Articles On Critical Thinking Skills

The role of critical thinking skills and learning styles of university students in their academic performance

ZOHRE GHAZIVAKILI,1ROOHANGIZ NOROUZI NIA,2FARIDE PANAHI,3MEHRDAD KARIMI,4HAYEDE GHOLSORKHI,5 and ZARRIN AHMADI6

1Emergency medical services department, Paramedical school, Alborz University of Medical Sciences, Karaj, Iran;

2Educational Development Center, Alborz University of Medical Sciences, Karaj, Iran;

3Nursing and midwifery school, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran;

4Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Public Health School, Tehran, Iran;

5Medical school, Alborz University of Medical Sciences, Karaj, Iran;

6Amirkabir University of Technology(Polytechnic), Tehran, Iran

Correspondence: Roohangiz Norouzi Nia, Educational Development Center, Alborz University of Medical Sciences, Karaj, Iran, Tel: +98-26-32563341, Email: kiarash_s_77@yahoo.com

Author information ►Article notes ►Copyright and License information ►

Received 2014 Jan 18; Accepted 2014 May 19.

Copyright © 2014: Journal of Advances in Medical Education & Professionalism

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

J Adv Med Educ Prof. 2014 Jul; 2(3): 95–102.

This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.

Abstract

Introduction: The Current world needs people who have a lot of different abilities such as cognition and application of different ways of thinking, research, problem solving, critical thinking skills and creativity. In addition to critical thinking, learning styles is another key factor which has an essential role in the process of problem solving. This study aimed to determine the relationship between learning styles and critical thinking of students and their academic performance in Alborz University of Medical Science.

Methods: This cross-correlation study was performed in 2012, on 216 students of Alborz University who were selected randomly by the stratified random sampling. The data was obtained via a three-part questionnaire included demographic data, Kolb standardized questionnaire of learning style and California critical thinking standardized questionnaire. The academic performance of the students was extracted by the school records. The validity of the instruments was determined in terms of content validity, and the reliability was gained through internal consistency methods. Cronbach's alpha coefficient was found to be 0.78 for the California critical thinking questionnaire. The Chi Square test, Independent t-test, one way ANOVA and Pearson correlation test were used to determine relationship between variables. The Package SPSS14 statistical software was used to analyze data with a significant level of p<0.05.

Results: Our findings indicated the significant difference of mean score in four learning style, suggesting university students with convergent learning style have better performance than other groups. Also learning style had a relationship with age, gender, field of study, semester and job. The results about the critical thinking of the students showed that the mean of deductive reasoning and evaluation skills were higher than that of other skills and analytical skills had the lowest mean and there was a positive significant relationship between the students’ performance with inferential skill and the total score of critical thinking skills (p<0.05). Furthermore, evaluation skills and deductive reasoning had significant relationship. On the other hand, the mean total score of critical thinking had significant difference between different learning styles.

Conclusion: The results of this study showed that the learning styles, critical thinking and academic performance are significantly associated with one another. Considering the growing importance of critical thinking in enhancing the professional competence of individuals, it's recommended to use teaching methods consistent with the learning style because it would be more effective in this context.

Key words: Learning, Performance, Student

Introduction

The current world needs people with a lot of capabilities such as understanding and using different ways of thinking, research, problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. Critical thinking is one of the aspects of thinking that has been accepted as a way to overcome the difficulties and to facilitate the access to information in life (1).

To Watson and Glizer, critical thinking is a combination of knowledge, attitude, and performance of every individual. They also believe that there are some skills of critical thinking such as perception, assumption recognition deduction, interpretation and evaluation of logical reasoning. They argue that the ability of critical thinking, processing and evaluation of previous information with new information result from inductive and deductive reasoning of solving problems. Watson and Glizer definition of critical thinking has been the basis of critical thinking tests that are widely used to measure the critical thinking today (2).

World Federation for Medical Education has considered critical thinking one of the medical training standards so that in accredited colleges this subject is one of the key points. In fact, one of the criteria for the accreditation of a learning institute is the measurement of critical thinking in its students (3).

In addition to critical thinking, learning style, i.e. the information processing method, of the learners, is an important key factor that has a major role in problem solving. According to David Kolb’s theory, learning is a four-step process that includes concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. This position represents two dimensions: concrete experience versus abstract thinking, and reflective observation to active experimentation. These dimensions include four learning styles: divergent, convergent, assimilate, and accommodate. According to Kolb and Ferry, the learner needs four different abilities to function efficiently: Learning styles involve several variables such as academic performance of learner, higher education improvement; critical thinking and problem solving (4).

Due to the importance of learning styles and critical thinking in students' academic performance, a large volume of educational research has been devoted to these issues in different countries. Demirhan, Besoluk and Onder (2011) in their study on critical thinking and students’ academic performance from the first semester to two years later have found that contrary to expectations the students’ critical thinking level reduced but the total mean of students’ scores increased. This is due to the fact that the students are likely to increase adaptive behavior with environment and university and reduce the stress during their education (1).

In another study over 330 students in Turkey, the students who had divergent learning style, had lower scores in critical thinking in contrast with students who have accommodator learning style (5).

Also Mahmoud examined the relationship between critical thinking and learning styles of the Bachelor students with their academic performance in 2012. In this study all the nursing students of the university in the semesters four, six and eight were studied. The results did not show any significant relationship between critical thinking and learning styles of nursing students with their academic performance (6).

Another research by Nasrabadi in 2012 showed a positive relationship between critical thinking attitudes and student's academic achievement. The results showed that there was a significant difference between the levels of critical thinking of assimilating and converge styles. Also converging, diverging, assimilating and accommodating styles had the highest level of critical thinking, respectively (4). Among other studies we can refer to Sharma’s study in 2011 whose results suggested a relationship between the academic performance and learning styles (7).

Today university students should not only think but also should think differently and should not only remember the knowledge in their mind but also should research the best learning style among different learning styles. Therefore, the study on the topic of how the students think and how they learn has received great emphasis in recent years. In this regard, with the importance of the subject, researchers attempted to doa research in this area to determine the relationship between critical thinking and learning styles with academic performance of the students at Alborz University of Medical Sciences.

Methods

This study is a descriptive-analytic, cross sectional study and investigates the relationship between critical thinking and learning styles with students’ academic performance of Alborz University of Medical Science in 2012. After approval and permission from university’s authorities and in coordination with official faculties, the critical thinking and learning styles questionnaire was given to the undergraduate students in associate degree, bachelor, medicine (second semester and after that). The total number of participants in the study was 216 students with different majors such as medical, nursing and midwifery, and health and medical emergency students. The tool to collect the data was a two-part questionnaire of Kolb's learning styles and California's critical thinking skills test (form B). The Kolb's questionnaire has two parts. The first part asks for demographic information and the second part includes 12 multiple choice questions. The participants respond to the questions with regard to how they learn, and the scores of respondents are ranked from 1 to 4 in which 4 is most consistent with the participants’ learning style 3 to some extent, 2 poorly consistent and 1 not consistent To find the participants’ learning styles, the first choice of all 12 questions were added together and this was repeated for other choices. Thus, four total scores for the four learning styles were obtained, the first for concrete experience learning style, the second for reflective observation of learning style, the third for abstract conceptualization learning style and the forth for active experimentation learning style. The highest score determined the learning style of the participant. The California critical thinking skills test (form B) includes 34 multiple choice questions with one correct answer in five different areas of critical thinking skills, including evaluation, inference, analysis, inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning. The answering time was 45 minutes and the final score is 34 and the achieved score in each section of the test varies from 0 to 16. In the evaluation section, the maximum point is 14, in analysis section 9, in inference section 11, in inductive reasoning 16 and in deductive reasoning the maximum point was 14. So there were 6 scores for each participant, which included a critical thinking total score and 5 score for critical thinking skills. Dehghani, Jafari Sani, Pakmehr and Malekzadeh found that the reliability of the questionnaire was 78% in a research. In the study of Khalili et al., the confidence coefficient was 62% and construct validity of all subscales with positive and high correlation were reported between 60%-65%. So this test was reliable for the research. Collecting the information was conducted in two stages. In the first stage, the questionnaires were given to the students and the objectives and importance of the research were mentioned. In the next stage, the students' academic performance was reviewed. After data collection, the data were coded and analyzed, using the SPSS 14 ( SPSS Inc, Chicago, IL, USA) software. To describe the data, descriptive statistics were used such as mean and standard deviation for continues variables and frequency for qualitative variables. Chi Square test, Independent t-test, one way ANOVA and Pearson correlation test were used to determine the relationship between variables at a significant level of p<0.05.

Research hypothesis

  1. There is a relationship between Alborz University of Medical Sciences students’ learning styles and their demographic information. 

  2. There is a relationship between Alborz University of Medical Sciences students’ critical thinking and their demographic information. 

  3. There is a relationship between Alborz University of Medical Sciences students’ academic performance and their demographic information. 

  4. There is a relationship between Alborz University of Medical Sciences students’ learning styles and their academic performance. 

  5. There is a relationship between Alborz University of Medical Sciences students’ learning styles and their critical thinking. 

Results

225 questionnaires were distributed of which 216 were completely responded (96%). The age range of the participants was from 16 to 45 with the mean age of (22.44±3.7). 52.8% of participants (n=114) were female, 83.3% (n=180) were single, 30.1% of participants’ (n=65) major was pediatric anesthesiology of OR, 35.2% of participants (n=76) were in fourth semester, 74.5% (n=161) were unemployed and 48.6 % (n=105) had Persian ethnicity.

The range of participants’ average grade points, which were considered as their academic performance, were from 12.51 to 19.07 with a mean of (16.75±1.3). According to Kolbs' pattern, 42.7% (n=85) had the convergent learning style (the maximum percentage) followed by 33.2 % (n= 66) with the assimilating style and only 9.5%, (n= 19) with the accommodating style (the minimum percentage).

Among the 5 critical thinking skills, the maximum mean score belonged to deductive reasoning skill (3.38±1.58) and the minimum mean score belonged to analysis skill (1.67±1.08).

Table 1 shows the frequency distribution and demographic variables and the academic performance of the students. According to the Chi-square (Χ2) p-value, there was a significant relationship between gender and learning style (p=0.032), so that nearly 50 percent of males had the assimilating learning style and nearly 52 percent of the females had the convergent learning style.

Table 1

The relationship between demographic variable and student’s academic performance with learning styles

The relationship between employment, major and semester of studying with the learning style was significant at a p-value of 0.049, 0.006, 0.009 and 0.001, respectively. The mean and standard deviation of age and students' academic performance in the four learning styles are reported in Table 1.

Using the one way analysis of variance (One way ANOVA) and comparing the mean age of four groups, we found a significant relation between age and academic performance with learning style (p=0.049).

The students with convergent learning style had a better academic performance than those with other learning styles and in the performance of those with the assimilating learning style the weakest.

Table 2 shows the relationship between the total score of critical thinking skills and each of the demographic variables and academic performance. The results of the t-test and one way ANOVA variance analysis are reported to investigate the relationship between each variable with skills below the mean standard deviation.

Table 2

Relationships between CCT Skills and demographic variables Using t-test and ANOVA. Pearson Correlation coefficient between age and Student's performance with CCT Skills was reported

Based on the t-test and ANOVA, p-value of t and F, the mean of total score of critical thinking skills had only significant relationship with students’ major (p=0.020). Also a significant relationship was found between the major of students and gender with inference skill; semester of study with deductive reasoning skill, and ethnicity with 2 skills of inference and deductive reasoning (p<0.05).

Also regarding the relationship between age and the student academic performance with each of the critical thinking skills, the Pearson correlation coefficient results indicated a significant positive relationship but a negative relationship between age and analysis skill, i.e. with the increase of age, the score of analysis skill was reduced (p<0.05). Academic performance of the students had a direct significant relationship with critical thinking total score and inference skill; the more the score, the better the academic performance of students (p<0.05).

Table 3 shows the mean and standard deviation of learning styles score in the 4 groups of learning style. Using ANOVA one way ANOVA, the relationship between learning style and critical thinking skills and the comparison of the mean score for each skill in four styles are reported in the last column of the Table 3.

Table 3

The Relationship between critical thinking styles with learning styles

Based on the p-value of ANOVA, the mean of evaluation skill and inductive reasoning skill had a significant difference and the relationship between these two skills with learning style was significant (p<0.05). Also the mean of critical thinking’s total score was significantly different in the four groups and the relationship between total score with learning style was significant, too (p<0.05).

Figure 1

The mean and confidence interval of university students’ performance in four learning  styles

Figure 2

The mean and confidene interval of critical thinking skills

Discussion

The study findings showed that the popular learning style among the students was the convergent style followed by the assimilating style which is consistent with Kolb's theory stating that medical science students usually have this learning style (8). This result was consistent with the results of other studies (9, 10). In Yenice's study in which the student of training teacher were the target of the project, the most frequent learning styles were divergent and assimilating styles and these differences originate from the different target group of study in 2012 (11).

This study showed a significant relationship between learning style and gender, age, semester and employment. Meyari et al. did not find any significant relationship between learning style, age and gender of the freshman but for the fifth semester students, a significant relationship with age and gender was found (10). Also in Yenice's study, no relationship with learning style, gender, semester and age was found.

Furthermore, in the first semester divergent style, in the second semester assimilating style and in the third and fourth semester divergent style were accounted for the highest percentage. Also in the group age of 17-20 years the assimilating style and the age of 21-24 years the divergent style were dominant styles (11).

In the present study, it was found a significant positive relationship between convergent learning style and academic performance. Also in the study of Pooladi et al. the majority of the students had convergent style and they also found a significant relationship between learning style, total mean score and the mean of practical courses (12). Nasrabadi et al. found that students with the highest achievement were those with convergent style with a significant difference with those with divergent style (4). But the results are inconsistent to Meyari et al.’s (10).

In this study, the obtained mean score from the critical thinking questionnaire was (7.15±2.41) that was compared with that in the study of Khalili and Hoseinzadeh which was to validate and make reliable the critical thinking skills questionnaire of California (form B) in the Iranian nursing students; the mean of total score was about the 11th percentile of this study (13).

In other words, the computed score for critical thinking of the students participating was lower than 11 score that is in the 50th percentile and of course is lower than normal range.

Hariri and Bagherinezhad had shown that the computed score for Bachelor and Master students of Health faculty was also lower than the norm in Iran (14). Also Mayer and Dayer came to a similar conclusion in critical thinking skill in the Agricultural university of Florida’s students in 2006 (15).

But in Gharib et al.’s study, the total score of critical thinking test among the freshman and senior of Health-care management was in normal range (16). Wangensteen et al., found that the critical thinking skills of the newest graduate nursing students were relatively high in Sweden in 2010 (17).

In this study, students of all levels (Associate, Bachelor and PhD) with various fields of study participated but other studies have been limited to certain graduate courses that may explain the differences in levels of special critical thinking skills score in this study. In this study we found a significant relationship between total score of critical thinking and major of the students. This result is consistent with Serin et al. (18).

It was found a significant relationship between major of participants, gender and inference skill, semester and deductive reasoning skill, ethnicity and both inference and deductive reasoning skills.

In the Yenice's study significant relationship between critical thinking, group of age, gender and semester was seen (11). In Wangensteen et al.’s (17) study in the older age group, the level of critical thinking score increased. In Serin et al.’s (18) study the level of communication skills in girls was better than that in boys. And also a significant relationship was found between critical thinking and academic semester, but in Mayer and Dayer’s study no significant relationship between critical thinking levels and gender was found (4,15).

The results also showed that the total score of critical thinking and analytical skills of students and their performance had a significant relationship. Nasrabady et al.’s study also showed that there was a positive relationship between critical thinking reflection attitude and academic achievement (4). This is contradictory with what Demirhan, Bosluk and Ander found (6, 15).

The results of the relationship between learning style and critical thinking indicated that the relationship between evaluation and inductive reasoning was significant to learning style (p<0.05). The relationship of critical thinking total score with learning style was also significant (p<0.05). Thus the total score for those with the conforming style of critical skills was more than that with other styles. But in the subgroup of inference skills, those with the convergent style had a higher mean than those with other styles.

Yenice found a negative relationship between critical thinking score and divergent learning style and a positive relation between critical thinking score and accommodating style (11).

Siriopoulos and Pomonis in their study compared the learning style and critical thinking skills of students in two phases: at the beginning and end of education and came to this conclusion that the learning style of students changed in the second phase.

For example, the divergent, convergent and accommodating styles languished and the assimilating style (combination of abstract thinking and reflective observation) was noticeably strengthened. However, those with converging learning style had higher levels of critical thinking.

The level of students’ critical thinking was lower in all international standards styles. Perhaps it was because of widely used teacher-centered teaching methods (lectures) in that university (19).

The results in the study of Nasrabady et al. showed that there was a significant difference between the level of learners’ critical thinking and divergent and assimilating styles (4).

Those with converging, diverging, assimilating and accommodating styles had the highest level of critical thinking, respectively.

Also there was a positive significant relationship between the reflective observation method and critical thinking and also a negative significant relationship between the abstract conceptualization method and critical thinking (4). But in another study that Mahmud has done in 2012, he did not find any significant relationship between learning style, critical thinking and students’ performance (6).

Conclusion

The results of this study showed that the students’ critical thinking skills of this university aren't acceptable. Also learning styles, critical thinking and academic performance have significant relationship with each other. Due to the important role of critical thinking in enhancing professional competence, it is recommend using teaching methods which are consistent with the learning styles.

Acknowledgment

This study is based on a research project that was approved in Research Deputy of Alborz University of Medical sciences. We sincerely appreciate all in Research Deputy of Alborz University of Medical sciences who supported us financially and morally and all students and colleagues who participated in this study.

Conflict of Interest: None declared.

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Articles from Journal of Advances in Medical Education & Professionalism are provided here courtesy of Shiraz University of Medical Sciences

Most of us are not what we could be. We are less. We have great capacity. But most of it is dormant; most is undeveloped. Improvement in thinking is like improvement in basketball, in ballet, or in playing the saxophone. It is unlikely to take place in the absence of a conscious commitment to learn. As long as we take our thinking for granted, we don’t do the work required for improvement.

Development in thinking requires a gradual process requiring plateaus of learning and just plain hard work. It is not possible to become an excellent thinker simply because one wills it. Changing one’s habits of thought is a long-range project, happening over years, not weeks or months. The essential traits of a critical thinker require an extended period of development.

How, then, can we develop as critical thinkers? How can we help ourselves and our students to practice better thinking in everyday life?

First, we must understand that there are stages required for development as a critical thinker:

Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker (we are unaware of significant problems in our thinking)
Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker (we become aware of problems in our thinking)
Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker (we try to improve but without regular practice)
Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker (we recognize the necessity of regular practice)
Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker (we advance in accordance with our practice)
Stage Six: The Master Thinker (skilled & insightful thinking become second nature to us)

We develop through these stages if we:

  1) accept the fact that there are serious problems in our thinking (accepting the challenge to our thinking) and
2) begin regular practice.


In this article, we will explain 9 strategies that any motivated person can use to develop as a thinker. As we explain the strategy, we will describe it as if we were talking directly to such a person. Further details to our descriptions may need to be added for those who know little about critical thinking. Here are the 9:

  1. Use “Wasted” Time.
2. A Problem A Day.
3. Internalize Intellectual Standards.
4. Keep An Intellectual Journal.
5. Reshape Your Character.
6. Deal with Your Ego.
7. Redefine the Way You See Things.
8. Get in touch with your emotions.
9. Analyze group influences on your life.


There is nothing magical about our ideas. No one of them is essential. Nevertheless, each represents a plausible way to begin to do something concrete to improve thinking in a regular way. Though you probably can’t do all of these at the same time, we recommend an approach in which you experiment with all of these over an extended period of time.

First Strategy:Use “Wasted” Time. All humans waste some time; that is, fail to use all of their time productively or even pleasurably. Sometimes we jump from one diversion to another, without enjoying any of them. Sometimes we become irritated about matters beyond our control. Sometimes we fail to plan well causing us negative consequences we could easily have avoided (for example, we spend time unnecessarily trapped in traffic — though we could have left a half hour earlier and avoided the rush). Sometimes we worry unproductively. Sometimes we spend time regretting what is past. Sometimes we just stare off blankly into space.

The key is that the time is “gone” even though, if we had thought about it and considered our options, we would never have deliberately spent our time in the way we did. So why not take advantage of the time you normally waste by practicing your critical thinking during that otherwise wasted time? For example, instead of sitting in front of the TV at the end of the day flicking from channel to channel in a vain search for a program worth watching, spend that time, or at least part of it, thinking back over your day and evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. For example, you might ask yourself questions like these:

When did I do my worst thinking today? When did I do my best? What in fact did I think about today? Did I figure anything out? Did I allow any negative thinking to frustrate me unnecessarily? If I had to repeat today what would I do differently? Why? Did I do anything today to further my long-term goals? Did I act in accordance with my own expressed values? If I spent every day this way for 10 years, would I at the end have accomplished something worthy of that time?

It would be important of course to take a little time with each question. It would also be useful to record your observations so that you are forced to spell out details and be explicit in what you recognize and see. As time passes, you will notice patterns in your thinking.

Second Strategy: A Problem A Day. At the beginning of each day (perhaps driving to work or going to school) choose a problem to work on when you have free moments. Figure out the logic of the problem by identifying its elements. In other words, systematically think through the questions: What exactly is the problem? How can I put it into the form of a question. How does it relate to my goals, purposes, and needs?

  1) Wherever possible take problems one by one. State the problem as clearly and precisely as you can.

2) Study the problem to make clear the “kind” of problem you are dealing with. Figure out, for example, what sorts of things you are going to have to do to solve it. Distinguish Problems over which you have some control from problems over which you have no control. Set aside the problems over which you have no control, concentrating your efforts on those problems you can potentially solve.

3) Figure out the information you need and actively seek that information.

4) Carefully analyze and interpret the information you collect, drawing what reasonable inferences you can.

5) Figure out your options for action. What can you do in the short term? In the long term? Distinguish problems under your control from problems beyond your control. Recognize explicitly your limitations as far as money, time, and power.

6) Evaluate your options, taking into account their advantages and disadvantages in the situation you are in.

7) Adopt a strategic approach to the problem and follow through on that strategy. This may involve direct action or a carefully thought-through wait-and-see strategy.

8) When you act, monitor the implications of your action as they begin to emerge. Be ready at a moment’s notice to revise your strategy if the situation requires it. Be prepared to shift your strategy or your analysis or statement of the problem, or all three, as more information about the problem becomes available to you.


Third Strategy:Internalize Intellectual Standards.
Each week, develop a heightened awareness of one of the universal intellectual standards (clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, logicalness, significance). Focus one week on clarity, the next on accuracy, etc. For example, if you are focusing on clarity for the week, try to notice when you are being unclear in communicating with others. Notice when others are unclear in what they are saying.

When you are reading, notice whether you are clear about what you are reading. When you orally express or write out your views (for whatever reason), ask yourself whether you are clear about what you are trying to say. In doing this, of course, focus on four techniques of clarification : 1) Stating what you are saying explicitly and precisely (with careful consideration given to your choice of words), 2)Elaborating on your meaning in other words, 3)Giving examples of what you mean from experiences you have had, and 4)Using analogies, metaphors, pictures, or diagrams to illustrate what you mean. In other words, you will frequently STATE, ELABORATE, ILLUSTRATE, AND EXEMPLIFY your points. You will regularly ask others to do the same.

Fourth Strategy: Keep An Intellectual Journal. Each week, write out a certain number of journal entries. Use the following format (keeping each numbered stage separate):

  
1. Situation. Describe a situation that is, or was, emotionally significant to you (that is, that you deeply care about). Focus on one situation at a time.

2. Your Response. Describe what you did in response to that situation. Be specific and exact.

3. Analysis. Then analyze, in the light of what you have written, what precisely was going on in the situation. Dig beneath the surface.

4. Assessment. Assess the implications of your analysis. What did you learn about yourself? What would you do differently if you could re-live the situation?


Strategy Five: Reshape Your Character.
Choose one intellectual trait---intellectual perseverance, autonomy, empathy, courage, humility, etc.--- to strive for each month, focusing on how you can develop that trait in yourself. For example, concentrating on intellectual humility, begin to notice when you admit you are wrong. Notice when you refuse to admit you are wrong, even in the face of glaring evidence that you are in fact wrong. Notice when you become defensive when another person tries to point out a deficiency in your work, or your thinking. Notice when your intellectual arrogance keeps you from learning, for example, when you say to yourself “I already know everything I need to know about this subject.” Or, “I know as much as he does. Who does he think he is forcing his opinions on me?” By owning your “ignorance,” you can begin to deal with it.

Strategy Six: Deal with Your Egocentrism. Egocentric thinking is found in the disposition in human nature to think with an automatic subconscious bias in favor of oneself. On a daily basis, you can begin to observe your egocentric thinking in action by contemplating questions like these: Under what circumstances do I think with a bias in favor of myself? Did I ever become irritable over small things? Did I do or say anything “irrational” to get my way? Did I try to impose my will upon others? Did I ever fail to speak my mind when I felt strongly about something, and then later feel resentment? Once you identify egocentric thinking in operation, you can then work to replace it with more rational thought through systematic self-reflection, thinking along the lines of: What would a rational person feel in this or that situation? What would a rational person do? How does that compare with what I want to do? (Hint: If you find that you continually conclude that a rational person would behave just as you behaved you are probably engaging in self-deception.)

Strategy Seven:Redefine the Way You See Things. We live in a world, both personal and social, in which every situation is “defined,” that is, given a meaning. How a situation is defined determines not only how we feel about it, but also how we act in it, and what implications it has for us. However, virtually every situation can be defined in more than one way. This fact carries with it tremendous opportunities. In principle, it lies within your power and mine to make our lives more happy and fulfilling than they are. Many of the negative definitions that we give to situations in our lives could in principle be transformed into positive ones. We can be happy when otherwise we would have been sad.

We can be fulfilled when otherwise we would have been frustrated. In this strategy, we practice redefining the way we see things, turning negatives into positives, dead-ends into new beginnings, mistakes into opportunities to learn. To make this strategy practical, we should create some specific guidelines for ourselves. For example, we might make ourselves a list of five to ten recurrent negative contexts in which we feel frustrated, angry, unhappy, or worried. We could then identify the definition in each case that is at the root of the negative emotion. We would then choose a plausible alternative definition for each and then plan for our new responses as well as new emotions. For example, if you tend to worry about all problems, both the ones you can do something about and those that you can’t; you can review the thinking in this nursery rhyme:
“For every problem under the sun, there is a solution or there is none. If there be one, think til you find it. If there be none, then never mind it.”

Let’s look at another example. You do not have to define your initial approach to a member of the opposite sex in terms of the definition “his/her response will determine whether or not I am an attractive person.” Alternatively, you could define it in terms of the definition “let me test to see if this person is initially drawn to me—given the way they perceive me.” With the first definition in mind, you feel personally put down if the person is not “interested” in you; with the second definition you explicitly recognize that people respond not to the way a stranger is, but the way they look to them subjectively. You therefore do not take a failure to show interest in you (on the part of another) as a “defect” in you.

Strategy Eight: Get in touch with your emotions: Whenever you feel some negative emotion, systematically ask yourself: What, exactly, is the thinking leading to this emotion? For example, if you are angry, ask yourself, what is the thinking that is making me angry? What other ways could I think about this situation? For example, can you think about the situation so as to see the humor in it and what is pitiable in it? If you can, concentrate on that thinking and your emotions will (eventually) shift to match it.

Strategy Nine:Analyze group influences on your life: Closely analyze the behavior that is encouraged, and discouraged, in the groups to which you belong. For any given group, what are you "required" to believe? What are you "forbidden" to do? Every group enforces some level of conformity. Most people live much too much within the view of themselves projected by others. Discover what pressure you are bowing to and think explicitly about whether or not to reject that pressure.

Conclusion: The key point to keep in mind when devising strategies is that you are engaged in a personal experiment. You are testing ideas in your everyday life. You are integrating them, and building on them, in the light of your actual experience. For example, suppose you find the strategy “Redefine the Way You See Things” to be intuitive to you. So you use it to begin. Pretty soon you find yourself noticing the social definitions that rule many situations in your life. You recognize how your behavior is shaped and controlled by the definitions in use:

  1. “I’m giving a party,” (Everyone therefore knows to act in a “partying” way)
  2. “The funeral is Tuesday,” (There are specific social behaviors expected at a funeral)
  3. “Jack is an acquaintance, not really a friend.” (We behave very differently in the two cases)

You begin to see how important and pervasive social definitions are. You begin to redefine situations in ways that run contrary to some commonly accepted definitions. You notice then how redefining situations (and relationships) enables you to “Get in Touch With Your Emotions.” You recognize that the way you think (that is, define things) generates the emotions you experience. When you think you are threatened (i.e., define a situation as “threatening”), you feel fear. If you define a situation as a “failure,” you may feel depressed. On the other hand, if you define that same situation as a “lesson or opportunity to learn” you feel empowered to learn. When you recognize this control that you are capable of exercising, the two strategies begin to work together and reinforce each other.

Next consider how you could integrate strategy #9 (“Analyze group influences on your life”) into your practice. One of the main things that groups do is control us by controlling the definitions we are allowed to operate with. When a group defines some things as “cool” and some as “dumb, ” the members of the group try to appear “cool” and not appear “dumb.” When the boss of a business says, “That makes a lot of sense,” his subordinates know they are not to say, “No, it is ridiculous.” And they know this because defining someone as the “boss” gives him/her special privileges to define situations and relationships.

You now have three interwoven strategies: you “Redefine the Way You See Things,” “Get in touch with your emotions,” and “Analyze group influences on your life.” The three strategies are integrated into one. You can now experiment with any of the other strategies, looking for opportunities to integrate them into your thinking and your life. If you follow through on some plan analogous to what we have described, you are developing as a thinker. More precisely, you are becoming a “Practicing” Thinker. Your practice will bring advancement. And with advancement, skilled and insightful thinking may becomes more and more natural to you.

 

Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2001). Modified from the book by Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2001). Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life.

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