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Critical Thinking:

An Overview
The definition of critical thinking has changed somewhat over the past decade. Originally the
dominion of cognitive psychologists and philosophers, behaviorally-oriented psychologists and
content specialists have recently joined the discussion. The following are some examples of
attempts to define critical thinking:
• ...the ability to analyze facts, generate and organize ideas, defend opinions, make
comparisons, draw inferences, evaluate arguments and solve problems (Chance,1986, p.
• ...a way of reasoning that demands adequate support for one's beliefs and an
unwillingness to be persuaded unless support is forthcoming (Tama, 1989, p. 64);
• ...involving analytical thinking for the purpose of evaluating what is read (Hickey, 1990,
p. 175);
• ...a conscious and deliberate process which is used to interpret or evaluate information
and experiences with a set of reflective attitudes and abilities that guide thoughtful beliefs
and actions (Mertes,1991, p.24);
•, systematic process of understanding and evaluating arguments. An argument
provides an assertion about the properties of some object or the relationship between two
or more objects and evidence to support or refute the assertion. Critical thinkers
acknowledge that there is no single correct way to understand and evaluate arguments
and that all attempts are not necessarily successful (Mayer & Goodchild, 1990, p. 4);
• ...the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing,
applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or
generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a
guide to belief and action (Scriven & Paul, 1992);
Critical thinking is the disciplined mental activity of evaluating arguments or
propositions and making judgments that can guide the development of beliefs and
taking action. ‘

The following are some of the most important factors to be considered in the discussion of
critical thinking:
• Critical thinking is important attribute for success in the 21st century.
• We need to carefully define the concept of "critical" thinking and delineate it from
similar concepts such as "creative" thinking or "good" thinking.
• We need to identify expected behaviors and subtasks associated with critical thinking and
develop operational definitions.
• We need to complete task analyses, define intermediate goals, and develop evaluation
• We need to identify "best" methods of instruction for each aspect of the critical thinking
This model proposes that there are affective, conative, and behavioral aspects of critical thinking
that must be considered in addition to the cognitive processes involved. This supports the
definitions of Mertes (1991), Scriven and Paul (1992), and Ennis (1992) that include some
component of beliefs and behavior. First, a stimulus presents an argument or proposition that
must be evaluated. There is an affective disposition to use critical thinking that must activate the
critical thinking processes if it is to take place. As a result of critical thinking a previously held
belief is confirmed or a new belief is established. This will be established as a component of
declarative memory in its semantic form although there may be episodic information associated
with it. There may also be images or visualizations formed or remembered as part of the critical
thinking process.
There is then an affective disposition to plan and take action in order for the critical thinking to
act as a guide to behavior. The conative components of goal-setting and self-regulation must be
activated in order to develop and implement a plan of action. As action is taken it results in
feedback from the environment and a corresponding increase in procedural knowledge. This new
learning is then available as either necessary corrective action is taken to guide action toward the
desired goal based on beliefs or a new situation presents itself that requires additional critical
A complete critical thinking program will successfully deal with each of the components in the
model. As stated previously, the most appropriate teaching methods are possibly different for
each component. For example, if one is most interested in impacting declarative knowledge
(facts, concepts, principles, etc. that are stored in semantic and episodic memory), the most
appropriate teaching method is probably some form of didactic, explicit, or direct instruction. On
the other hand, if the focus is on procedural knowledge it is likely that modeling and/or personal
experience would be more appropriate teaching methods. Likewise, if one were trying to impact
the memory of images or visualizations, then modeling, active visualizations, or working with
pictures might be more appropriate. Attitudes are probably impacted most directly by
socialization and the teaching method of cooperative learning. Learning the process of critical
thinking might be best facilitated by a combination of didactic instruction and experience in
specific content areas. Impacting conation might best be done through goal-setting exercises and
action learning. Finally, overt behavior and learning to use feedback might best be accomplished
using positive and negative reinforcement.
Problem solving

Problem solving cycle

Psychologist have descripted the problem solving process in term of a cycle.the

cycle cinsist of the ff. Stages w/ the problem solver must.

1recognize or identify the problem

2define and represent the problem mentally

3develop a solution strategy

4organize his or her knowledge about the problem

5alocate mental and physical resources for solving the prolem

6monitor his or her progress toward the goal

7valuate solution for accuracy

Psychology in Problem Solving

There are three general problem-solving strategies (Myers, 1992). The first,
algorithms, is the most precise, tedious, and time-consuming way. An algorithm is
"a methodical, logical rule or procedure" for answering problems. There is no room
for creativity using this strategy, but it is ideal for computer-based problem-solving.
A heuristic is a "rule-of-thumb strategy" that helps individuals make judgements and solve
problems quickly, if not always correctly. A common heuristic is the representative one, whereby
a person judges the likelihood of something based on how well it seems to represent a particular
prototype. An unimaginative and automatic use of a heuristic can often lead to the wrong
conclusion (see "Pitfalls to Problem Solving" below), but creativity and general strategies go
well together.

Insight is the strategy most often associated with creativity. It is a "sudden and often novel
realization" - also known as an Eureka or A-ha moment-of the solution to a problem.
The Ideal Process
Bransford and Stein (1993) suggest the IDEAL (Identify, Define, Explore, Act, Look)
method to problem solving. First, identify problem, then define it. If there are too
many issues or goals, Rees (1991) recommends prioritizing them.

The next step is to explore alternatives. There are many ways to do this, but a common one is by
brainstorming. Jot down as many possibilities as you can, without censorship, and only explore
each one's worthiness later. Rees suggests establishing objective and measurable criteria, using
both essential and desirable parameters, and then deciding on the solution that fits best. Once a
solution has been chosen, make a plan of implementation. Act on the plan that has been chosen.
Finally, look the, or evaluate, the effects. Is the solution working the way you thought it would?
Why or why not?
Pitfalls to Problem Solving
The time consuming "rule of thumb" strategies that people often rely on can hinder creativity and
provoke erroneous conclusions. A person faced with many dilemmas each day would benefit
from learning the prevalent pitfalls to creativity. In this way, the individual can become mindful
of common errors and thus avoid possible mistakes. Ashcraft (1994) states that there are three
customary difficulties in problem solving: functional fixedness, confirmation bias, and negative
Functional fixedness is "a tendency to use objects and concepts in the problem environment in
only their customary and usual way." The famous Absolute Vodka advertisements, depicting a
bottle of vodka integrated into different backgrounds, are a popular, and whimsicle, example of
breaking functional fixedness. Functional fixedness hampers innovation; it pays for individuals
to be wary of this natural, but detrimental, practice.
Confirmation bias is a tendency to seek data that strengthen one's preconceptions, while ignoring
opposing information. Because people tend naturally to be overconfident of their ideas and
decisions, guarding against confirmation bias is crucial. The individual must be his or her own
devil's advocate. How many "great" ideas have failed because someone did not conduct thorough
research, or ignored the data that did not seem to fit with their conclusions?
Negative set, also called set effect, is a tendency to solve problems using one particular
approach, even when a different way might be better. This is a type of fixedness that leads to
inefficiency and waste. When problem-solving, it is essential to remember that one size does not
fit all, and that even though a particular strategy worked before (even if it is a tried-and-true
method) does not mean it is the best way to approach a problem next time. Imagine the cost, in
money and time, of keeping a paper-and-pencil accounting system, instead of switching to
a computerized system, just because it works. People must be receptive to change
to what is most effective as new technology and research comes out. Even then,
negative sets might occur. A creative mind will be wary of plugging in the same
procedure to every problem.