Critical Thinking in Psychology
Weekly Essays from Psychology 101 Classes
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
"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)
- 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?"
- Define the problem. An inadequate formulation of question can produce misleading or
incomplete answers. Ask neutral questions that don't presuppose answers.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don't oversimplify.
Look beyond the obvious, rest easy generalizations, reject either/or
thinking. Don't argue by anecdote.
- Consider other interpretations. Formulate hypotheses that offer reasonable explanations of
characteristics, behavior, and events.
- 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
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).
here for information about purchasing a copy of Critical and Creative
Psychology Course Information