Critical Thinking in Psychology

 

Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking

Defining Critical Thinking

Psychological Science

Research Design

Designing Studies

Sample Weekly Essays from Psychology 101 Classes

 

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How To Be A Critical Thinker

(based on Critical and Creative Thinking
by Carole Wade and Carol Tavris)

"The philosopher Richard Paul has described three kinds of people: vulgar believers, who use slogans and platitudes to bully those holding different points of view into agreeing with them; sophisticated believers, who are skilled at using intellectual arguments, but only to defend what they already believe; and critical believers, who reason their way to conclusions and are ready to listen to others." --Wade and Tavris

Definition:

"Critical thinking is the ability and willingness to assess claims and make objective judgments on the basis of well-supported reasons. It is the ability to look for flaws in arguments and resist claims that have no supporting evidence. Critical thinking, however, is not merely negative thinking. It also fosters the ability to be creative and constructiveto generate possible explanations for findings, think of implications, and apply new knowledge to a broad range of social and personal problems. You can't really separate critical thinking from creative thinking, for it's only when you question what is that you can begin to imagine what can be." (Wade and Tavris, pp.4-5)

Guidelines:

  1. Ask questions; be willing to wonder. Always be on the lookout for questions that have not been answered in the textbooks, by the experts in the field or by the media. Be willing to ask "what's wrong here?' and/or "Why is this the way it is, and how did it come to be that way?"
  2. Define the problem.  An inadequate formulation of question can produce misleading or incomplete answers. Ask neutral questions that don't presuppose answers.
  3. Examine the evidence.  Ask yourself, "What evidence supports or refutes this argument and its opposition?" Just because many people believe, including so-called experts, it doesn't make it so.
  4. Analyze assumptions and biases.  All of us are subject to biases, beliefs that prevent us from being impartial. Evaluate the assumptions and biases that lie behind arguments, including your own. 
  5. Avoid emotional reasoning: "If I feel this way, it must be true."  Passionate commitment to a view can motivate a person to think boldly without fear of what others will say, but when "gut feelings" replace clear thinking, the results can be disastrous.
  6. Don't oversimplify. Look beyond the obvious, rest easy generalizations, reject either/or thinking. Don't argue by anecdote.
  7. Consider other interpretations.  Formulate hypotheses that offer reasonable explanations of characteristics, behavior, and events.
  8. Tolerate uncertainty.  Sometimes the evidence merely allows us to draw tentative conclusions. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know." Don't demand "the " answer.

These guidelines are an integral part of the authors' introductory psychology textbooks: Wade & Tavris, Psychology, 5th edition (Longman Publishers, 1998) and Tavris & Wade, Psychology in Perspective, 2nd edition (Longman, 1997).

Click here for information about purchasing a copy of Critical and Creative Thinking

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Psychology Course Information