, most people are able to do so without too much difficulty. It seems that individuals have these counter-arguments stored in memory but they don’t draw on them when first asked.
Exercises to Build Open-Mindedness
In my readings, I did not uncover any open-mindedness interventions. But in the spirit of creativity/originality (the featured strength 2 newsletters ago), I consulted Catherine Freemire, LCSW [Catherine Freemire, LCSW, Balanced Life Coaching, firstname.lastname@example.org], a clinical therapist and professional coach renowned for her creative thinking. She came up with three exercises for building open-mindedness which I think are definitely worth trying:
- Select an emotionally charged, debatable topic (e.g., abortion, prayer in school, healthcare reform, the current war in Iraq) and take the opposite side from your own. Write five valid reasons to support this view. (While typing Catherine’s idea, I had a related one of my own: If you are conservative in your political beliefs, listen to Al Frankin’s radio show; if you are liberal, listen to Rush Limbaugh! While you are listening, try to avoid the cognitive error of polarization described above.)
- Remember a time when you were wronged by someone in the past. Generate three plausible reasons why this person inadvertently or intentionally wronged you.
- This one is for parents: Think of a topic that you consistently argue about with your teen or grown child. Now, take their position and think of 3 substantial reasons why their point of view is valid. (This could also be done with spouses or any family members for that matter!)
I hope you enjoyed this newsletter! See you in two weeks when we discuss the character strength, Love of Learning.
Baron, J. (2000). Thinking and deciding (3rd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kuhn, D. (1991). The skills of argument. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Peterson, C. and Seligman, M. E. P. (Eds.). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.
Stanovich, K. E. (1999). Who is rational? Studies of individual differences in reasoning. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
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