The Synergy of Creative and Critical Thinking
More elaboration, excerpted from Preparing Creative and Critical Thinkers by Donald J. Treffinger
The Peak Performance Center
The pursuit of performance excellence, critical thinking vs. creative thinking.
Creative thinking is a way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective to conceive of something new or original.
Critical thinking is the logical, sequential disciplined process of rationalizing, analyzing, evaluating, and interpreting information to make informed judgments and/or decisions.
Critical Thinking vs. Creative Thinking – Key Differences
- Creative thinking tries to create something new, while critical thinking seeks to assess worth or validity of something that already exists.
- Creative thinking is generative, while critical thinking is analytical.
- Creative thinking is divergent, while critical thinking is convergent.
- Creative thinking is focused on possibilities, while critical thinking is focused on probability.
- Creative thinking is accomplished by disregarding accepted principles, while critical thinking is accomplished by applying accepted principles.
About Creative Thinking
Creative thinking is a process utilized to generate lists of new, varied and unique ideas or possibilities. Creative thinking brings a fresh perspective and sometimes unconventional solution to solve a problem or address a challenge. When you are thinking creatively, you are focused on exploring ideas, generating possibilities, and/or developing various theories.
Creative thinking can be performed both by an unstructured process such as brainstorming, or by a structured process such as lateral thinking.
Brainstorming is the process for generating unique ideas and solutions through spontaneous and freewheeling group discussion. Participants are encouraged to think aloud and suggest as many ideas as they can, no matter how outlandish it may seem.
Lateral thinking uses a systematic process that leads to logical conclusions. However, it involves changing a standard thinking sequence and arriving at a solution from completely different angles.
No matter what process you chose, the ultimate goal is to generate ideas that are unique, useful and worthy of further elaboration. Often times, critical thinking is performed after creative thinking has generated various possibilities. Critical thinking is used to vet those ideas to determine if they are practical.
Creative Thinking Skills
About Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is the process of actively analyzing, interpreting, synthesizing, evaluating information gathered from observation, experience, or communication. It is thinking in a clear, logical, reasoned, and reflective manner to make informed judgments and/or decisions.
Critical thinking involves the ability to:
- remain objective
In general, critical thinking is used to make logical well-formed decisions after analyzing and evaluating information and/or an array of ideas.
On a daily basis, it can be used for a variety of reasons including:
- to form an argument
- to articulate and justify a position or point of view
- to reduce possibilities to convergent toward a single answer
- to vet creative ideas to determine if they are practical
- to judge an assumption
- to solve a problem
- to reach a conclusion
Critical Thinking Skills
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- F-10 curriculum
- General capabilities
- Critical and Creative Thinking
Critical and Creative Thinking (Version 8.4)
In the Australian Curriculum, students develop capability in critical and creative thinking as they learn to generate and evaluate knowledge, clarify concepts and ideas, seek possibilities, consider alternatives and solve problems. Critical and creative thinking involves students thinking broadly and deeply using skills, behaviours and dispositions such as reason, logic, resourcefulness, imagination and innovation in all learning areas at school and in their lives beyond school.
Thinking that is productive, purposeful and intentional is at the centre of effective learning. By applying a sequence of thinking skills, students develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the processes they can use whenever they encounter problems, unfamiliar information and new ideas. In addition, the progressive development of knowledge about thinking and the practice of using thinking strategies can increase students’ motivation for, and management of, their own learning. They become more confident and autonomous problem-solvers and thinkers.
Responding to the challenges of the twenty-first century – with its complex environmental, social and economic pressures – requires young people to be creative, innovative, enterprising and adaptable, with the motivation, confidence and skills to use critical and creative thinking purposefully.
This capability combines two types of thinking: critical thinking and creative thinking. Though the two are not interchangeable, they are strongly linked, bringing complementary dimensions to thinking and learning.
Critical thinking is at the core of most intellectual activity that involves students learning to recognise or develop an argument, use evidence in support of that argument, draw reasoned conclusions, and use information to solve problems. Examples of critical thinking skills are interpreting, analysing, evaluating, explaining, sequencing, reasoning, comparing, questioning, inferring, hypothesising, appraising, testing and generalising.
Creative thinking involves students learning to generate and apply new ideas in specific contexts, seeing existing situations in a new way, identifying alternative explanations, and seeing or making new links that generate a positive outcome. This includes combining parts to form something original, sifting and refining ideas to discover possibilities, constructing theories and objects, and acting on intuition. The products of creative endeavour can involve complex representations and images, investigations and performances, digital and computer-generated output, or occur as virtual reality.
Concept formation is the mental activity that helps us compare, contrast and classify ideas, objects, and events. Concept learning can be concrete or abstract and is closely allied with metacognition. What has been learnt can be applied to future examples. It underpins the organising elements.
Dispositions such as inquisitiveness, reasonableness, intellectual flexibility, open- and fair-mindedness, a readiness to try new ways of doing things and consider alternatives, and persistence promote and are enhanced by critical and creative thinking.
The key ideas for Critical and Creative Thinking are organised into four interrelated elements in the learning continuum, as shown in the figure below.
Inquiring – identifying, exploring and organising information and ideas
Organising elements for Critical and Creative Thinking
The elements are not a taxonomy of thinking. Rather, each makes its own contribution to learning and needs to be explicitly and simultaneously developed.
This element involves students developing inquiry skills.
Students pose questions and identify and clarify information and ideas, and then organise and process information. They use questioning to investigate and analyse ideas and issues, make sense of and assess information and ideas, and collect, compare and evaluate information from a range of sources. In developing and acting with critical and creative thinking, students:
- pose questions
- identify and clarify information and ideas
- organise and process information.
Generating ideas, possibilities and actions
This element involves students creating ideas and actions, and considering and expanding on known actions and ideas.
Students imagine possibilities and connect ideas through considering alternatives, seeking solutions and putting ideas into action. They explore situations and generate alternatives to guide actions and experiment with and assess options and actions when seeking solutions. In developing and acting with critical and creative thinking, students:
- imagine possibilities and connect ideas
- consider alternatives
- seek solutions and put ideas into action.
Reflecting on thinking and processes
This element involves students reflecting on, adjusting and explaining their thinking and identifying the thinking behind choices, strategies and actions taken.
Students think about thinking (metacognition), reflect on actions and processes, and transfer knowledge into new contexts to create alternatives or open up possibilities. They apply knowledge gained in one context to clarify another. In developing and acting with critical and creative thinking, students:
- think about thinking (metacognition)
- reflect on processes
- transfer knowledge into new contexts.
Analysing, synthesising and evaluating reasoning and procedures
This element involves students analysing, synthesising and evaluating the reasoning and procedures used to find solutions, evaluate and justify results or inform courses of action.
Students identify, consider and assess the logic and reasoning behind choices. They differentiate components of decisions made and actions taken and assess ideas, methods and outcomes against criteria. In developing and acting with critical and creative thinking, students:
- apply logic and reasoning
- draw conclusions and design a course of action
- evaluate procedures and outcomes.
Critical and Creative Thinking in the learning areas
The imparting of knowledge (content) and the development of thinking skills are accepted today as primary purposes of education. The explicit teaching and embedding of critical and creative thinking throughout the learning areas encourages students to engage in higher order thinking. By using logic and imagination, and by reflecting on how they best tackle issues, tasks and challenges, students are increasingly able to select from a range of thinking strategies and use them selectively and spontaneously in an increasing range of learning contexts.
Activities that foster critical and creative thinking should include both independent and collaborative tasks, and entail some sort of transition or tension between ways of thinking. They should be challenging and engaging, and contain approaches that are within the ability range of the learners, but also challenge them to think logically, reason, be open-minded, seek alternatives, tolerate ambiguity, inquire into possibilities, be innovative risk-takers and use their imagination.
Critical and creative thinking can be encouraged simultaneously through activities that integrate reason, logic, imagination and innovation; for example, focusing on a topic in a logical, analytical way for some time, sorting out conflicting claims, weighing evidence, thinking through possible solutions, and then, following reflection and perhaps a burst of creative energy, coming up with innovative and considered responses. Critical and creative thinking are communicative processes that develop flexibility and precision. Communication is integral to each of the thinking processes. By sharing thinking, visualisation and innovation, and by giving and receiving effective feedback, students learn to value the diversity of learning and communication styles.
The learning area or subject with the highest proportion of content descriptions tagged with Critical and Creative Thinking is placed first in the list.
F-6/7 Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS)
In the F–6/7 Australian Curriculum: Humanities and Social Sciences, students develop critical and creative thinking capability as they learn how to build discipline-specific knowledge about history, geography, civics and citizenship, and economics and business. Students learn and practise critical and creative thinking as they pose questions, research, analyse, evaluate and communicate information, concepts and ideas.
Students identify, explore and determine questions to clarify social issues and events, and apply reasoning, interpretation and analytical skills to data and information. Critical thinking is essential to the historical inquiry process because it requires the ability to question sources, interpret the past from incomplete documentation, assess reliability when selecting information from resources, and develop an argument using evidence. Students develop critical thinking through geographical investigations that help them think logically when evaluating and using evidence, testing explanations, analysing arguments and making decisions, and when thinking deeply about questions that do not have straightforward answers. Students learn to critically evaluate texts about people, places, events, processes and issues, including consumer and financial, for shades of meaning, feeling and opinion, by identifying subjective language, bias, fact and opinion, and how language and images can be used to manipulate meaning. They develop civic knowledge by considering multiple perspectives and alternatives, and reflecting on actions, values and attitudes, thus informing their decision-making and the strategies they choose to negotiate and resolve differences.
Students develop creative thinking through the examination of social, political, legal, civic, environmental and economic issues, past and present, that that are contested, do not have obvious or straightforward answers, and that require problem-solving and innovative solutions. Creative thinking is important in developing creative questions, speculation and interpretations during inquiry. Students are encouraged to be curious and imaginative in investigations and fieldwork, and to explore relevant imaginative texts.
Critical and creative thinking is essential for imagining probable, possible and preferred futures in relation to social, environmental, economic and civic sustainability and issues. Students think creatively about appropriate courses of action and develop plans for personal and collective action. They develop enterprising behaviours and capabilities to imagine possibilities, consider alternatives, test hypotheses, and seek and create innovative solutions, and think creatively about the impact of issues on their own lives and the lives of others.
In the Australian Curriculum: History, critical thinking is essential to the historical inquiry process because it requires the ability to question sources, interpret the past from incomplete documentation, develop an argument using evidence, and assess reliability when selecting information from resources. Creative thinking is important in developing new interpretations to explain aspects of the past that are contested or not well understood.
In the Australian Curriculum: Geography, students develop critical and creative thinking as they investigate geographical information, concepts and ideas through inquiry-based learning. They develop and practise critical and creative thinking by using strategies that help them think logically when evaluating and using evidence, testing explanations, analysing arguments and making decisions, and when thinking deeply about questions that do not have straightforward answers. Students learn the value and process of developing creative questions and the importance of speculation. Students are encouraged to be curious and imaginative in investigations and fieldwork. The geography curriculum also stimulates students to think creatively about the ways that the places and spaces they use might be better designed, and about possible, probable and preferable futures.
7-10 Civics and Citizenship
In the Australian Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship, students develop critical thinking skills in their investigation of Australia’s democratic system of government. They learn to apply decision-making processes and use strategies to negotiate and resolve differences. Students develop critical and creative thinking through the examination of political, legal and social issues that do not have obvious or straightforward answers and that require problem-solving and innovative solutions. Students consider multiple perspectives and alternatives, think creatively about appropriate courses of action and develop plans for action. The Australian Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship stimulates students to think creatively about the impact of civic issues on their own lives and the lives of others, and to consider how these issues might be addressed.
7-10 Economics and Business
In the Australian Curriculum: Economics and Business, students develop their critical and creative thinking as they identify, explore and determine questions to clarify economics and business issues and/or events and apply reasoning, interpretation and analytical skills to data and/or information. They develop enterprising behaviours and capabilities to imagine possibilities, consider alternatives, test hypotheses, and seek and create innovative solutions to economics and business issues and/or events.
In the Australian Curriculum: The Arts, critical and creative thinking is integral to making and responding to artworks. In creating artworks, students draw on their curiosity, imagination and thinking skills to pose questions and explore ideas, spaces, materials and technologies. They consider possibilities and make choices that assist them to take risks and express their ideas, concepts, thoughts and feelings creatively. They consider and analyse the motivations, intentions and possible influencing factors and biases that may be evident in artworks they make to which they respond. They offer and receive effective feedback about past and present artworks and performances, and communicate and share their thinking, visualisation and innovations to a variety of audiences.
In the Australian Curriculum: Technologies, students develop capability in critical and creative thinking as they imagine, generate, develop and critically evaluate ideas. They develop reasoning and the capacity for abstraction through challenging problems that do not have straightforward solutions. Students analyse problems, refine concepts and reflect on the decision-making process by engaging in systems, design and computational thinking. They identify, explore and clarify technologies information and use that knowledge in a range of situations.
Students think critically and creatively about possible, probable and preferred futures. They consider how data, information, systems, materials, tools and equipment (past and present) impact on our lives, and how these elements might be better designed and managed. Experimenting, drawing, modelling, designing and working with digital tools, equipment and software helps students to build their visual and spatial thinking and to create solutions, products, services and environments.
Health and Physical Education
In the Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education (HPE), students develop their ability to think logically, critically and creatively in response to a range of health and physical education issues, ideas and challenges. They learn how to critically evaluate evidence related to the learning area and the broad range of associated media and other messages to creatively generate and explore original alternatives and possibilities. In the HPE curriculum, students’ critical and creative thinking skills are developed through learning experiences that encourage them to pose questions and seek solutions to health issues by exploring and designing appropriate strategies to promote and advocate personal, social and community health and wellbeing. Students also use critical thinking to examine their own beliefs and challenge societal factors that negatively influence their own and others’ identity, health and wellbeing.
The Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education also provides learning opportunities that support creative thinking through dance making, games creation and technique refinement. Students develop understanding of the processes associated with creating movement and reflect on their body’s responses and their feelings about these movement experiences. Including a critical inquiry approach is one of the five propositions that have shaped the HPE curriculum.
Critical and creative thinking are essential to developing analytical and evaluative skills and understandings in the Australian Curriculum: English. Students use critical and creative thinking through listening to, reading, viewing, creating and presenting texts, interacting with others, and when they recreate and experiment with literature, and discuss the aesthetic or social value of texts. Through close analysis of text and through reading, viewing and listening, students critically analyse the opinions, points of view and unstated assumptions embedded in texts. In discussion, students develop critical thinking as they share personal responses and express preferences for specific texts, state and justify their points of view and respond to the views of others.
In creating their own written, visual and multimodal texts, students also explore the influence or impact of subjective language, feeling and opinion on the interpretation of text. Students also use and develop their creative thinking capability when they consider the innovations made by authors, imagine possibilities, plan, explore and create ideas for imaginative texts based on real or imagined events. Students explore the creative possibilities of the English language to represent novel ideas.
Learning in the Australian Curriculum: Languages enables students to interact with people and ideas from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, which enhances critical thinking and reflection, and encourages creative, divergent and imaginative thinking. By learning to notice, connect, compare and analyse aspects of the target language, students develop critical, analytical and problem-solving skills.
In the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics, students develop critical and creative thinking as they learn to generate and evaluate knowledge, ideas and possibilities, and use them when seeking solutions. Engaging students in reasoning and thinking about solutions to problems and the strategies needed to find these solutions are core parts of the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics.
Students are encouraged to be critical thinkers when justifying their choice of a calculation strategy or identifying relevant questions during a statistical investigation. They are encouraged to look for alternative ways to approach mathematical problems; for example, identifying when a problem is similar to a previous one, drawing diagrams or simplifying a problem to control some variables.
In the Australian Curriculum: Science, students develop capability in critical and creative thinking as they learn to generate and evaluate knowledge, ideas and possibilities, and use them when seeking new pathways or solutions. In the science learning area, critical and creative thinking are embedded in the skills of posing questions, making predictions, speculating, solving problems through investigation, making evidence-based decisions, and analysing and evaluating evidence. Students develop understandings of concepts through active inquiry that involves planning and selecting appropriate information, evaluating sources of information to formulate conclusions and to critically reflect on their own and the collective process.
Creative thinking enables the development of ideas that are new to the individual, and this is intrinsic to the development of scientific understanding. Scientific inquiry promotes critical and creative thinking by encouraging flexibility and open-mindedness as students speculate about their observations of the world and the ability to use and design new processes to achieve this. Students’ conceptual understanding becomes more sophisticated as they actively acquire an increasingly scientific view of their world and the ability to examine it from new perspectives.
In the Australian Curriculum: Work Studies, Years 9–10, students develop an ability to think logically, critically and creatively in relation to concepts of work and workplaces contexts. These capabilities are developed through an emphasis on critical thinking processes that encourage students to question assumptions and empower them to create their own understanding of work and personal and workplace learning.
Students’ creative thinking skills are developed and practised through learning opportunities that encourage innovative, entrepreneurial and project-based activities, supporting creative responses to workplace, professional and industrial problems. Students also learn to respond to strategic and problem-based challenges using creative thinking. For example, a student could evaluate possible job scenarios based on local labour market data and personal capabilities.
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Part Two: You are the President and CEO of You
Thinking Critically and Creatively
Dr. andrew robert baker.
Critical and creative thinking skills are perhaps the most fundamental skills involved in making judgments and solving problems. They are some of the most important skills I have ever developed. I use them everyday and continue to work to improve them both.
The ability to think critically about a matter—to analyze a question, situation, or problem down to its most basic parts—is what helps us evaluate the accuracy and truthfulness of statements, claims, and information we read and hear. It is the sharp knife that, when honed, separates fact from fiction, honesty from lies, and the accurate from the misleading. We all use this skill to one degree or another almost every day. For example, we use critical thinking every day as we consider the latest consumer products and why one particular product is the best among its peers. Is it a quality product because a celebrity endorses it? Because a lot of other people may have used it? Because it is made by one company versus another? Or perhaps because it is made in one country or another? These are questions representative of critical thinking.
The academic setting demands more of us in terms of critical thinking than everyday life. It demands that we evaluate information and analyze a myriad of issues. It is the environment where our critical thinking skills can be the difference between success and failure. In this environment we must consider information in an analytical, critical manner. We must ask questions—What is the source of this information? Is this source an expert one and what makes it so? Are there multiple perspectives to consider on an issue? Do multiple sources agree or disagree on an issue? Does quality research substantiate information or opinion? Do I have any personal biases that may affect my consideration of this information? It is only through purposeful, frequent, intentional questioning such as this that we can sharpen our critical thinking skills and improve as students, learners, and researchers. Developing my critical thinking skills over a twenty year period as a student in higher education enabled me to complete a quantitative dissertation, including analyzing research and completing statistical analysis, and earning my Ph.D. in 2014.
While critical thinking analyzes information and roots out the true nature and facets of problems, it is creative thinking that drives progress forward when it comes to solving these problems. Exceptional creative thinkers are people that invent new solutions to existing problems that do not rely on past or current solutions. They are the ones who invent solution C when everyone else is still arguing between A and B. Creative thinking skills involve using strategies to clear the mind so that our thoughts and ideas can transcend the current limitations of a problem and allow us to see beyond barriers that prevent new solutions from being found.
Brainstorming is the simplest example of intentional creative thinking that most people have tried at least once. With the quick generation of many ideas at once we can block-out our brain’s natural tendency to limit our solution-generating abilities so we can access and combine many possible solutions/thoughts and invent new ones. It is sort of like sprinting through a race’s finish line only to find there is new track on the other side and we can keep going, if we choose. As with critical thinking, higher education both demands creative thinking from us and is the perfect place to practice and develop the skill. Everything from word problems in a math class, to opinion or persuasive speeches and papers, call upon our creative thinking skills to generate new solutions and perspectives in response to our professor’s demands. Creative thinking skills ask questions such as—What if? Why not? What else is out there? Can I combine perspectives/solutions? What is something no one else has brought-up? What is being forgotten/ignored? What about ______? It is the opening of doors and options that follows problem-identification.
Consider an assignment that required you to compare two different authors on the topic of education and select and defend one as better. Now add to this scenario that your professor clearly prefers one author over the other. While critical thinking can get you as far as identifying the similarities and differences between these authors and evaluating their merits, it is creative thinking that you must use if you wish to challenge your professor’s opinion and invent new perspectives on the authors that have not previously been considered.
So, what can we do to develop our critical and creative thinking skills? Although many students may dislike it, group work is an excellent way to develop our thinking skills. Many times I have heard from students their disdain for working in groups based on scheduling, varied levels of commitment to the group or project, and personality conflicts too, of course. True—it’s not always easy, but that is why it is so effective. When we work collaboratively on a project or problem we bring many brains to bear on a subject. These different brains will naturally develop varied ways of solving or explaining problems and examining information. To the observant individual we see that this places us in a constant state of back and forth critical/creative thinking modes.
For example, in group work we are simultaneously analyzing information and generating solutions on our own, while challenging other’s analyses/ideas and responding to challenges to our own analyses/ideas. This is part of why students tend to avoid group work—it challenges us as thinkers and forces us to analyze others while defending ourselves, which is not something we are used to or comfortable with as most of our educational experiences involve solo work. Your professors know this—that’s why we assign it—to help you grow as students, learners, and thinkers!
Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom by Thomas Priester is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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Original research article, fostering creativity and critical thinking in college: a cross-cultural investigation.
- 1 Department of Psychology, Pace University, New York, NY, United States
- 2 Developmental and Educational Research Center for Children's Creativity, Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
Enhancing creativity and critical thinking have garnered the attention of educators and researchers for decades. They have been highlighted as essential skills for the 21st century. A total of 103 United States students (53 female, 24 male, two non-binary, and 24 non-reporting) and 166 Chinese students (128 female, 30 male, one non-binary, and seven non-reporting) completed an online survey. The survey includes the STEAM-related creative problem solving, Sternberg scientific reasoning tasks, psychological critical thinking (PCT) exam, California critical thinking (CCT) skills test, and college experience survey, as well as a demographic questionnaire. A confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) yields a two-factor model for all creativity and critical thinking measurements. Yet, the two latent factors are strongly associated with each other ( r =0.84). Moreover, Chinese students outperform American students in measures of critical thinking, whereas Americans outperform Chinese students in measures of creativity. Lastly, the results also demonstrate that having some college research experience (such as taking research method courses) could positively influence both United States and Chinese students’ creativity and critical thinking skills. Implications are discussed.
Creativity and critical thinking have been recognized as essential skills in the 21st century ( National Education Association, 2012 ). Many researchers and educators have focused on these two skills, including acquisition, enhancement, and performance. In addition, numerous studies have been devoted to understanding the conceptual complexities involved in creativity and critical thinking. Although similar to each other, creativity and critical thinking are distinctive by definition, each with a different emphasis.
The concept of creativity has evolved over the years. It was almost exclusively conceptualized as divergent thinking when Guilford (1956 , 1986) proposed divergent thinking as a part of intelligence. Earlier measures of creativity took the approach of divergent thinking, measuring creative potential ( Wallach and Kogan, 1965 ; Torrance, 1966 , 1988 ; Runco and Albert, 1986 ; Kim, 2005 ). In 1990s, many creativity scholars challenged the validity of tests of divergent thinking, and suggested that divergent thinking only captures the trivial sense of creativity, and proposed to use the product-oriented method to measure creativity ( Csikszentmihalyi, 1988 ; Amabile, 1996 ; Sternberg and Lubart, 1999 ). A system model of creativity, which recognizes the important roles individual, field, and domain have played, was used as a framework to conceptualize creativity. A widely accepted definition for creativity is a person’s ability to generate an idea or product that is deemed as both novel and appropriate by experts in a field of human activities ( Scott and Bruce, 1994 ; Amabile, 1996 ; Csikszentmihalyi, 1999 ; Sternberg and Lubart, 1999 ; Hunter et al., 2007 ). Corazza and Lubart (2021) recently proposed a dynamic definition of creativity, in which creativity is defined as a context-embedded phenomenon that is tightly related to the cultural and social environment. Based on this new definition, measures of creativity should be context-specific and culturally relevant, especially when it is examined cross-culturally.
Similarly, the conceptualization of critical thinking has also evolved over the years. Earlier definitions emphasized the broad multidimensional aspects of critical thinking, including at least three aspects: attitude, knowledge, and skills ( Glaser, 1941 ). The definition has been evolved to include specific components for each aspect ( Watson and Glaser, 1980 ). For example, critical thinking is recognized as the ability to use cognitive skills or strategies to increase the probability of a desirable outcome ( Halpern, 1999 ). More specifically, cognitive skills such as evaluation, problem-solving, reflective thinking, logical reasoning, and probability thinking are recognized as parts of critical thinking skills in research and assessments ( Ennis, 1987 , Scriven and Paul, 1987 , Halpern, 1999 ). Moving into the 21st century, metacognition and self-regulatory skills have also become essential components for critical thinking in addition to the cognitive skills recognized by earlier scholars ( Korn, 2014 , Paul and Elder, 2019 ).
Similar to the concept of creativity, critical thinking is also viewed as multidimensional and domain specific ( Bensley and Murtagh, 2012 ). For example, critical thinking in psychology, also referred to as psychological critical thinking (PCT), is defined as one’s ability to evaluate claims in a way that explicitly incorporates basic principles of psychological science ( Lawson, 1999 ). As one of the important hub sciences, psychology is often regarded as a foundational course for scientific training in American higher education ( Boyack et al., 2005 ). In psychological discourse, critical thinking is often defined in tandem with scientific thinking, which places significance on hypothesis-testing and problem-solving in order to reduce bias and erroneous beliefs ( Halpern, 1984 ; American Psychological Association, 2016 ; Lamont, 2020 ; Sternberg and Halpern, 2020 ). Based on this definition, measures of critical thinking should assess cognitive skills (i.e., evaluation, logical reasoning) and ability to utilize scientific methods for problem-solving.
In addition to the evolution of the definitions of critical thinking and creativity, research into these two concepts has led to the development of various measurements. For both concepts, there have been numerous measurements that have been studied, utilized, and improved.
The complexities associated with creativity (i.e., context-relevant and domain-specificity) pose a major issue for its measurement. Many different types of creativity measures have been developed in the past. Measures using a divergent thinking approach, such as the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking ( Torrance, 1974 ) and Alternate Uses Test ( Guilford et al., 1960 ), a product-oriented approach, a third person nomination approach, as well as a self-report approach measuring personality ( Gough, 1979 ), creative behavior ( Hocevar and Michael, 1979 ; Rodriguez-Boerwinkle et al., 2021 ), and creative achievement ( Carson et al., 2005 ; Diedrich et al., 2018 ).
Both the divergent thinking and the product-oriented approaches have been widely used in the creativity literature to objectively measure creativity. The tasks of both approaches are generally heuristic, meaning that no correct answer is expected and the process does not need to be rational. When scoring divergent thinking, the number of responses (i.e., fluency) and the rareness of the response (i.e., originality) were used to represent creativity. When scoring products using the product-orientated approach, a group of experts provides their subjective ratings on various dimensions such as originality, appropriateness, and aesthetically appealing to these products using their subjective criteria. When there is a consensus among the experts, average ratings of these expert scores are used to represent the creativity of the products. This approach is also named as Consensual Assessment Technique (CAT; Amabile, 1982 , 1996 ). Some scholars viewed the CAT approach as focusing on the convergent aspect of creativity ( Lubart et al., 2013 ). Recognizing the importance of divergent and convergent thinking in conceptualizing creativity, Lubart et al. (2013) have suggested including divergent thinking and product-oriented approach (i.e., CAT) to objective measures of creativity ( Barbot et al., 2011 ).
Similar to measures of creativity, measurements of critical thinking are also multilevel and multi-approach. In an article reviewing the construction of critical thinking in psychological studies, Lamont (2020) argues that critical thinking became a scientific object when psychologists attempted to measure it. Different from measures of creativity, where the tasks are heuristic in nature, measures of critical thinking require participants to engage in logical thinking. Therefore, the nature of critical thinking tasks is more algorithmic.
The interest in the study of critical thinking is evident in the increased efforts in the past decades to measure such a complex, multidimensional skill. Watson-Glaser Tests for Critical Thinking ( Watson and Glaser, 1938 ) is widely recognized as the first official measure of critical thinking. Since then, numerous measurements of critical thinking have been developed to evaluate both overall and domain-specific critical thinking, such as the PCT Exam ( Lawson, 1999 ; See Mueller et al., 2020 for list of assessments). A few of the most commonly used contemporary measures of critical thinking include the Watson-Glaser Test for Critical Thinking Appraisals ( Watson and Glaser, 1980 ), Cornell Critical Thinking Test ( Ennis et al., 1985 ), and California Critical Thinking (CCT) Skills Test ( Facione and Facione, 1994 ). As the best established and widely used standardized critical thinking measures, these tests have been validated in various studies and have been used as a criterion for meta-analyses ( Niu et al., 2013 ; Ross et al., 2013 ).
There have also been concerns regarding the usage of these standardized measures of critical thinking on its own due to its emphasis on measuring general cognitive abilities of participants, while negating the domain-specific aspect of critical thinking ( Lamont, 2020 ). The issues associated with standardized measures are not unique to standardized critical thinking measures, as same types of criticisms have been raised for standardized college admissions measures such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). To develop an assessment that encompasses a broader range of student abilities that is more aligned to scientific disciplines, Sternberg and Sternberg (2017) developed a scientific inquiry and reasoning measure. This measure is aimed to assess participants’ ability to utilize scientific methods and to think scientifically in order to investigate a topic or solve a problem ( Sternberg and Sternberg, 2017 ). The strength of this measure is that it assesses students’ abilities (i.e., ability to think critically) that are domain-specific and relevant to the sciences. Considering the multidimensional aspect of critical thinking, a combination of a standardized critical thinking measure, an assessment measuring cognitive abilities involved in critical thinking; and a measure that assesses domain-specific critical thinking, would provide a comprehensive evaluation of critical thinking.
The Relationship Between Creativity and Critical Thinking
Most of the studies thus far referenced have investigated creativity and critical thinking separately; however, the discussion on the relationship between creativity and critical thinking spans decades of research ( Barron and Harrington, 1981 ; Glassner and Schwartz, 2007 ; Wechsler et al., 2018 ; Akpur, 2020 ). Some earlier studies on the relationship between divergent thinking and critical thinking have observed a moderate correlation ( r =0.23, p <0.05) between the two ( Gibson et al., 1968 ). Using measures of creative personality, Gadzella and Penland (1995) also found a moderate correlation ( r =0.36, p <0.05) between creative personality and critical thinking.
Recent studies have further supported the positive correlation between critical thinking and creativity. For example, using the creative thinking disposition scale to measure creativity, Akpur (2020) found a moderate correlation between the two among college students ( r =0.27, p <0.05). Similarly, using the critical thinking disposition scale to measure critical thinking and scientific creativity scale and creative self-efficacy scale to measure creativity, Qiang et al. (2020) studied the relationship between critical thinking and creativity to a large sample of high school students ( n =1,153). They found that the relationship between the two varied depending on the type of measurement of creativity. More specifically, the correlation between critical thinking disposition and creative self-efficacy was r =0.045 ( p <0.001), whereas the correlation between critical thinking disposition and scientific creativity was r =0.15 ( p <0.01).
Recognizing the moderate relationship between the two, researchers have also aimed to study the independence of creativity and critical thinking. Some studies have found evidence that these constructs are relatively autonomous. The results of Wechsler et al. (2018) study, which aimed to investigate whether creativity and critical thinking are independent or complementary processes, found a relative autonomy of creativity and critical thinking and found that the variables were only moderately correlated. The researchers in this study suggest that a model that differentiated the two latent variables associated with creativity and critical thinking dimensions was the most appropriate method of analysis ( Wechsler et al., 2018 ). Evidence to suggest that creativity and critical thinking are fairly independent processes was also found in study of Ling and Loh (2020) . The results of their research, which examined the relationship of creativity and critical thinking to pattern recognition, revealed that creativity is a weak predictor of pattern recognition. In contrast, critical thinking is a good predictor ( Ling and Loh, 2020 ).
It is worth noting that a possible explanation for the inconsistencies in these studies’ results is the variance in the definition and the measures used to evaluate creativity and critical thinking. Based on the current literature on the relationship between creativity and critical thinking, we believe that more investigation was needed to further clarify the relationship between creativity and critical thinking which became a catalyst for the current study.
Cross-Cultural Differences in Creativity and Critical Thinking Performance
Results from various cross-cultural studies suggest that there are differences in creativity and critical thinking skills among cultures. A common belief is that individuals from Western cultures are believed to be more critical and creative compared to non-Westerners, whereas individuals from non-Western cultures are believed to be better at critical thinking related tasks compared to Westerners ( Ng, 2001 ; Wong and Niu, 2013 ; Lee et al., 2015 ). For example, Wong and Niu (2013) found a persistent cultural stereotype regarding creativity and critical thinking skills that exist cross-culturally. In their study, both Chinese and Americans believed that Chinese perform better in deductive reasoning (a skill comparable to critical thinking) and that Americans perform better on creativity. This stereotype belief was found to be incredibly persistent as participants did not change their opinions even when presented with data that contradicted their beliefs.
Interestingly, research does suggest that such a stereotype might be based on scientific evidence ( Niu et al., 2007 ; Wong and Niu, 2013 ). In the same study, it was revealed that Chinese did in fact perform better than Americans in deductive reasoning, and Americans performed better in creativity tests ( Wong and Niu, 2013 ). Similarly, Lee et al. (2015) found that compared to American students, Korean students believed that they are more prone to use receptive learning abilities (remembering and reproducing what is taught) instead of critical and creative learning abilities.
Cultural Influence on Critical Thinking
Other studies investigating the cultural influence on critical thinking have had more nuanced findings. Manalo et al. (2013) study of university students from New Zealand and Japan found that culture-related factors (self-construal, regulatory mode, and self-efficacy) do influence students’ critical thinking use. Still, the differences in those factors do not necessarily equate to differences in critical thinking. Their results found that students from Western and Asian cultural environments did not have significant differences in their reported use of critical thinking. The researchers in this study suggest that perhaps the skills and values nurtured in the educational environment have a more significant influence on students’ use of critical thinking ( Manalo et al., 2013 ).
Another study found that New Zealand European students performed better on objective measures of critical thinking than Chinese students. Still, such differences could be explained by the student’s English proficiency and not dialectical thinking style. It was also revealed in this study that Chinese students tended to rely more on dialectical thinking to solve critical thinking problems compared to the New Zealand European students ( Lun et al., 2010 ). Other research on the cultural differences in thinking styles revealed that Westerners are more likely to use formal logical rules in reasoning. In contrast, Asians are more likely to use intuitive experience-based sense when solving critical thinking problems ( Nisbett et al., 2001 ).
These studies suggest that culture can be used as a broad taxonomy to explain differences in critical thinking use. Still, one must consider the educational environment and thinking styles when studying the nature of the observed discrepancies. For instance, cultural differences in thinking style, in particular, might explain why Westerners perform better on some critical thinking measures, whereas Easterners perform better on others.
Cultural Influence on Creative Performance
Historically, creativity studies have suggested that individuals from non-Western cultures are not as creative as Westerners ( Torrance, 1974 ; Jellen and Urban, 1989 ; Niu and Sternberg, 2001 ; Tang et al., 2015 ). For example, in one study, Americans generated more aesthetically pleasing artworks (as judged by both American and Chinese judges) than Chinese ( Niu and Sternberg, 2001 ). However, recent creativity research has suggested that cross-cultural differences are primarily attributable to the definition of creativity rather than the level of creativity between cultures. As aforementioned, creativity is defined as an idea or product that is both novel and appropriate. Many cross-cultural studies have found that Westerners have a preference and perform better in the novelty aspect, and Easterners have a preference and perform better in the appropriateness aspect. In cross-cultural studies, Rockstuhl and Ng (2008) found that Israelis tend to generate more original ideas than their Singaporean counterparts. In contrast, Singaporeans tend to produce more appropriate ideas. Bechtoldt et al. (2012) found in their study that Koreans generated more useful ideas, whereas Dutch students developed more original ideas. Liou and Lan (2018) found Taiwanese tend to create and select more useful ideas, whereas Americans tend to generate and choose more novel ideas. The differences in creativity preference and performance found in these studies suggest that cultural influence is a prominent factor in creativity.
In summary, cross-cultural studies have supported the notion that culture influences both creativity and critical thinking. This cultural influence seems relatively unambiguous in creativity as it has been found in multiple studies that cultural background can explain differences in performance and preference to the dual features of creativity. Critical thinking has also been influenced by culture, albeit in an opaquer nature in comparison to creativity. Critical thinking is ubiquitous in all cultures, but the conception of critical thinking and the methods used to think critically (i.e., thinking styles) are influenced by cultural factors.
Influence of College Experience on Creativity and Critical Thinking
Given its significance as a core academic ability, the hypothesis of many colleges and universities emphasize that students will gain critical thinking skills as the result of their education. Fortunately, studies have shown that these efforts have had some promising outcomes. Around 92% of students in multi-institution research reported gains in critical thinking. Only 8.9% of students believed that their critical thinking had not changed or had grown weaker ( Tsui, 1998 ). A more recent meta-analysis by Huber and Kuncel (2016) found that students make substantial gains in critical thinking during college. In addition, the efforts to enhance necessary thinking skills have led to the development of various skill-specific courses. Mill et al. (1994) found that among three groups of undergraduate students, a group that received tutorial sessions and took research methodology and statistics performed significantly better on scientific reasoning and critical thinking abilities tests than control groups. Penningroth et al. (2007) found that students who took a class in which they were required to engage in active learning and critical evaluation of claims by applying scientific concepts, had greater improvement in psychological critical thinking than students in the comparison groups. There have also been studies in which students’ scientific inquiry and critical thinking skills have improved by taking a course designed with specific science thinking and reasoning modules ( Stevens and Witkow, 2014 ; Stevens et al., 2016 ).
Using a Survey of Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), Lopatto (2004 , 2008) found that research experience can help students gain various learning skills such as ability to integrate theory and practice, ability to analyze data, skill in the interpretation of results, and understanding how scientists work on problem. All of these learning skills correspond to at least one of the dimensions mentioned earlier in the definition of critical thinking (i.e., evaluation, analytical thinking, and problem solving through). Thus, results of SURE provide evidence that critical thinking can be enhanced through research experience ( Lopatto, 2004 , 2008 ).
In comparison to critical thinking, only a few studies have examined the interaction between creativity and college experience. Previous research on STEM provides some evidence to suggest that STEM education can promote the learner’s creativity ( Land, 2013 , Guo and Woulfin, 2016 , Kuo et al., 2018 ). Notably, study of Kuo et al. (2018) suggest that project-based learning in STEM has the merits of improving one’s creativity. They found that the STEM Interdisciplinary Project-Based Learning (IPBL) course is a practical approach to improve college student’s creativity ( Kuo et al., 2018 ). College research experience in particular, has been reported as important or very important by faculty and students for learning how to approach problems creatively ( Zydney et al., 2002 ).
Although specific college courses aimed to enhance creativity have been scarce, some training programs have been developed specifically to improve creativity. Scott et al. (2004) conducted a quantitative review of various creativity training and found that divergent thinking, creative problem solving, and creativity performance can be enhanced through skill-specific training programs. Embodied creativity training programs, consisting of creativity fitness exercises and intensive workshops, have also been effective in enhancing participants’ creative production and improving their creative self-efficacy ( Byrge and Tang, 2015 ).
Both critical thinking and creativity were also found to be important in students’ learning. Using a longitudinal design for one semester to 52 graduate students in biology, Siburian et al. (2019) studied how critical thinking and creative thinking contribute to improving cognitive learning skills. They found that both critical and creative thinking significantly contributes to enhancing cognitive learning skills ( R 2 =0.728). They each contribute separately to the development of cognitive learning skills ( b was 0.123 between critical thinking and cognitive learning and 0.765 between creative thinking and cognitive learning). The results from research on creativity and critical thinking indicate that training and experiences of students in college can enhance both of these skills.
Previous literature on creativity and critical thinking suggests that there is a positive correlation between these two skills. Moreover, cultural background influences creativity and critical thinking conception and performance. However, our literature review suggests that there are only a few studies that have investigated creativity and critical thinking simultaneously to examine whether cultural background is a significant influence in performance. In addition, most of the past research on creativity and critical thinking have relied on dispositions or self-reports to measure the two skills and the investigation on the actual performance have been scarce. Lastly, past studies suggest that the acquisition and enhancement of these skills are influenced by various factors. Notably, college experience and skill-specific training have been found to improve both creativity and critical thinking. However, it is not yet clear how college experience aids in fostering creativity and critical thinking and which elements of college education are beneficial for enhancing these two skills. The cultural influence on creativity and critical thinking performance also needs further investigation.
The current study aimed to answer two questions related to this line of thought. How does culture influence creativity and critical thinking performance? How does college experience affect creativity and critical thinking? Based on past findings, we developed three hypotheses. First, we hypothesized that there is a positive association between critical thinking and creativity. Second, we suggest that college students from different countries have different levels of creativity and critical thinking. More specifically, we predicted that United States students would perform better than Chinese students on both creativity and critical thinking. Last, we hypothesized that having college research experience (through courses or research labs) will enhance creativity and critical thinking.
Materials and Methods
The study was examined by the Internal Review Board by the host university in the United States and obtained an agreement from a partner university in China to meet the ethical standard of both countries.
Participants include 103 university students from the United States and 166 university students from Mainland China. Among all participants, 181 were female (67.3%), 54 were male (20.1%), non-binary or gender fluid ( n =3, 1.1%), and some did not report their gender ( n =31, 11.5%). The majority of participants majored in social sciences ( n =197, 73.2%). Other disciplines include business and management ( n =38, 14.1%), engineering and IT ( n =20, 7.4%), and sciences ( n =14, 5.2%). A Chi-square analysis was performed to see if the background in major was different between the American and Chinese samples. The results showed that the two samples are comparable in college majors, X 2 (3, 265) =5.50, p =0.138.
The American participants were recruited through campus recruitment flyers and a commercial website called Prolific (online survey distribution website). Ethnicities of the American participants were White ( n =44, 42.7%), Asian ( n =13, 12.6%), Black or African American ( n =11, 10.7%), Hispanic or Latinos ( n =5, 4.9%), and some did not report their ethnicity ( n =30, 29.1%). The Chinese participants were recruited through online recruitment flyers. All Chinese students were of Han ethnicity.
After reviewing and signing an online consent form, both samples completed a Qualtrics survey containing creativity and critical thinking measures.
Steam related creative problem solving.
This is a self-designed measurement, examining participant’s divergent and convergent creative thinking in solving STEAM-related real-life problems. It includes three vignettes, each depicting an issue that needs to be resolved. Participants were given a choice to pick two vignettes to which they would like to provide possible solutions for. Participants were asked to provide their answers in two parts. In the first part, participants were asked to provide as many solutions as they can think of for the problem depicted (divergent). In the second part, participants were asked to choose one of the solutions they gave in the first part that they believe is the most creative and elaborate on how they would carry out the solution (convergent).
The responses for the first part of the problem (i.e., divergent) were scored based on fluency (number of solutions given). Each participant received a score on fluency by averaging the number of solutions given across three tasks. In order to score the originality of the second part of the solution (i.e., convergent), we invited four graduate students who studied creativity for at least 1year as expert judges to independently rate the originality of all solutions. The Cronbach’s Alpha of the expert ratings was acceptable for all three vignette solutions (0.809, 0.906, and 0.703). We then averaged the originality scores provided by the four experts to represent the originality of each solution. We then averaged the top three solutions as rated by the experts to represent the student’s performance on originality. In the end, each student received two scores on this task: fluency and originality.
Psychological Critical Thinking Exam
We adopted an updated PCT Exam developed by Lawson et al. (2015) , which made improvements to the original measure ( Lawson, 1999 ). We used PCT to measure the participants’ domain-specific critical thinking: critical thinking involved in the sciences. The initial assessment aimed to examine the critical thinking of psychology majors; however, the updated measure was developed so that it can be used to examine students’ critical thinking in a variety of majors. The split-half reliability of the revised measurement was 0.88, and test-retest reliability was 0.90 ( Lawson et al., 2015 ). Participants were asked to identify issues with a problematic claim made in two short vignettes. For example, one of the questions states:
Over the past few years, Jody has had several dreams that apparently predicted actual events. For example, in one dream, she saw a car accident and later that week she saw a van run into the side of a pickup truck. In another dream, she saw dark black clouds and lightning and 2days later a loud thunderstorm hit her neighborhood. She believes these events are evidence that she has a psychic ability to predict the future through her dreams. Could the event have occurred by chance? State whether or not there is a problem with the person’s conclusions and explain the problem (if there is one).
Responses were scored based on the rubric provided in the original measurement ( Lawson et al., 2015 ). If no problem was identified the participants would receive zero points. If a problem was recognized but misidentified, the participants would receive one point. If the main problem was identified and other less relevant problems were identified, the participants received two points. If participants identified only the main problem, they received three points. Following the rubric, four graduate students independently rated the students’ critical thinking task. The Cronbach’s Alpha of the expert ratings was acceptable for both vignettes (0.773 and 0.712). The average of the four scores given by the experts was used as the final score for the participants.
California Critical Thinking Skills Test
This objective measure of critical thinking was developed by Facione and Facione (1994) . We used CCT to measure a few of the multidimensions of critical thinking such as evaluation, logical reasoning, and probability thinking. Five sample items provided from Insight Assessment were used instead of the standard 40-min long CCT. Participants were presented with everyday scenarios with 4–6 answer choices. Participants were asked to make an accurate and complete interpretation of the question in order to correctly answer the question by choosing the right answer choice (each correct answer was worth one point). This test is commonly used to measure critical thinking, and previous research has reported its reliability as r =0.86 ( Hariri and Bagherinejad, 2012 ).
Sternberg Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning
This measure was developed by Sternberg and Sternberg (2017) as an assessment of scientific reasoning. We used this assessment as a domain-specific assessment to measure participants’ scientific creativity (generating testable hypotheses) and scientific critical thinking involved in generating experiments. For this two-part measure, participants were asked to read two short vignettes. For one of the vignettes, participants were asked to generate as many hypotheses as possible to explain the events described in the vignette. For the other, create an experiment to test the hypothesis mentioned in the vignette.
After carefully reviewing the measurement, we notice that the nature of the tasks in the first part of this measure (hypothesis generation) relied on heuristics, requiring participants to engage in divergent thinking. The number of valid hypotheses provided (i.e., fluency) was used to represent the performance of this task. We, therefore, deem that this part measures creativity. In contrast, the second part of the measure, experiment generation, asked participants to use valid scientific methods to design an experiment following the procedure of critical thinking such as evaluation, problem-solving, and task evaluation. Its scoring also followed algorithms so that a correct answer could be achieved. For the above reasons, we believe hypotheses generation is a measurement of creativity and experiment generation is a measurement for critical thinking.
Based on the recommended scoring manual, one graduate student calculated the fluency score from the hypothesis generation measurement. Four experts read through all students’ responses to the experiment generation. They discussed a rubric on how to score these responses, using a four-point scale, with a “0” representing no response or wrong response, a “1” representing partially correct, a “2” representing correct response. An additional point (the three points) was added if the participant provided multiple design methods. Based on the above rubric, the four experts independently scored this part of the questionnaire. The Cronbach’s Alpha of the four expert ratings was 0.792. The average score of the four judges was used to represent their critical thinking scores on this task.
College Experience Survey
Participants were asked about their past research experience, either specifically in psychology or in general academia. Participants were asked to choose between three choices: no research experience, intermediate research experience (i.e., research work for class, research work for lab), and advanced research experience (i.e., professional research experience, published works).
Demographic and Background Questionnaire
Series of standard demographic questions were asked, including participants’ age, gender, and ethnicity.
We performed a Pearson correlation to examine the relationship between creativity and critical thinking (the two-c), which include performances on three measures on creativity ( creativity originality , creativity fluency , and hypothesis generation ) and three measures on critical thinking ( experiment generation , CCT , and PCT ).
Most of the dependent variables had a significantly positive correlation. The only insignificant correlation was found between Sternberg hypothesis generation and CCT, r (247) =0.024, p =0.708 (see Table 1 ).
Table 1 . Correlation coefficients for study variables.
Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was conducted by applying SEM through AMOS 21 software program and the maximum likelihood method. One-factor and two-factor models have been analyzed, respectively (see Figure 1 ).
Figure 1 . The comparison of the two confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) models: one-factor vs. two-factor.
As it is demonstrated in Table 2 , the value ranges of the most addressed fit indices used in the analysis of SEM are presented. Comparing two models, χ 2 /df of the two-factor model is in a good fit, while the index of the one-factor model is in acceptable fit. The comparison of the two models suggest that the two-factor model is a better model than the one-factor model.
Table 2 . Recommended values for evaluation and the obtained values.
Cross-Cultural Differences in Critical Thinking and Creativity
We conducted a 2 (Country: the United States vs. China)×2 (Two-C: Creativity and Critical Thinking) ANOVA to investigate the cultural differences in critical thinking and creativity. We averaged scores of three critical thinking measurement ( experiment generation , PCT , and CCT ) to represent critical thinking and averaged three creativity scores ( creativity originality , creativity fluency , and hypothesis generation ).
This analysis revealed a significant main effect for the type of thinking (i.e., creative vs. critical thinking), F (1,247) =464.77, p <0.01, η p 2 =0.653. Moreover, there was a significant interaction between country (i.e., the United States vs. China) and type of thinking, F (1,247) =62.00, p <0.01, η p 2 =0.201. More specifically, Chinese students ( M =1.32, SD =0.59) outperformed American students ( M =1.02, SD =0.44) on critical thinking. In contrast, American students ( M =2.59, SD =1.07) outperformed Chinese students ( M =2.05, SD =0.83) on creativity.
Influence of Research Experience on Critical Thinking and Creativity
The last hypothesis states that having college research experience (through courses or research lab) would enhance students’ creativity and critical thinking from both countries. We performed a 2 (Two-C: Creativity and Critical Thinking)×2 (Country: the United States vs. China)×3 (Research Experience: Advanced vs. Some vs. No) ANOVA to test this hypothesis. This analysis revealed a significant main effect for research experience, F (2,239) =4.05, p =0.019, η p 2 =0.033. Moreover, there was a significant interaction between country (i.e., the United States vs. China) and research experience, F (2,239) =5.77, p =0.004, η p 2 =0.046. In addition, there was a three-way interaction among country, two-C, and research experience. More specifically, with an increase of research experience for American students, both critical thinking and creativity improved. In contrast, for Chinese students, the impact of research experience was not significant for creativity. However, some research experience positively impacted Chinese students’ critical thinking (see Figure 2 ).
Figure 2 . Estimated marginal means of Two-C for the United States and Chinese samples.
The current study aimed to investigate the relationship between creativity and critical thinking, how culture influences creativity and critical thinking, and how college research experience affects creativity and critical thinking. Our results supported the first hypothesis regarding the positive correlation among all of the dependent variables. The mean correlation between the measures of creativity and critical thinking was 0.230. This result was in line with the findings from previous research ( Gibson et al., 1968 ; Gadzella and Penland, 1995 ; Siburian et al., 2019 ; Akpur, 2020 ; Qiang et al., 2020 ). Moreover, our confirmatory factor analysis yielded similar results as analysis of Wechsler et al. (2018) and Akpur (2020) and provides more evidence of the relative independence between creativity and critical thinking. We found that at the latent variable level, the two skills are highly correlated to each other ( r =0.84). In addition, we found that although the one-factor model was an acceptable fit, a two-factor model was a better fit for analysis. This result suggests that despite the correlation between creativity and critical thinking, the two skills should be studied as separate factors for an appropriate and comprehensive analysis.
The results of this study partially confirmed our second hypothesis and replicated the findings from past studies ( Niu et al., 2007 ; Lun et al., 2010 ; Wong and Niu, 2013 ; Tang et al., 2015 ). As predicted, there was a significant main effect for culture in students’ performance for all six measures in the two-C analysis model. United States students performed better than Chinese students in all three creativity measures, and Chinese students performed better than United States students in all critical thinking measures. Given the diversity in the type of measures used in this study, the results suggest that United States and Chinese students’ performance aligns with the stereotype belief found in study of Wong and Niu (2013) . The findings from the current study suggest that the stereotype belief observed in both United States and Chinese students (United States students generally perform better on creativity tasks, while Chinese students perform typically better on critical thinking tasks) is not entirely unfounded. Furthermore, the clear discrepancy in performance between United States and Chinese students provides more evidence to suggest that creativity and critical thinking are relatively autonomous skills. Although, a high correlation between these two skills was found in our study, the fact that students from two different cultures have two different development trajectories in critical thinking and creativity suggests that these two skills are relatively autonomous.
Lastly, the results also confirmed our third hypothesis, that is, college research experience did have a positive influence on students’ creativity and critical thinking. Compared to students with no research experience, students with some research experience performed significantly better in all measures of creativity and critical thinking. This finding is consistent with the previous literature ( Mill et al., 1994 ; Penningroth et al., 2007 ; Stevens and Witkow, 2014 ; Stevens et al., 2016 ; Kuo et al., 2018 ). The result of our study suggests that college research experience is significant to enhance both creativity and critical thinking. As research experience becomes a more essential component of college education, our results suggest that it not only can add credential for applying to graduate school or help students learn skills specific to research, but also help students enhance both creativity and critical thinking. Furthermore, it is worth noting that this nature held true for both Chinese and American students. To our knowledge, this is a first investigation examining the role of research experience in both creativity and critical thinking cross-culturally.
In addition to the report of our findings, we would like to address some limitations of our study. First, we would like to note that this is a correlational and cross-sectional study. A positive correlation between research experience and the two dependent variables does not necessarily mean causation. Our results indeed indicate a positive correlation between research experience and the two-C variables; however, we are not sure of the nature of this relationship. It is plausible that students with higher creativity and critical thinking skills are more engaged in research as much as it is to argue in favor of a reversed directional relationship. Second, we would like to note the sample bias in our study. Majority of our participants were female, majoring in the social sciences and a relatively high number of participants chose not to report their gender. Third, we would like to note that our study did not measure all creativity and critical thinking dimensions, we discussed in the introduction. Instead, we focused on a few key dimensions of creativity and critical thinking. Our primary focus was on divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and scientific creativity as well as few key dimensions of critical thinking (evaluation, logical reasoning, and probability thinking), scientific critical thinking involved in problem solving and hypothesis testing. Moreover, our results do not show what specific components of research training are beneficial for the enhancement of creativity and critical thinking.
For future research, a longitudinal design involving a field experiment will help investigate how different research training components affect the development of creativity and critical thinking. In addition, a cross-cultural study can further examine how and why the students from different cultures differ from each other in the development of these two potentials. As such, it might shed some light on the role of culture in creativity and critical thinking.
Conclusion and Implication
The result of our study provides few insights to the study of creativity and critical thinking. First, creativity and critical thinking are a different construct yet highly correlated. Second, whereas Americans perform better on creativity measures, Chinese perform better on critical thinking measures. Third, for both American and Chinese students, college research experience is a significant influence on the enhancement of creativity and critical thinking. As research experience becomes more and more essential to college education, its role can not only add professional and postgraduate credentials, but also help students enhance both creativity and critical thinking.
Based on our results, we recommend that research training be prioritized in higher education. Moreover, each culture has strengths to develop one skill over the other, hence, each culture could invest more in developing skills that were found to be weaker in our study. Eastern cultures can encourage more creativity and Western cultures can encourage more critical thinking.
To conclude, we would like to highlight that, although recognized globally as essential skills, methods to foster creativity and critical thinking skills and understanding creativity and critical thinking as a construct requires further research. Interestingly, our study found that experience of research itself can help enhance creativity and critical thinking. Our study also aimed to expand the knowledge of creativity and critical thinking literature through an investigation of the relationship of the two variables and how cultural background influences the performance of these two skills. We hope that our findings can provide insights for researchers and educators to find constructive methods to foster students’ essential 21st century skills, creativity and critical thinking, to ultimately enhance their global competence and life success.
Data Availability Statement
The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.
The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by Institutional Review Board at Pace University. The participants provided their informed consent online prior to participating in the study.
All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.
This work was supported by the International Joint Research Project of Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University (ICER201904), and a scholarly research funding by Pace University.
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Keywords: creativity, critical thinking, cross-cultural differences, college, research experience
Citation: Park JH, Niu W, Cheng L and Allen H (2021) Fostering Creativity and Critical Thinking in College: A Cross-Cultural Investigation. Front. Psychol . 12:760351. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.760351
Received: 18 August 2021; Accepted: 11 October 2021; Published: 11 November 2021.
Copyright © 2021 Park, Niu, Cheng and Allen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
*Correspondence: Li Cheng, [email protected]
† These authors have contributed equally to this work and share first authorship
This article is part of the Research Topic
Creativity and Innovation in STEAM Education
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How to think critically – a guide to creative and critical thinking.
Find out why critical thinking is such a valued and in-demand skill and how you can improve your own critical thinking abilities.
The ability to analyse arguments, evaluate evidence, and distinguish between fact and opinion is a valuable skill. As a result, critical thinking is a highly sought after ability that can benefit you at work and in your personal life. But what is critical thinking? And how do you think critically?
We explore some of the key concepts behind critical thinking, examine some examples, and outline how you can improve your own skills in this area. We’ll also highlight some useful courses and resources that can help you think critically.
What is critical thinking?
Let’s start things off with a critical thinking definition. Depending on where you look, you might find differences between definitions. First, we’ll rely on a simple definition: critical thinking is the analysis of factual evidence to form a judgement.
However, a closer inspection of the term and its meaning shows that there are many aspects to critical thinking. What’s more, studies have highlighted a broad range of definitions. A thorough way of defining critical thinking is made by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . They summarise the core concepts of critical thinking as the process of ‘careful goal-directed thinking.’
We can also turn to our open step on critical thinking at university , which features this definition:
“Good critical thinking includes recognising good arguments even when we disagree with them, and poor arguments even when these support our own point of view.”
The open step goes on to outline some of the critical thinking processes that tie into the definitions we’ve seen. These critical thinking skills include:
- Analysing and weighing up arguments
- Evaluating evidence that has been presented
- Distinguishing between fact and opinion
- Reviewing the research methods used (how the data has been gathered)
- Considering the potential for bias
- Analysing different interpretations, viewpoints and perspectives
- Reaching conclusions based on your own reasoning.
As you can see, the characteristics of critical thinking are numerous, and it’s a skill made up of many other abilities.
Thinking critically and creatively
Creative thinking is often contrasted with critical thinking. However, the two certainly have their overlaps. Thinking creatively often requires exploring new possibilities, finding unique angles, and using unconventional solutions.
Critical thinking is more focused on a logical and rational process of evaluating that which exists already. However, both types of thinking can be used to solve problems and make decisions, and a combination of the two is often helpful.
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Why is critical thinking important?
So, in essence, critical thinking is about thinking in certain ways to make informed judgements. But why is this such a valuable skill? In a world where we’re provided with an almost constant stream of information and decisions to make, the ability to think critically can help us make the right choices and understand the world around us.
As highlighted in our course on logical and critical thinking , assessing the reasons we are given to do or believe things calls upon us to think critically and logically. We are constantly being told to believe things, such as to buy a product, support a cause, accept a job or judge someone innocent or guilty, and so on. Critical thinking helps us choose whether to believe these things.
Whether you’re working or in education, critical thinking is a desirable soft skill. The benefits of critical thinking are that it can help you:
- Question assumptions
- Make better decisions
- Exercise curiosity
- Create compelling arguments
- Reflect on yourself and your life.
What’s more, critical thinking and problem solving often go hand-in-hand. Employers are always looking for people who possess both skills.
Critical thinking examples
Examples of critical thinking are all around us. On a daily basis, we process information to determine its validity and whether we believe what’s being told to us. However, it’s useful to see the process of critical thinking in action.
In our open step on good and bad arguments , there are several such examples of critical reasoning. These examples follow a particular set of steps to evaluate whether or not an argument is valid and/or sound. This includes:
- Drawing a conclusion from the evidence
- Assessing whether the argument is deductive (has an absolute conclusion) or non-deductive (has a plausible, but not absolute, conclusion).
- Deciding whether the argument is valid (deciding if the premises are true, does that mean we must accept the conclusion).
- Exploring whether the argument is sound (deciding whether the premises are true).
This process can seem quite complex, but many of us do it without thinking. There are other practical examples of critical thinking we can highlight as well, for example:
- Choosing whether a piece of research for an assignment is accurate, valid, from a reliable source and supports your argument.
- Deciding which skills and experience are most relevant to a job application or interview.
- Creating a plan of action to achieve a goal based on a range of factors and variables.
Obstacles to thinking critically
So, critical thinking is a valuable skill and one that many of us practise on a daily basis. However, that doesn’t mean it’s something that we do all of the time. There are some common psychological obstacles and reasoning fallacies that trip even the smartest among us up.
According to our open step on critical and logical thinking, some of the most common obstacles to thinking critically include:
- Confirmation bias . This phenomenon is when we tend to only consider what we have already experienced before, confirming what we already know.
- Heuristics. These are the mental shortcuts we use to simplify decision making. Examples include things like the ‘rule of thumb’ or an ‘educated guess’.
- Framing. The framing effect can make us respond differently to identical circumstances by changing the framing of those circumstances. For example, the focus of our attention might be drawn to different aspects of the situation.
- Common fallacies. There are some common ways that people use reasoning that are not logical or critical. For example, someone might distort an opponent’s arguments or views and then attack the weakened version rather than the real argument (a strawman fallacy).
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How to think critically
If you want to try and avoid some of the common obstacles to critical thinking, there are several methods you can use in developing critical thinking skills. Below, we’ve outlined some of the steps you can take to analyse arguments, evaluate evidence, and distinguish between fact and opinion.
Although the critical thinking process will differ between individuals, there are some useful steps:
- Identify the issue . When faced with a situation or problem, determine what has caused it.
- Analyse the arguments . There will usually be several sides to an argument, so it’s important to understand who is saying what and how valid each position is.
- Discover the facts . It’s essential to separate the facts from the opinions and assess how accurately the evidence is presented.
- Challenge your biases . Ask yourself whether or not you’re making assumptions, why you believe a certain point, and whether you’re letting confirmation bias, heuristics, framing or common fallacies impact your thinking.
- Decide on significance . It’s likely that each side of an argument will have supporting evidence. Deciding which information is most important, deductive, valid, and has a sound premise will help make a decision about the significance of each.
- Draw conclusions . The various steps above will lead you to decide which option or argument (if any) is the most accurate. You can also weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of all options.
How to improve critical thinking skills
The steps above seem simple enough, yet with the various obstacles and emotions involved in decision making, it can sometimes be hard to let your head rule above your heart. So how can you improve your critical thinking skills?
There are several ways that you can achieve the benefits of critical thinking, including:
Use scrutiny and scepticism
It requires little effort to accept things at face value and believe what you’re being told. However, doing so is not particularly helpful for critical thinking. Instead, you should question what’s in front of you, ask what the motivations are, and how accurate the information is.
Eliminate the less useful and unreliable information
It can be difficult to make effective decisions or draw informed conclusions when you’re surrounded by inaccurate information. Using your critical eye and scepticism, you can start to discount the bad arguments and biased claims.
Use reliable sources
When you’re researching a topic to make an informed decision, always pay attention to the source. Look at evidence-based information from reliable outlets and be careful of how statistics are presented to you. Try and explore past the surface-level claims of studies to find out what they’re actually telling you, and whether there is enough of a sample size to make a conclusion.
Active listening is a technique that ensures the listener concentrates, understands, responds to, and remembers what’s being said. It’s also about observing behaviour and body language. This type of active listening can help you fully understand what’s being said and why, and what the pros and cons of the argument are.
Being able to put yourself in the shoes of another person allows you to understand their point of view, motivations, and aspirations. In doing so, you’re better able to appreciate why they hold a particular belief or think in a certain way.
So, critical thinking is a valuable skill that can help us make better decisions and judgements. However, all of us must overcome some thought-obstacles to be able to think critically and creatively. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways in which we can do so, as outlined in this post. If you’re interested in learning more about critical thinking, our logical and critical thinking course is a great place to start. You’ll learn more about how to think more critically and construct and evaluate arguments.
- University of York Logic: The Language of Truth Find out more
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Impact update, at the intersection of creativity and critical thinking.
Creativity and critical thinking sit atop most lists of skills crucial for success in the 21st century. They represent two of the “Four Cs” in P21 ’s learning framework (the other two being communication and collaboration), and they rank second and third on the World Economic Forum ’s top ten list of skills workers will need most in the year 2020 (complex problem solving ranks first).
The various lists of 21st-century skills grant creativity and critical thinking such prominence in part because they are human abilities robots and AI are unlikely to usurp anytime soon. The picture of the near future that emerges from these compilations of skills is one in which people must compete against their own inventions by exploiting the most human of their human qualities: empathy, a willingness to work together, adaptability, innovation. As the 21st century unfolds, creativity and critical thinking appear as uniquely human attributes essential for staving off our own obsolescence.
Like many things human, however, creativity and critical thinking are not easily or consistently defined. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s list of “ Deeper Learning Competencies ,” for example, identifies creativity not as its own competency but as a tool for thinking critically. Bloom’s Taxonomy treats the two as separate educational goals, ranking creativity above critical thinking in the progression of intellectual abilities. Efforts to pin down these skills are so quickly muddled, one is tempted to fall back on the old Justice Stewart remark regarding obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” Unfortunately, that yardstick isn’t much help to teachers or students.
Definitions of creativity tend toward the broad and vague. One of the leading researchers in the area, Robert Sternberg, characterizes creativity as “a decision to buy low and sell high in the world of ideas.” While this is itself a creative approach to the problem of defining creativity, it is not a solution easily translated into a rubric.
Definitions of critical thinking don’t fare much better. According to one group of researchers , “Critical thinking is 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.” Again, a curiously self-demonstrating definition, but not one ready-made for the classroom.
Generally speaking, creativity is associated with generating ideas, while critical thinking is associated with judging them. In practice, however, the two are not so easy to separate. As parents and teachers know well, creativity without critical judgment tends toward the fanciful, the impractical, the ridiculous. “Creative thinking” becomes a nice way of saying that someone’s ideas have run amok.
At the same time, critical thinking gets short shrift when reduced to making a judgment, since, at its best, critical thinking is also a way of making a contribution. It is fundamentally creative in the sense that its aim is to produce something new: an insight, an argument, a new synthesis of ideas or information, a new level of understanding.
Our grasp of creativity and critical thinking is improved when we see them in symbiotic relationship with one another. Creativity benefits from our recognizing the role of critical thinking in ensuring the value of novel ideas. In turn, critical thinking comes into clearer focus when we recognize it as a creative act that enriches understanding by giving rise to something that wasn’t there before.
What does this symbiotic relationship look like in the classroom? Here are a few educational contexts in which creativity is disciplined by critical thinking and critical thinking is expanded through recognition of its creative function:
- Writing. Creative writing only works when the writer’s critical judgment is brought to bear on the product of their imagination. However richly imagined, a story’s success depends on the skill with which its author corrals and controls their ideas, crafting them into something coherent and cohesive. Storycraft is accomplished by writers who discipline their own creative work by thinking critically about it.Successful academic writing — argumentative, expository — requires not just critical analysis but also creative invention. Academic writers enter into conversation with their readers, their instructors, fellow students, other writers and scholars, anyone affected by or invested in their topic. As in any conversation, a successful participant doesn’t simply repeat back what others have already said, but builds upon it, asking critical questions, fine-tuning points, proposing solutions — in short, creating and contributing something original that extends and enriches the conversation.
- History. History classes lend themselves readily to creative exercises like imagining the experiences of people in the past, or envisioning what the present might look like if this or that historical event had played out differently. These exercises succeed only when imagination is disciplined by critical thinking; conjectures must be plausible, connections must be logical, and the use of evidence must be reasonable.At the same time, critical analysis of historical problems often employs invention and is (or should be) rewarded for its creativity. For example, a student analyzing the US mission to the moon in terms of the theme of the frontier in American mythology is engaged in an intellectual activity that is at least as creative as it is evaluative.
- Math. Creative projects can generate engagement and enthusiasm in students, prompting them to learn things they might otherwise resist. In this example , a middle school math class learned about circuitry on their way to creating a keyboard made of bananas. Projects like this one demonstrate that creativity and critical thinking are reciprocal. A banana keyboard is unquestionably creative, but of little utility except insofar as it teaches something valuable about electronics. Yet, that lesson was made possible only by virtue of the creative impulse the project inspired in students.
The skills today’s students will need for success are, at a most basic level, the skills that humans have always relied on for success — the very things that make us human, including our creativity and our capacity for thinking critically. The fact that our defining qualities so often defy definition, that our distinctive traits are so frustratingly indistinct, is just another gloriously untidy part of us that robots will never understand.
For more, see:
- How Dialogue Teaches Critical Thinking and Empathy
- Creating Change-Agents: The Intersection of Critical Thinking and Student Agency
- Philadelphia is Reimagining Arts & Creativity Education Programming
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Creativity and critical thinking skills in school: moving a shared agenda forward.
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Critical & Creative Thinking
This chapter will prepare you to:
- Explain the concepts of critical thinking.
- Evaluate the merits of the questions, not just the answers.
- Evaluate the origins of our values.
- Discuss the implications of perceptions and stereotypes as they relate to an individual.
- Identify historical, geographical, and cultural contexts.
In the Introduction , we presented the idea of metacognition, which is the first step in applying critical and creative thinking to our study of the humanities. We all view the world through a lens; one shaped by our personal experiences. So, to objectively analyze a news story, cartoon, painting, photograph, essay, song, or any number of ways we express our human experience, we begin by being aware of how our brain works.
You may hear the phrase “critical thinking” used many times in a humanities course. In the context of humanities, critical thinking is the process of reflection about our personal values, paradigms, and experiences. Creative thinking is another important tool for studying the humanities. By “creative thinking,” we mean challenging what you think you know and asking you to think outside the box. Creative thinking also acknowledges and explores how other people may see or experience the world differently from us.
Throughout this book are Questions for Critical & Creative Thinking . These questions may present novel situations or be tough to answer. They are designed to help you reflect on why you perceive the world the way you do and perhaps why someone else might see things differently. Some questions may prompt you to expand your personal perspective.
The Looking Exercises and Listening Exercises included at the end of this chapter will help you practice these approaches to critical and creative thinking.
Creative Approaches to Critical Thinking
What is critical thinking.
A key component of critical thinking is analyzing a person or event from multiple perspectives . The opposite of critical thinking would be characterizing a group of people based on a singular experience with one individual. Not only does this limited perspective interfere with critical and creative thinking, but it may also lead us to treat people or situations with unrealistic expectations.
Credit: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “ The Danger of a Single Story .” TEDGlobal 2009. July 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International. https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses the damage caused by people’s limited perceptions. She starts by sharing her perceptions of people from her childhood in Nigeria. She then moves on to other people’s perceptions of her and Nigerian culture when she was a student in the United States.
Questions for Critical & Creative Thinking
- Have you ever been subjected to a stereotype?
- Where do you think the basis of this assumption came from? Is there any truth to the idea?
- Do you feel like these stereotypes limit you or encourage you?
What Do We Know?
Our reaction to information—whether it comes via images, sound, or words—is informed by our value systems. Our value systems, in turn, are shaped by personal experience and learned knowledge.
Consider something as fundamental as clothing. The sight of a man wearing a skirt in Salt Lake City would be unusual enough that he would probably elicit some stares. However, maybe not from people living in Scotland or the Pacific islands. This is an example of a response informed by cultural context. In this case, about what is regarded as normal or acceptable attire for men to wear in public. There are also historical imperatives. In present-day society, men and women frequently wear jeans or pants. However, 100 years ago, a woman wearing pants was neither a common nor acceptable fashion statement.
Can you choose which of the following historical factors were at play to allow women in the United States the freedom to wear “men’s” clothing?
- The suffrage movement for women’s right to vote
- World War I and World War II (Hint: military conscription of men necessitated a female workforce.)
- The birth control pill
Think about what people considered normal in earlier historical settings and reflect on your own reaction.
- Do you think they are silly? Funny?
- Or were their standards acceptable because they were based on the information available at the time?
Let us look at another example, this time a symbol most likely associated with negative reactions. The swastika symbol was adopted by the Nazi party during World War II. Because of this, most people perceive the swastika as a symbol of murder and destruction.
The origins of this symbol reach back much further than 20 th -century Germany. The oldest known swastika is estimated to be about 15,000 years old , which puts it in the Paleolithic Period (Stone Age). Throughout history, the swastika was used in regions all over the world, including China, Japan, India, and southern Europe. It has been used to represent good luck, prosperity, and the sun. If not equipped with this knowledge before traveling abroad, it would be easy to assume that Nazi sympathizers had lived in these countries.
Questions to Critical & Creative Thinking
- Prior to reading about the history of the swastika, what conclusions might you have reached if you visited a building displaying a swastika on the wall?
- A swastika symbol on Japanese maps indicates the location of a Buddhist temple. In preparation for the 2020 Olympics, Japan’s national mapmaking department is considering changing the map symbol to something else. Do you think they should or should not change the symbol? Why or why not? Can you think of another way to resolve this issue?
What Is a Creative Approach to Critical Thinking?
As you might imagine from the swastika example, challenging long-held values or beliefs can cause conflict among people, and perhaps discomfort for an individual person. However, it is important to remember that critical and creative thinking does not require you to change your mind but rather, evaluate how you got there. One way to look at it is to imagine that critical thinking is like taking something apart, while creative thinking is like recycling or repurposing something. In the end, you may still end up with the same beliefs. Or you may discover you have acquired some new values.
Again, the goal is to get you thinking about how you think. In an early scene from the movie, The Matrix (1999) , the character Orpheus offers the protagonist Neo a blue pill and a red pill.
“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Likewise, by encouraging you to think critically and creatively, this course offers you a similar choice. You can superficially engage with the various artifacts presented throughout this book, skip the critical and creative thinking questions, and finish the book with your points of view pretty much unchanged. Or you can accept occasionally feeling uncomfortable as you delve deeper into how people across the centuries and around the world have tried to make sense of the human condition. Blue pill or red pill? You choose!
How to Approach an Artifact
Another critical thinking tool is the use and analysis of artifacts. A humanities artifact could be a piece of writing, music, painting, drawing, sculpture, dance, film, or any number of created works. In her article “ A Method for Reading, Writing, & Thinking Critically ,” Kathleen McCormick explains that we should consider the historical and cultural context when analyzing an artifact of written text. Additional contexts for approaching any type of artifact include economic, political, geographical, social, and religious, to name a few. These contextual pieces offer clues as to what may have motivated a person to compose or create an artifact. Analyzing context can also help us to determine how relevant an artifact is to our contemporary experiences.
In addition to considering context, it is important to ask a series of questions when approaching an artifact of the humanities. Critical and creative thinking encourages us to be actively engaged with a piece of text, music, or art. Some questions you should be asking yourself as you engage with the artifacts presented in this chapter, as well as the rest of the book include:
- Who is the author or creator of the artifact?
- What do we know about the artifact’s historical context, i.e., what was happening when the artifact was created?
- What was the inspiration or motivation for creating this artifact? For example, was it a commissioned piece or spontaneous creation?
- For written text, is there a narrative voice? If so, is it first person or third?
- Does who is speaking make a difference for a narrative?
- What is the main message the author or creator is trying to convey?
- Who, if any, is the author or creator’s intended audience?
- Does this artifact present a familiar concept or message? Is it something new for you?
- Does the author or creator’s message align or conflict with your values?
When we engage with humanities artifacts and then apply critical and creative thinking, we are not merely going through a process of decoding. Hopefully, this book helps you understand that analyzing the humanities using this approach is a sincere thoughtful process that helps broaden your understanding of what the humanities are and why understanding them is so important.
Looking Exercises: Architecture and Painting
These exercises will help you practice using critical and creative analysis of a humanities artifact through a couple of visual examples: building architecture and political painting.
The visual arts are a broad umbrella encompassing artifacts that are appreciated by looking at them. These arts include painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, photography, video, printmaking, crafts, architecture, textiles, and much more. These artifacts are the result of people trying to make sense of their physical and inner worlds, and conveying that understanding to other people.
An important first question to ask when considering a visual arts artifact is, was the work commissioned? Meaning, was the piece created at the request of someone else, such as a government, individual, nonprofit group, political group, or otherwise? Naturally, the sentiment embodied in the artifact and the intended audience will likely align with the values of the group or person who commissioned it rather than the artist who created it.
Other important questions might include, when was the piece created? What political issues were prominent at the time? What historical events were happening? By gathering as much contextual information as possible about the artifact, we are better equipped to interpret the artifact’s message or intention.
The built environment reflects the age and cultural context in which it was produced. Architecture gives us easy access to visual arts artifacts for analysis. Some contextual questions we can ask:
- What does the style of architecture in my city tell me about the cultural influences of my society?
- Is there a philosophical influence?
- How old is the city?
- Does it maintain some of the influence of the original settlers? If so, how and where did that influence come from?
Architecture may also reflect a building’s function. Public buildings tend to be open and inviting. Some buildings may be designed to deflect attention. The nondescript architecture of homeless shelters helps conceal the vulnerable people living there. This kind of architecture is known as hostile architecture.
For this exercise, use the contextual questions listed above (as well as ones of your own) to analyze the architectural artifact presented by the White House in Washington DC, which was built in 1792. And compare it with Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall, built in Los Angeles in 2003.
Looking at a piece of art, we can ask whether what we see relates to our contemporary setting. Sometimes, in order to fully understand an artifact, we must be familiar with the historical, political, or social context surrounding its creation.
The painting Guernica by Pablo Picasso was first displayed in Paris on May 1, 1937. He painted it during the midst of the Spanish Civil War (July 1936–April 1939) as an artistic reaction to the Nazi’s bombing of the Basque town on April 26, 1937 . The painting is monochromatic, to show the misery inflicted by the aerial bombardment. The images in the painting present the tragedy and suffering of the war: a dismembered soldier and nurse; an all-seeing eye; and the Spanish symbols of a bull and a horse.
One contextual question to ask is, does Picasso’s painting only hold relevance to the Spanish Civil War? Two examples of contemporary situations demonstrate that this painting can be relevant beyond what Picasso may have originally intended. In fact, this artifact presents timeless relevancy to the perception, interpretation, and expression of our human experiences during a war.
On February 28, 1974 , Tony Shafrazi entered the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and red-spray painted the words “Kill Lies All” over the Guernica. Shafrazi said this was “ a protest against the release on bail of the lieutenant later convicted for his role in the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.” The red paint was easily removed, as Guernica was heavily varnished.
On February 5, 2003, Colin Powell delivered a speech at the United Nations (UN) headquarters to make the case for war with Iraq. He was standing in front of a tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica, which hangs in the UN as a reminder of the horror of war and the need for diplomacy first. The tapestry was covered with a blue sheet.
Reports of the UN’s position behind this action vary and the organization did not release an official statement. However, using contextual information, such as the painting’s history, we can deduce some logical reasons. The New York Times reported the UN started covering the tapestry because they were afraid a horse’s screaming head would be visible next to chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix while he spoke. The article offered an alternative reason , “Mr. Powell can’t very well seduce the world into bombing Iraq surrounded on camera by shrieking and mutilated women, men, children, bulls and horses.”
An article in the Toronto Star ran the quote , “A [un-named] diplomat stated that it would not be an appropriate background if the ambassador of the United States at the U.N. John Negroponte, or Powell, talk about war surrounded with women, children and animals shouting with horror and showing the suffering of the bombings.”
Listening Exercises: Songs and Music
These two exercises apply to how our values shape our listening choices, both in conversations and songs. As described, we prefer listening to speech and music that agree with our values and ideas. In other words, we gravitate to news channels, influential people, and song lyrics that support our world view. This tendency to seek out similar viewpoints ends up reinforcing our world view rather than expanding it.
There are several reasons for this behavior:
- Consensual validation: When we meet people who share similar attitudes, it makes us feel more confident about our world view. For example, if you love jazz music, meeting a fellow jazz lover confirms that your love of jazz is OK and maybe even virtuous.
- Cognitive evaluation: We naturally form positive or negative impressions of other people by generalizing from the information we acquire through experience or absorption. When a person has common interests with us, we assume that we must also share other positive characteristics with that person.
- Certainty of being liked: We assume that someone who shares common interests and viewpoints will probably like us. In turn, we tend to like people if we think they like us.
- Preference for enjoyable interactions: It is just more fun to hang out with someone when you have a lot in common.
- Opportunity for self-expansion: We benefit from new knowledge and experiences as the direct result of spending time with someone else. Oddly, people seeking self-expansion will gravitate toward people who are similar to them, even though a person with dissimilar perspectives would likely provide greater opportunities for self-expansion.
Listen to 15 minutes of news on a network that represents viewpoints contrary to yours.
- How did you feel while listening to a contrary opinion?
- Did you find yourself responding, such as thinking of rebuttals to contradict the information you were hearing?
- Did you learn something new?
The same behaviors influence how we listen to music. Music presents an artifact with many contextual facets. Some people listen to music for entertainment value. Others listen to find meaning in either the music or lyrics, or both. Very often, we attach meanings to music depending on where we were or what was happening when we heard it. Composers will have an inspiration or recall their personal experiences when creating music. Therefore, when analyzing music, it is important to consider the context that includes our personal response, the composer’s motivation, and perhaps outside influences, such as historical events or political movements.
There are fundamental questions we can ask regardless of musical genre:
- When did the artist compose the music?
- How does the genre of music impact its meaning?
- Does the tempo make us feel a certain way, such as sad, energized, relaxed, or irritated? How about the lyrics?
- Who do you think the music was written for? The musician? The listener?
- What do you think is the message is? Is meaning fluid or changeable?
- Does your musical taste change over time? As you get older? Due to events in your life?
Modern Song Lyrics
The two examples in this exercise present music artifacts from very different genres. The first is “ Blurred Lines ,” a song written by Pharell Williams and Robin Thicke. Released on March 26th, 2013, it was immediately involved in a legal dispute. Marvin Gaye’s family sued on the grounds that the song was “ noticeably ripped off ” from Marvin Gaye’s song “ Got To Give It Up .” The plaintiffs won their case and were awarded $5.3 million dollars in damages and 50% of royalties from future sales.
Furthermore, the song was criticized for promoting rape culture . Critics said the “blurred lines” in the title and lyrics were an assault on someone’s right to control sexual consent and the song’s message promoted the objectification of women as sexual objects.
Here are the song lyrics :
I hate these blurred lines I know you want it I hate them lines I know you want it I hate them lines I know you want it But you’re a good girl The way you grab me Must wanna get nasty Go ahead, get at me
- After reading the lyrics, do you think the song is controversial?
- After watching the video clip, does the meaning of the song change for you?
The song faced further controversy when Miley Cyrus joined Robin Thicke on stage at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. Cyrus performed twerking dance moves in close contact with Thicke and made sexual gestures using a foam finger. Her dance performance was regarded as an endorsement of the song’s message. (Time marker 04:10)
Credit: Robin Thicke, Miley Cyrus. “Miley Cyrus VMA 2013 with Robin Thicke SHOCKED.” MTV Video Music Awards 2013. Juan Manuel Cruz . YouTube. YouTube. Fair Use of worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to access content. https://youtu.be/LfcvmABhmxs.
Classical Instrumental Music
Credit: Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Neeme Järvi, conductor. “ Beethoven Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 .” SoundCloud. Fair Use of limited, personal, non-exclusive, revocable, non-assignable and non-transferable right and license to use the Platform to view Content. https://soundcloud.com/chicagosymphony/beethoven-symphony-no-6-2.
A very different example of a musical artifact is Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 , written in 1808. (Making it a slightly older piece than “Blurred Lines.”). Historical context is important for analyzing the message in Beethoven’s composition. For example, what made No. 6 different from his other symphonies? A clue resides in the title Beethoven gave to this piece of music, Pastoral Symphony . According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, pastoral means “of, relating to, or composed of shepherds or herdsmen.” This suggests an agricultural theme. This is one of only two symphonies titled by the composer, rather than someone else. Beethoven had a lifelong appreciation of nature and frequently took walks in the countryside. For the premiere, he described this composition as having “ more an expression of feeling than painting .”
Listen to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 and pay attention to how the music makes you feel.
- How does the music affect your mood?
- What images appear in your mind as you listen?
- Can you interpret a message conveyed in the music despite there being no lyrics?
Try practicing your analytical listening skills on other instrumental pieces, such as the movie score to Fantasia , Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus , or The Lord of the Rings .
As you move through this book, you may discover information that is already familiar to you. Those cases are an opportunity to put on your critical and creative thinking cap and use it to reflect on your existing world views and values. Observe, and then, ask yourself lots of questions!
- Does your gender, race, sexuality, socio-economic status inform your interpretation of an artifact?
- What was happening historically when you read, listened to, or observed the artifact?
- Are (or were) there external circumstances, such as laws or events, that may have informed your interpretation of an artifact?
- Do you have acquired knowledge that helps deepen your appreciation or understanding of an artifact?
- Do you agree or disagree with an artist or creator’s message? If you disagree, can you appreciate why they felt compelled to create their message?
Remember, these questions are not intended to force you to shift your ideology. However, they do require you to consider how your personal perspective affects your interpretation of artifacts. And hopefully, these questions will encourage you to look at things from a different perspective than the one you are used to using.
The examples, questions, and descriptions in this book are designed to help teach you to:
- See and interpret patterns in people’s behavior.
- View situations from a variety of different perspectives.
- Realize that there may not be definitive answers to questions that arise from the human experience.
For our last example, use your critical and creative thinking skills to reflect on the following quote by Lawrence Wright :
“We prefer an ordered world, regular patterns, familiar forms, and when flaws or distortions occur, provided they are not too gross, our mind’s eye tidies them up. We see what we want or expect to see.”
- Do you agree with Wright? Do you prefer to categorize contemporary and historical events so they fit in with your world view?
- If you disagree, in what way?
- Is it possible that you could be misinterpreting information? Is it possible you do not have possession of all the facts?
- Do you operate in a clearly defined narrative within a clearly defined paradigm?
- Could you possibly change your mind?
The Human Experience: From Human Being to Human Doing by Claire Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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