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12 Common Barriers To Critical Thinking (And How To Overcome Them)

As you know, critical thinking is a vital skill necessary for success in life and work. Unfortunately,  barriers to critical thinking  can hinder a person’s ability. This piece will discuss some of the most common  internal and external barriers to critical thinking  and what you should do if one of them hinders your ability to think critically.

Critical Thinking Challenges

You already know that  critical thinking  is the process of analyzing and evaluating a situation or person so that you can make a sound judgment. You normally use the judgment you derive from your critical thinking process to make crucial decisions, and the choices you make affect you in workplaces, relationships, and life’s goals and achievements.

Several  barriers to critical thinking  can cause you to skew your judgment. This could happen even if you have a large amount of data and information to the contrary. The result might be that you make a poor or ineffective decision instead of a choice that could improve your life quality. These are some of the top obstacles that hinder and distort the ability to think critically:

1. Using Emotions Instead of Logic

Failing to remove one’s emotions from a critical thinking analysis is one of the hugest barriers to the process. People make these mistakes mainly in the relationship realm when choosing partners based on how they “make them feel” instead of the information collected.

The correct way to decide about a relationship is to use all facts, data, opinions, and situations to make a final judgment call. More times than not, individuals use their hearts instead of their minds.

Emotions can hinder critical thinking in the employment realm as well. One example is an employee who reacts negatively to a business decision, change, or process without gathering more information. The relationship between that person and the employer could become severed by her  lack of critical thinking  instead of being salvaged by further investigations and rational reactions.

2. Personal Biases

Personal biases can come from past negative experiences, skewed teachings, and peer pressure. They create a huge obstacle in critical thinking because they overshadow open-mindedness and fairness.

One example is failing to hire someone because of a specific race, age, religious preference, or perceived attitude. The hiring person circumvents using critical thinking by accepting his or her biases as truth. Thus, the entire processes of information gathering and objective analysis get lost in the mix.

3. Obstinance

Stubbornness almost always ruins the critical thinking procedure. Sometimes, people get so wrapped up in being right that they fail to look at the big picture. Big-picture thinking is a large part of critical thinking; without it, all judgments and choices are rash and incomplete.

4. Unbelief

It’s difficult for a person to do something he or she doesn’t believe in. It’s also challenging to engage in something that seems complex. Many people don’t think critically because they believe they must be scholarly to do so. The truth is that  anyone  can think critically by practicing the following steps:

5. Fear of Failure or Change

Fear of change and failure often hinders a person’s critical thinking process because it doesn’t allow thinking outside the box. Sometimes, the most efficient way to resolve a problem is to be open to changing something.

That change might be a different way of doing something, a relationship termination, or a shift of positions at a workplace. Fear can block out all possible scenarios in the critical thinking cycle. The result is often one-dimensional thinking, tunnel vision, or proverbial head-banging.

6. Egocentric Thinking

Egocentric thinking is also one of the main barriers to critical thinking. It occurs when a person examines everything through a “me” lens. Evaluating something properly requires an individual to understand and consider other people’s perspectives, plights, goals, input, etc.

7. Assumptions

Assumptions are one of the negative  factors that affect critical thinking . They are detrimental to the process because they cause distortions and misguided judgments. When using assumptions, an individual could unknowingly insert an invalid prejudgment into a stage of the thought process and sway the final decision.

It’s never wise to assume anything about a person, entity, or situation because it could be 100 percent wrong. The correct way to deal with assumptions is to store them in a separate thought category of possibilities and then use the data and other evidence to validate or nullify them.

XYZ  might  be why ABC happened, but there isn’t enough information or data to conclude it. The same concept is true for the rest of the possibilities, and thus, it’s necessary to research and analyze the facts before accepting them as truths.

8. Group Thinking

Group thinking is another one of the  barriers to critical thinking  that can block sound decisions and muddy judgments. It’s similar to peer pressure, where the person takes on the viewpoint of the people around him or her to avoid seeming “different.”

This barrier is dangerous because it affects how some people think about right and wrong. It’s most prevalent among teens. One example is the “everybody’s doing it (drugs, bullying), so I should too” mindset.

Unfortunately, this barrier can sometimes spill over into the workplace and darken the environment when workers can’t think for themselves. Workers may end up breaking policies, engaging in negative behavior, or harassing the workers who don’t conform.

Group thinking can also skew someone’s opinion of another person before the individual gets a chance to collect facts and evaluate the person for himself. You’ve probably heard of smear campaigns. They work so well against targets because the parties involved don’t use the critical thinking process at all.

9. Impulsivity

Impulsivity is the tendency to do things without thinking, and it’s a bona fide critical thinking killer. It skips right by  every  step in the critical thinking process and goes directly to what feels good in the moment.

Alleviating the habit takes practice and dedication. The first step is to set time aside when impulsive urges come to think about all aspects of the situation. It may take an impulsive person a while to develop a good critical thinking strategy, but it can work with time.

10. Not Knowing What’s Fact and Opinion

Critical thinking requires the thinker to know the difference between facts and opinions. Opinions are statements based on other people’s evaluative processes, and those processes may not be critical or analytical. Facts are an unemotional and unbiased piece of data that one can verify. Statistics and governmental texts are examples.

11. Having a Highly Competitive Nature

A “winning” mindset can overshadow the fair and objective evaluation of a problem, task, or person and undermine critical thinking. People who  think competitively  could lose sight of what’s right and wrong to meet a selfish goal that way.

12. Basing Statements on Popularity

This problem is prevalent in today’s world. Many people will accept anything a celebrity, political figure, or popular person says as gospel, but discredit or discount other people’s input. An adept critical thinker knows how to separate  what’s  being said from  who  said it and perform the necessary verification steps.

How To Overcome Barriers in Critical Thinking

If you can identify any of the above-mentioned  barriers , your critical thinking may be flawed. These are some tips for overcoming such barriers:

1. Know your flaws.

The very first step toward improving anything is to know and admit your flaws. If you can do that, you are halfway to using better critical thinking strategies.

2. Park your emotions.

Use logic, not emotion, when you are evaluating something to form a judgment. It’s not the time to think with your heart.

3. Be mindful of others.

Try to put yourself in other people’s shoes to understand their stance. A little empathy goes a long way.

4. Avoid black-and-white thinking.

Understand that there’s always more than one way to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Additionally, consider that not every person is all bad or all good.

5. Dare to be unpopular.

Avoid making decisions to please other people. Instead, evaluate the full lot of information and make the decision you feel is best.

6. Don’t assign unjustified merit.

Don’t assume someone is telling the truth or giving you more accurate information because of his or her name or status. Evaluate  all  people’s input equally.

7. Avoid judging others.

Try to keep biases and prejudices out of your decision-making processes. That will make them fair and just.

8. Be patient with yourself.

Take all the days you need to pick apart a situation or problem and resolve it. Don’t rush to make hasty decisions.

9. Accept different points of view.

Not everyone will agree with you or tell you what you want to hear.

10. Embrace change.

Don’t ever be afraid of changing something or trying something new. Thinking outside the box is an integral part of the critical thinking process.

Now you know the answers to the question,  “What are the challenges of critical thinking?”  Use the information about the  barriers to critical thinking  to improve your critical thinking process and make healthier and more beneficial decisions for everyone.

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It's important to develop critical thinking skills for more than just academic reasons. Substantial critical thinking capacity serves us well in all aspects of our lives. It encompasses problem-solving , decision making, personal responsibility, and managing relationships of every kind effectively, just to name a few things. There's no doubt it's one of the most crucial mindsets our learners could ever have, for learning and life.

By using real-world examples , teachers can explore concepts that help learners think more critically. However, teachers must recognize the barriers and challenges accompanied by teaching critical thinking skills . Most importantly, we must discover how to get around these barriers. This article will explore seven common critical thinking barriers and how to effectively get around them.


1. Egocentric Thinking

Although egocentric behaviors are less prominent in adulthood, overcoming egocentrism can be a lifelong process. Egocentric thinking is a natural tendency to view everything in relation to oneself. This type of thinking leads to the inability to sympathize with others or analyze and evaluate various perspectives. Sadly, since most egocentric people are not willing or cannot see this character flaw within themselves, this increases the difficulty in overcoming the barrier.

As young learners contemplate who they are and where they fit in, egocentric thinking may become more apparent. After all, they need experiences, opportunities for debate, brainstorming sessions, and the chance to ask meaningful questions in order to recognize and understand the viewpoints of others.

Creating a classroom that encourages critical thinking can help learners lose egocentrism. Especially during social conflicts, teachers can help learners think more abstractly by pointing out the opinions and attitudes of others. Teachers will do well to encourage empathy as their learners ponder other people's perspectives, opinions, and thoughts.

2. Groupthink

Groupthink can lead to unhealthy decision-making patterns. Like egocentric thinking, it is difficult to overcome. Breaking the cycle requires individuals to stand apart from the group and question opinions, thoughts, and popular ideas. This can be especially difficult for adolescents, but teachers can play a key role in encouraging independent thought and action in students.

Facilitating student learning in a classroom while avoiding a groupthink teaching style is possible by expanding teaching methods that help learners think creatively. This allows them to make connections and challenge reasoning, both of which are important for critical thinking.

Our learners benefit from direct training in decision-making to prepare them to solve complex problems. Expecting them to make decisions by trial and error is simply not enough. Instruction in how to debate and present constructive arguments can develop critical thinking skills. As learners become familiar and repeat this thinking capability, they are more likely to think, question, and analyze. As a result, this reduces the likelihood of them developing a groupthink perspective.

3. Drone Mentality

If you have a drone mentality , this means you don’t pay attention to what is going on around you. A drone mentality can sneak up on anyone at any time. Daily routines often lead to a drone mentality and can prevent or cause a loss of critical thinking skills.

This mentality is dangerous in a classroom because learners forget how to respond to new circumstances. It also causes them to shy away from challenges for the sake of ease and convenience.

Teachers should avoid the temptation of slipping into patterns that can lead to a drone mentality effect in the classroom. By constantly finding connections to new things and fields , their teaching methods can stay fresh and interesting while fostering an environment for critical thinking .

4. Social Conditioning

Unwanted assumptions and stereotyping leads to social conditioning. It does this by blinding us from the realization that we are even making assumptions and stereotyping in the first place. The ability to think outside of the spectrum is a great asset because most learners do not realize they are being conditioned to think a certain way.

Teachers can help their learners assess their own thinking by helping them take inventory of their thoughts and beliefs. It’s also important to teach clarity, accuracy and fair-mindedness in their thinking patterns.

5. Biased Experiences

Personal biases can prohibit critical thinking because they prevent the thinker from being fair, inquisitive and open-minded. This kind of thinking can also prevent an individual from using experience, reasoning and common sense to make informed decisions.

Teachers should encourage learners to lean on logic to become critical thinkers. This challenges them to evaluate the clarity and accuracy of their thinking. By giving assignments that utilize questioning techniques and critical thinking responses, teachers can effectively guide them through the critical thinking process.

6. Schedule Pressures

Time constraints often serve as a barrier to integrating learning opportunities that support critical thinking skills. Test scores and mandated teaching measures often result in teachers covering a great deal of content in a short amount of time.

With training, practice and patience, teachers can learn various strategies that equip them to naturally model thinking behaviors in the classroom that improve learners' critical thinking skills.

It is especially important that teachers do their best to create a learning schedule that is not hindered by time constraints. Critical thinking lessons should always be a top priority.

7. Arrogance and Intolerance

True critical thinkers do not welcome arrogance and intolerance into their minds. It is nearly impossible to find the best solution to a problem with a close-minded mindset. Without critical thinking skills, individuals often react thoughtlessly and recklessly to situations. What they should do, however, is assess and take responsibility for their choices while accepting the rewards or consequences that follow those choices.

Arrogance and intolerance block creativity and leaves no room for other suggestions for problem-solving. If learners believe no better solution to a problem exists, a teacher must have students question their logic. Encourage them to ask the following questions:

Breaking Down Barriers

There are multiple ways to get around critical thinking barriers. One way is to have learners choose a topic of choice and write a paper demonstrating a variety of approaches to solve a problem on the chosen topic. Teachers can use real-life situations, such as car buying, as examples when strengthening critical thinking skills. You can have learners discuss the steps in buying a car and how to make the best decision based on a variety of factors, such as income, down payment options, car insurance prices, etc.

Another way to teach critical thinking skills is to highlight how a bad decision can lead to a poor outcome. The goal is to illustrate that making mistakes and suffering consequences are natural parts of decision-making. More importantly, that problem solving is a powerful skill that will impact almost every aspect of each student’s future.

Teachers are key in influencing student’s behavior as well as the use of critical thinking skills. These skills can make a positive difference in the achievement level in both the classroom and throughout a student’s life.

The Best Resource for You and Your Learners

Critical thinking is complex and even harder to transfer across domains. Teaching students to think critically requires explicit and deliberate instruction. But who says it can't also be a whole lot of fun? It should be, and to make things easier we created the Critical Thinking Companion . This is a critical compendium for any modern teacher. Chock full of games, activities, puzzles, lessons, assessment rubrics and more, it's the best way to help your learners conquer critical thinking barriers for life.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Originally published Jun 5, 2019, updated September 19, 2021

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11 Common Barriers To Critical Thinking – A Simple Guide

Critical thinking is the capacity to think in a clear and rational way . It’s a perspective related to what one should do and what one believes.

Critical thinking is just not about collecting information. If you have a good IQ and know a lot of things, you can totally nail it.

11 Most Common Barriers To Critical Thinking

1. not being able to tell the difference between a fact and an opinion.

Here are some examples of facts you can easily check:

2. The Person Is Too Self-Obsessed To See Anything Else:

It is the most difficult barrier that makes a person see nothing but themselves. These people consider themselves as an important asset for the world.

But being self-obsessed is the most difficult barrier to overcome.

3. A Trend Of Brainstorming Together – A Barrier To Critical Thinking:

Critical thinking requires that people have to think differently while in a group.

4. Barriers To Critical Thinking – Emotions Are Heavier Than The Logic:

People are becoming more sensitive to the opposite views as time passes. So when people have to face the challenge of disagreement , logic flies out of the window.

5. The Competition Is Real Hard:

The greater interest of both sides is in winning the argument than in reaching the truth.

6. Barriers To Critical Thinking – Overly Relying On Experiences: 

Every person is different. Even the geographical regions are different. So you need to consider experience as an individual’s experience.

7. Accepting Statements Of Superhumans:

8. intellect is greater than excellence:.

For a very long period of time, IQ i.e. intelligence quotient was a measure for intelligence.

9. Blindly Going Behind What A Myth Says:

Following myths is something that relates to accepting things based on stereotyping.

10. Barriers To Critical Thinking – Grinding In The Same Cycle:

We don’t mean that routine is a bad thing. But it lessens one’s ability to think in an analytical way.

11. Following The Power:

You may be accepting your boss’ views about a certain topic and you think the opposite to that.


Critical thinking is so important because it exposes fallacies and bad reasoning.

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How to Identify and Remove Barriers to Critical Thinking

An illustration of an office worker jumping over a brick wall representing barriers to critical thinking.

Critical Thinking: Structured Reasoning

Even a few simple techniques for logical decision making and persuasion can vastly improve your skills as a leader. Explore how critical thinking can help you evaluate complex business problems, reduce bias, and devise effective solutions.

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Problem-solving is a central business skill, and yet it's the one many people struggle with most. This course will show you how to apply critical thinking techniques to common business examples, avoid misunderstandings, and get at the root of any problem.

Contrary to popular belief, being intelligent or logical does not automatically make you a critical thinker.

People with high IQs are still prone to biases, complacency, overconfidence, and stereotyping that affect the quality of their thoughts and performance at work. But people who scored high in critical thinking —a reflection of sound analytical, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities—report having fewer negative experiences in and out of the office.

Top 5 Barriers to Critical Thinking

To learn how to think critically, you’ll need to identify and understand what prevents people from doing so in the first place. Catching yourself (and others) engaging in these critical thinking no-no’s can help prevent costly mistakes and improve your quality of life.

Here are five of the most common barriers to critical thinking.

Egocentric Thinking

Egoism, or viewing everything in relation to yourself, is a natural human tendency and a common barrier to critical thinking. It often leads to an inability to question one’s own beliefs, sympathize with others, or consider different perspectives.

Egocentricity is an inherent character flaw. Understand that, and you’ll gain the open-minded point of view required to assess situations outside your own lens of understanding.

Groupthink and Social Conditioning

Everyone wants to feel like they belong. It’s a basic survival instinct and psychological mechanism that ensures the survival of our species. Historically, humans banded together to survive in the wild against predators and each other. That desire to “fit in” persists today as groupthink, or the tendency to agree with the majority and suppress independent thoughts and actions.

Groupthink is a serious threat to diversity in that it supports social conditioning, or the idea that we should all adhere to a particular society or culture’s most “acceptable” behavior.

Overcoming groupthink and cultural conditioning requires the courage to break free from the crowd. It’s the only way to question popular thought, culturally embedded values, and belief systems in a detached and objective manner.

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5 of the Best Books on Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving


Drone Mentality and Cognitive Fatigue

Turning on “autopilot” and going through the motions can lead to a lack of spatial awareness. This is known as drone mentality, and it’s not only detrimental to you, but those around you, as well.

Studies show that monotony and boredom are bad for mental health . Cognitive fatigue caused by long-term mental activity without appropriate stimulation, like an unchanging daily routine full of repetitive tasks, negatively impairs cognitive functioning and critical thinking .

Although you may be tempted to flip on autopilot when things get monotonous, as a critical thinker you need to challenge yourself to make new connections and find fresh ideas. Adopt different schools of thought. Keep both your learning and teaching methods exciting and innovative, and that will foster an environment of critical thinking.

The Logic Tree: The Ultimate Critical Thinking Framework


Personal Biases and Preferences

Everyone internalizes certain beliefs, opinions, and attitudes that manifest as personal biases. You may feel that you’re open minded, but these subconscious judgements are more common than most people realize. They can distort your thinking patterns and sway your decision making in the following ways:

The critical thinking process requires being aware of personal biases that affect your ability to rationally analyze a situation and make sound decisions.

Allostatic Overload

Research shows that persistent stress causes a phenomenon known as allostatic overload . It’s serious business, affecting your attention span, memory, mood, and even physical health.

When under pressure, your brain is forced to channel energy into the section responsible for processing necessary information at the expense of taking a rest. That’s why people experience memory lapses in fight-or-flight situations. Prolonged stress also reduces activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that handles executive tasks.

Avoiding cognitive impairments under pressure begins by remaining as calm and objective as possible. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and slow your thoughts. Assume the role of a third-party observer. Analyze and evaluate what can be controlled instead of what can’t.

Train Your Mind Using the 9 Intellectual Standards

The bad news is that barriers to critical thinking can really sneak up on you and be difficult to overcome. But the good news is that anyone can learn to think critically with practice.

Unlike raw intelligence, which is largely determined by genetics , critical thinking can be mastered using nine teachable standards of thought:

When evaluating any task, situation, or piece of information, consider these intellectual standards to hone your critical thinking skills in a structured, practiced way. Keep it up, and eventually critical thinking will become second nature.

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7 barriers to critical thinking and how to overcome?

barriers to critical thinking and how to overcome

Critical thinking is a skill that lets one understand and evaluate an issue or situation logically. All available facts and information related or likely to be related to the issue are analyzed. It involves sorting, organizing, and analyzing facts and information to define a problem and then find an effective solution. It is a mindset that is crucial for the desired development of our personal and professional life. In this article, we will discuss critical thinking and process, barriers of critical thinking, and how to overcome it.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the quality of Thinking clearly and thoroughly. It’s a Careful application of reason to explain an issue. It is the ability to define and analyze facts to understand a problem deeply. It often involves a few steps that start from identifying and characterizing a problem and continues through analysis, interpretation, and ends up with developing a solution. 

A critical thinker questions any idea or assumption rather than accepting it blindly. They approach the problem consistently and systematically rather than by intuition. Identify, make, and evaluate arguments and use the facts, arguments, and findings to build the real picture.

Examples of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking can be applied in every sphere of our life. Doctors, Lawyers, Scientists, Politicians, and business Professionals always using the Critical thinking approach. Few examples of Critical thinking are given bellow.

Evaluating news

Today we are confronting with plenty of news and events every day. We are getting information from various media e.g., newspapers, radio, television, and online media like the internet and social media. With the blessing of these media, it has become effortless to get information from anywhere anytime today.

At the same time, it is tough to say whether any news we came across is authentic or not. Doubt regarding online news is increasing nowadays, as fake news is widespread there today. While we think to find a solution to this problem, critical thinking is the only one that can apply.

Whenever we come across any news or information, we should not take it as a divine word. We should try to find or guess the answer to few questions like “From whom it came, what is the place it came from, why did he make it, is there any interest of him or anyone else and so on.”

By analyzing the answers to these questions, we can justify the news’s reliability and authenticity.

Deciding to Purchase a product

Deciding to purchase a product also requires to think critically today. A few years back, we didn’t need to overthink to buy something. It was easy to go to the mall or market, look for the item we need, choose one from the available item, and buy it.

As we are living in a digital age, there is also scope to apply a critical thinking approach to decide to buy something. If you would like to purchase something, you first justify the need for the thing, i.e., do you need the item, or can another way meet it.

If you feel the need, then search the product on the internet to find the model and brand available in the market and know each one’s merits and demerits. Ask your friends and others within your network to see the product’s experience if you find anyone having a good experience to collect further details of the product from him and the internet.

If you do this, there is a low chance of having a bad experience with this product.

Taking care of Health

Health is one of the prime concern to every conscious people today. Most of us try to keeping well, try to get rid of obesity, etc. And there Is no scarcity of suggestions and information around us regarding this. Some of these are not scientific, exaggerated, and rumor.

Moreover, any time information is continually changing. So we need to apply critical thinking to decide how to lead our lives, choose a healthy diet, eat, and what not to eat. 

Presently we are facing the COVID-19 situation throughout the world. And this Pandemic disease is somewhat different from other diseases. Even the scientists are getting baffled to suggest what to do.

Suggestions and information regarding the disorders are frequently changing. A recognized treatment yet to be discovered. If we apply critical thinking, we can be benefitted at least a bit. 

Risk assessment

Business organizations today are undergoing various risks. Economic uncertainty, Political agitation, Climate change, Cyberattack, etc. are continuously pushing the business organization into a threat. To survive within such an environment, business organizations need to assess the risk and threat it abounds with. And it is the employee’s critical thinking ability, which can evaluate the risk with the right approximate.

It involves the activity like listing the risk, defining the nature and extent of each, finding out the factor that influences the risk, whether it is a temporary or permanent risk, and finally to take measures to mitigate the risks.

Some industries are more risk involved e.g., a construction company where the working environment is risky for workers’ lives. So here, addressing and assessing the risk factor is essential.

Otherwise, there could be injuries or even deaths that cause workforce shortage and negatively impact its reputation. Similarly, a financial organization is much more prone to be affected by some financial index.

For example, the introduction of a new law affects overall business activities and customers. It requires critical thinking skills, such as analysis, creativity, and problem-solving. If the financial institution doesn’t apply these critical thinking skills, it could result in losing profit or will suffer legal consequences from regulatory non-compliance.  

Elements of Critical thinking process

Critical thinking is a process that compromises some elements and requires a few steps to follow.

1. Problem Identification

critical thinking process begins with the identification of a problem. Note abnormalities and indications that are likely to cause a problem. Consider it is a problem, why is it a problem. Determine why this problem is there and the possible consequences if no attempt is taken to solve it.

2. Information Gathering

Once something is considered as a problem, gather information about it. Engage yourself to learn as much as possible about the problem. Look for possible reasons, facts, and evidence; Ask other people’s opinions and perspectives regarding the issue. Gather information from multiple sources.

3. Evaluation

In this step, evaluate the information collected in the previous stage. Assess the validity and reliability of the information and ensure that they are accurate. Evaluate the source of information and check whether it is from a single source or more than one source.

4. Find solutions

After evaluating the information and evidence collected, try to deduce solutions to the problem. Plan several solutions based on the conclusions made in the evaluation. List the advantages and disadvantages of each solution.

5. Choose the best solution and Implement

This is the final stage where each solution already suggested is evaluated by considering all the advantages and disadvantages. Consider the risk a solution pose and think whether a solution is easy or difficult to implement. Finally, a practical solution is chosen and implemented.

What are the barriers to critical thinking and how to overcome?

Critical thinking is an important mindset that can help improve our personal life and our professional life. But in reality, very few among us can think critically. Most people don’t have Critical thinking skills because of some reason.

The following are the barriers to critical thinking that prevent us from thinking critically. Also, how to get around this barrier is discussed here.

1. Egocentric behavior

It is the tendency of a person to relate everything to himself and leads to the inability to evaluate others’ perspectives and feelings. He can not tolerate anything beyond his philosophy. He wants others to think of an issue in the same way he thinks.

As a result, he can not broaden his thinking, and the Peoples surrounding him dishearten to think critically. It is one of the most significant Barriers to Critical Thinking and many a time challenging to overcome. 

It is complicated to correct this behavior for a person as he can not find this character flaw. One thing that can help eliminate this tendency is to bring them to an environment where everyone can exchange their views, respect others’ opinions, and question any ideas. Arrange debates, open question-answer session, and group discussion to make them accustomed to open thinking.

2. Group thinking

It is another harmful thing or one of the barriers to Critical thinking. In this case, most of the group people don’t give their views or ask any questions. They remain idle and support whatever other says without any argument. 

To overcome this obstacle, each group member should stand apart and question and argue ideas and opinions presented before him and give his thoughts, beliefs, and ideas.

Only suggesting to do such is not sufficient; also inspire them to think and ask questions, help them grow thinking capability, bring context, and create a situation before him to believe and ask questions easily.

3. Drone mentality

It can be described as a person’s inability to pay attention to what’s going on around him. These kinds of people cannot be attentive in a class meeting or discussion. It becomes a habit for them, and as a result, they cannot think so much.

This habit grows when a person gets exhausted from working a long time and find work tedious. To overcome this barrier, Teachers, supervisors, or hosts Should aware of their audience or officials, make things interesting to them, change topics and tasks.

4. Social condition

The society we live in has some values, thoughts, and assumptions prevailing. Therefore many of us think in a particular way. Their thinking is related to society’s values, beliefs, and assumptions. Usually, it is challenging for them to think beyond this spectrum. 

Again, this is one of the significant barriers to critical thinking as it confined our thinking to a limit. This barrier is also tough to overcome as most people do not realize they are being conditioned to think in a certain way.

Only social and cultural awareness can help to overcome this barrier.

5. Personal Biases

Personal Biases hinder Critical thinking because they influence a person’s justice, and It also prevents one from using experience, reasoning, and common sense to make correct decisions.

To overcome this decision, everyone should practice honesty and integrity.

6. Work pressure

We often are swamped in the workplace. We don’t have much time to accomplish the work assigned. It does affect our skill of critical thinking awfully. When the time is short, and the deadline is knocking the door, most of us walk in a way that does not involve any strategic thinking to complete the job. And here is when the barrier arises to think critically.

To overcome this barrier, we should have a plan and schedule for each job, whether small or big. Also, we should not keep work piled for the future.

It hinders the overall growth and development of a person. As an effect, it is also a barrier to critical thinking. Fear makes a person unconfident and demotivated, and he is not willing to think beyond his circle.

To remove fear from people’s minds, managers, supervisors, or heads of the workplace can play an essential role by ensuring the right working environment.

How can I apply critical thinking to my life ?

In our everyday life, we frequently face various situations, problems, or difficulties. And many a time we conventionally get around this. But if we apply critical thinking, we can quickly meet that moreover, the solution we find here would be more effective than anyone we get otherwise.

Whatever types of situations or problems we encounter and whatever professional we are, student, teacher, doctor, engineer, lawyer, and so on, we first treat everything that we face or everything that we do a problem. And we have the determination or passion for having a solution to it.

Then we try to collect information on this. To do so, we should fond of acquiring knowledge. We always keep our sense alert to receive information from our surroundings.

Next, we must have a certain level of analytical ability to deduce facts from data. However, this requires practice. If we start thinking in this way and continue, hopefully, we could apply critical thinking in our life.

The human being is the best of creations because of the incredible power of its brain. Critical thinking is nothing but to utilize the brain more effectively. We could realize how powerful our brain is if we start thinking critically.

Critical thinking has tremendous value to the employer. Already it is in the list of top seeking soft skills in the world. So it is time for all of us to start thinking critically and make the future generations habituated with this.

But there are some barriers to critical thinking process and If we try, we will be able to overcome them.


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10 Common Barriers To Critical Thinking

July 31, 2019 By Hitesh Bhasin Filed Under: MANAGEMENT

Critical Thinking is not only required by an individual in the streams of academics and the business world but also in life as well. It is quite substantial and helps us attain the realms of success in all aspects of life.

It comprises of the factors such as decision making, maintaining healthy personal and professional relationships, problem-solving capacity, and having a detailed and thought out view over any situation. It is rightly said that it is one of the vital skills required to attain success and growth in life.

It is also one of the essential soft skills that one can possess to come up with viable and unique solutions to regular and outlandish problems in the area of business.

Apart from having inherent and innate critical thinking capabilities, one can also enhance the same through various learning’s, training, and development programs along with mind sharpening practices such as meditation.

Table of Contents

Meaning of Barriers to Critical Thinking

There are various types of Barriers to Critical Thinking that hinders with one’s personality and overall individuality. And owing to these factors, one cannot operate in a business environment efficiently and effectively.

To combat and overcome the Barriers to Critical Thinking in one’s life, the person has to realize and figure out the same.

10 Barriers to Critical Thinking

#1 egocentric nature and thinking patterns:.

Egocentric nature or behavior is a natural tendency and is many a time difficult to overcome. Such a barrier is making the person think about himself and leads to the inability to not to sympathize with others to understand their issues and problems. And one’s ego can be one of the most significant Barriers to Critical Thinking.

It is more of a character flaw, and despite several attempts of change; it is quite difficult for one to change. Such people lack to evaluate the perspective and feelings of others and make it disturbing for other people to work with them in a team.

#2 Group Thinking:

Barriers to Critical Thinking

Group Thinking is yet amongst the harmful Barriers to Critical Thinking, plus it is also quite unhealthy. In such a case, the person doesn’t have his own opinion or decision in any given case or situation. To overcome the same, it requires the individuals of the group to stand apart and question and formulate their thoughts, opinions, and ideas.

The proverb of, ‘Too many cooks, spoil the soup’ aptly applies to this barrier as there is no independent action by the person.

#3 Drone Mentality:

Drone Mentality barrier can be explained as when a person doesn’t pay attention during the important work meetings and discussions. And it hails upon any time and on anyone affecting the process of critical thinking. Very often, daily and mundane routines make a person fall prey to drone mentality.

The managers and the HR department of the firm must keep the employees intrigued with challenging tasks and motivational factors.

#4 Social Conditioning:

Many of us have a habit of thinking within our comfort zones, and we refrain to even think outside our spectrum as we are taught to think in a certain way and manner owing to the various social conditions.

Barriers to Critical Thinking owing to social conditioning involves stereotyping things and people around us and having unwanted assumptions that make it quite difficult for people around us in the organization to work.

It requires cultural and social awareness to overcome this behavior and barrier.

#5 Biased nature and experiences:

Having a personal bias is one of the biggest Barriers to Critical Thinking as its curbs and prohibits a person from making decisions that are fair, open-minded, and transparent.

It also prevents the person to use logical reasoning, experience, and the basic common sense to make decisions that are informed and valid.

#6 Work pressure:

Barriers to Critical Thinking

Quite many numbers of times at our workplace, we are overloaded with stringent deadlines, and it does affect our skill of critical thinking. But the silver lining is that a person can also sharpen his critical thinking skills and abilities amidst the tough and tight deadlines.

When the time is short, and a deadline needs to be met, we often go for an option of completing the work without any strategic thinking and long term vision. And here is when the barrier arises to thinking critically.

#7. Arrogance:

Arrogance is a bad attitude and often hinders with critical thinking abilities. It makes a person with a closed mindset and with an opinion that he knows everything and there is no further need for learning new things.

Arrogance makes the person fail on a long term basis as he has closed his channels of learning and is unable to assess the rewards and benefits of critical thinking.

#8 Stubborn Nature:

#8 Stubborn Nature

One of the Barriers to Critical Thinking to stubborn nature as a person with such a nature has his own set of beliefs and ideologies. And such a barrier is not very welcomed in the world of business, especially the corporate world as it is ever-evolving and dynamic in nature and its approach.

The person has to be open to changes and come out from his present beliefs understanding that the world of business is quite fluid and fast-paced and demands flexibility and adaptability.

Fear often acts as a barrier not only critical thinking but also for the overall growth and development of a person. Fear makes him unconfident, demotivated, and not very agile to think out of the box and come up with the ideas and strategies.

Fear can arouse out of the various reasons such as anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, and other such personal reasons affecting a person’s professional life as well.

#10 Laziness:

#10 Laziness

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About Hitesh Bhasin

Hi, I am an MBA and the CEO of Marketing91. I am a Digital Marketer and an Entrepreneur with 12 Years of experience in Business and Marketing. Business is my passion and i have established myself in multiple industries with a focus on sustainable growth.

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Magnetic Memory Method – How to Memorize With A Memory Palace

9 Deadly Critical Thinking Barriers (And How to Eliminate Them)

Anthony Metivier | December 4, 2022 | Podcast , Thinking

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9 deadly critical thinking barriers feature image

The answer is simple:

It’s because they’re lurking inside you. 

And if you don’t know that these barriers are standing between you and exploding your thinking abilities, you’re powerless to improve your situation.

Starting right now, let’s identify and remove the biggest barriers. 

You’ll experience greater clarity of mind just by knowing what they are and how to get them out of your life. 

The 9 Most Common Barriers to Critical Thinking (And How to Overcome Them)

As you go through this list, keep a journal.

Write down the ones that pose the biggest issue for you.

Then make time on your calendar to deal with each. 

Rest assured, without putting in the time, nothing will change.

But when you do, your independent thinking abilities will explode.

One: Letting The World Revolve Around You

Most of us experience inner talk .  And it’s normal to include yourself and your experiences in the topics you think about.

But those who have excellent critical thinking skills know how to contextualize their SRIN. 

What is SRIN?

Self-referential Inner Narrative. 

Others call this the “blah blah blah” monkey-mind.

blah blah blah

No matter what you call it, if you can’t think about contexts larger than your immediate self, it will be impossible to think critically. 

Here’s what to do instead: 

For more help, these critical thinking examples will help you think through other perspectives.

Two: Lack Of Critical Thinking Skills

If you want to remove the obstacles to critical thinking you’re experiencing, some study will be involved. 

Critical thinking books abound and it is worth spending time with some of the best. Look for books that include examples and exercises. 

a student walking with some books

You’ll also want to think about a particular goal for critical thinking that you have. For example, do you want to think better as a student preparing for law school? Or do you need thinking skills for being a better contributor to your family or neighborhood? 

Setting a goal can help guide which resources you choose and your study and practice plan . 

Three: Not Knowing Your Cognitive Biases

We are all included to make serious errors in our thinking.

But we’re not alone in making them. Far from it. 

In fact, because all of us operate from having a human brain, psychologists have identified patterns.

These are called cognitive biases .

One that I suffer from quite badly is called “ recency bias .” Basically, it’s very tempting for me to judge reality based on the most recent events, rather than looking at the broad scope of history.

I use all of the tips on this page to cope and improve. One of the most helpful is to engage in continual discussions with friends about history as I continue to read history.

a long history castle

The more you know and discuss the past, the more you are automatically reminded of a bias like this.

What cognitive biases are strongest in your life? 

Four: Being In A Hurry

We’re all in a rush once in a while. 

But it’s one of the biggest critical thinking challenges all the same. 

If you don’t stop and think, mistakes are so much easier to make. 

One of my favorite tools for making sure I don’t rush into making decisions without thinking about them is called W.R.A.P.

As can see, it has tools in it to help you slow down.

It’s also a superior alternative to “trusting your gut.” In fact, Chip and Dan Heath who came up with it in their book Decisive did a lot of research on it for the book. 

They show that relying on gut instinct is often very harmful. (And it’s often a cognitive bias that drives us to rely on it anyway.)

How do you remember to use the W.R.A.P. technique? You need to get thinking about it deep into your procedural memory . 

For that, a Memory Palace will help. Grab this free course so you know how to create and use one:

Magnetic Memory Method Free Memory Improvement Course

Five: Lack Of Scientific Literacy

Unfortunately, a lot of people leave school not knowing how to evaluate research. They often have limited numeracy skills.

They also barely understand some of the core principles of science, such as:

To remove these barriers from your life, make sure to learn what science is really all about. This is the kind of understanding that can help save your life as you think better. 

Six: Exhaustion

Of all the most common barriers to critical thinking, not being well rested destroys our decision-making abilities. 

Sleep and memory go together, and we need to remember to think critically in the first place. Please be sure to privilege your rest. 

a women is sleeping on a blue pillow

Seven: Lack Of Communication Skills

Thinking is more than a two-way street. It’s a complex network of many freeways, highways, streets and cul de sacs.

You need to communicate with many people and you need to do it well. 

Some people don’t have a big enough vocabulary, so need to learn how to remember more words .

Others lack writing skills.

Yet others are not yet able to read fast enough so that they can talk and write enough to effectively communicate.

One way to improve in all these areas is to create a 90-day research and communication goal. 

For example, I spent 90-days learning about the art of memory in the sixteenth century. To practice building my communication skills, I spoke with many people about it, wrote frequently and read the suggestions I got from others. 

To remove your critical thinking barriers, spend the next 90 days reading about it. Find a philosophy discussion group. Start a blog or journal privately about what you’re learning.

It will help you tremendously.

a discussion group

Eight: Fear Of Failure

A lot of people are so afraid to make mistakes that they never take action. 

Well, critical thinking is itself an action. If you never get started, you won’t be able to learn from the mistakes you will inevitably make. 

This barrier circles us back to the problem of the ego and SRIN. You might be overly protective of yourself because you’re stuck in a self-referential loop.

How to get past this comes down to:

One quick win would be to join a debate club. This will give you meeting deadlines and specific topics for which you need to be prepared. You’ll have removed this common barrier in no time.

Nine: Inability To Improvise

Of all the critical thinking strategies out there, you need to be able to think on your feet. 

One of the reasons people fear failure so much is that they’re just not used to opening their mouths, making mistakes and being able to pivot. 

open the mouth

I’ve learned to do this by giving lots of speeches from memory and other kinds of presentations. 

And I’ve also learned and memorized a lot about logic and philosophy , in more than just one language.

Spend some time learning a language to break through this barrier. Practicing speaking in a new language will give you verbal dexterity that improves your ability to improvise in your mother tongue. 

The Best Time To Remove Your Barriers Was Yesterday

Thanks for reading this post.

There are obviously more barriers than the ones we’ve gone over today, but as you can see, the nine I’ve listed are massive.

My suggestion?

Get started on just one at a time.

Follow-up with the resources I’ve provided.

Familiarize yourself with those cognitive biases and improve your science literacy. 

And if you want to get started practicing your writing skills, feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below. 

And if you ever spot me suffering from issues in my thinking, please let me know. I always want to improve!

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There are way more articles on critical thinking than I expected. Thank you so much.

My pleasure. I might have more coming soon, so please stay tuned.

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5 Barriers to Critical Thinking

What holds us back from thinking critically in day-to-day situations.

Posted  January 18, 2019 | Reviewed by Davia Sills

Quite often, discussions of Critical Thinking (CT) revolve around tips for what you or your students should be doing to enhance CT ability. However, it seems that there’s substantially less discussion of what you shouldn’t be doing—that is, barriers to CT.

About a year ago, I posted "5 Tips for Critical Thinking" to this blog, and after thinking about it in terms of what not to do , along with more modern conceptualizations of CT (see Dwyer, 2017), I’ve compiled a list of five major barriers to CT. Of course, these are not the only barriers to CT; rather, they are five that may have the most impact on how one applies CT.

1. Trusting Your Gut

Trust your gut is a piece of advice often thrown around in the context of being in doubt. The concept of using intuitive judgment is actually the last thing you want to be doing if critical thinking is your goal. In the past, intuitive judgment has been described as "the absence of analysis" (Hamm, 1988); and automatic cognitive processing—which generally lacks effort, intention, awareness, or voluntary control—is usually experienced as perceptions or feelings (Kahneman, 2011; Lieberman, 2003).

Given that intuitive judgment operates automatically and cannot be voluntarily "turned off," associated errors and unsupported biases are difficult to prevent, largely because reflective judgment has not been consulted. Even when errors appear obvious in hindsight, they can only be prevented through the careful, self-regulated monitoring and control afforded by reflective judgment. Such errors and flawed reasoning include cognitive biases and logical fallacies .

Going with your gut—experienced as perceptions or feelings—generally leads the thinker to favor perspectives consistent with their own personal biases and experiences or those of their group.

2. Lack of Knowledge

CT skills are key components of what CT is, and in order to conduct it, one must know how to use these skills. Not knowing the skills of CT—analysis, evaluation, and inference (i.e., what they are or how to use them)—is, of course, a major barrier to its application. However, consideration of a lack of knowledge does not end with the knowledge of CT skills.

Let’s say you know what analysis, evaluation, and inference are, as well as how to apply them. The question then becomes: Are you knowledgeable in the topic area you have been asked to apply the CT? If not, intellectual honesty and reflective judgment should be engaged to allow you to consider the nature, limits, and certainty of what knowledge you do have, so that you can evaluate what is required of you to gain the knowledge necessary to make a critically thought-out judgment.

However, the barrier here may not necessarily be a lack of topic knowledge, but perhaps rather believing that you have the requisite knowledge to make a critically thought-out judgment when this is not the case or lacking the willingness to gain additional, relevant topic knowledge.

3. Lack of Willingness

In addition to skills, disposition towards thinking is also key to CT. Disposition towards thinking refers to the extent to which an individual is willing or inclined to perform a given thinking skill, and is essential for understanding how we think and how we can make our thinking better, in both academic settings and everyday circumstances (Norris, 1992; Siegel, 1999; Valenzuela, Nieto, & Saiz, 2011; Dwyer, Hogan & Stewart, 2014).

Dispositions can’t be taught, per se, but they do play a large role in determining whether or not CT will be performed. Simply, it doesn’t matter how skilled one is at analysis, evaluation, and inference—if they’re not willing to think critically, CT is not likely to occur.

4. Misunderstanding of Truth

Truth-seeking is one such disposition towards thinking, which refers to a desire for knowledge; to seek and offer both reasons and objections in an effort to inform and to be well-informed; a willingness to challenge popular beliefs and social norms by asking questions (of oneself and others); to be honest and objective about pursuing the truth, even if the findings do not support one’s self-interest or pre-conceived beliefs or opinions; and to change one’s mind about an idea as a result of the desire for truth (Dwyer, 2017).

Cognition Essential Reads

what is barrier of critical thinking

Though this is something for which many of us strive or even just assume we do, the truth is that we all succumb to unwarranted assumptions from time to time: that is, beliefs presumed to be true without adequate justification. For example, we might make a judgment based on an unsubstantiated stereotype or a commonsense/belief statement that has no empirical evidence to justify it. When using CT, it’s important to distinguish facts from beliefs and, also, to dig a little deeper by evaluating "facts" with respect to how much empirical support they have to validate them as fact (see " The Dirtiest Word in Critical Thinking: 'Proof' and its Burden ").

Furthermore, sometimes the truth doesn’t suit people, and so, they might choose to ignore it or try and manipulate knowledge or understanding to accommodate their bias . For example, some people may engage in wishful thinking , in which they believe something is true because they wish it to be; some might engage in relativistic thinking , in which, for them, the truth is subjective or just a matter of opinion.

5. Closed-mindedness

In one of my previous posts, I lay out " 5 Tips for Critical Thinking "—one of which is to play Devil’s Advocate , which refers to the "consideration of alternatives." There’s always more than one way to do or think about something—why not engage such consideration?

The willingness to play Devil’s Advocate implies a sensibility consistent with open-mindedness (i.e., an inclination to be cognitively flexible and avoid rigidity in thinking; to tolerate divergent or conflicting views and treat all viewpoints alike, prior to subsequent analysis and evaluation; to detach from one’s own beliefs and consider, seriously, points of view other than one’s own without bias or self-interest; to be open to feedback by accepting positive feedback, and to not reject criticism or constructive feedback without thoughtful consideration; to amend existing knowledge in light of new ideas and experiences; and to explore such new, alternative, or "unusual" ideas).

At the opposite end of the spectrum, closed-mindedness is a significant barrier to CT. By this stage, you have probably identified the inherent nature of bias in our thinking. The first step of CT is always going to be to evaluate this bias. However, one’s bias may be so strong that it leads them to become closed-minded and renders them unwilling to consider any other perspectives.

Another way in which someone might be closed-minded is through having properly researched and critically thought about a topic and then deciding that this perspective will never change, as if their knowledge will never need to adapt. However, critical thinkers know that knowledge can change and adapt. An example I’ve used in the past is quite relevant here—growing up, I was taught that there were nine planets in our solar system; however, based on further research, our knowledge of planets has been amended to now only consider eight of those as planets.

Being open-minded is a valuable disposition, but so is skepticism (i.e., the inclination to challenge ideas; to withhold judgment before engaging all the evidence or when the evidence and reasons are insufficient; to take a position and be able to change position when the evidence and reasons are sufficient; and to look at findings from various perspectives).

However, one can be both open-minded and skeptical. It is closed-mindedness that is the barrier to CT, so please note that closed-mindedness and skepticism are distinct dispositions.

Dwyer, C.P. (2017). Critical thinking: Conceptual perspectives and practical guidelines. UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dwyer, C.P., Hogan, M.J. & Stewart, I. (2014). An integrated critical thinking framework for the 21st century. Thinking Skills & Creativity, 12, 43-52.

Hamm, R. M. (1988). Clinical intuition and clinical analysis: expertise and the cognitive continuum. In J. Dowie & A. Elstein (Eds.), Professional judgment: A reader in clinical decision making, 78–105. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking fast and slow. Penguin: Great Britain.

Lieberman, M. D. (2003). Reflexive and reflective judgment processes: A social cognitive neuroscience approach. Social Judgments: Implicit and Explicit Processes, 5, 44–67.

Norris, S. P. (Ed.). (1992). The generalizability of critical thinking: Multiple perspectives on an educational ideal. New York: Teachers College Press.

Siegel, H. (1999). What (good) are thinking dispositions? Educational Theory, 49, 2, 207–221.

Valenzuela, J., Nieto, A. M., & Saiz, C. (2011). Critical thinking motivational scale: A contribution to the study of relationship between critical thinking and motivation. Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 9, 2, 823–848.

Christopher Dwyer Ph.D.

Christopher Dwyer, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the Technological University of the Shannon in Athlone, Ireland.

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Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms for thinking carefully, and the thinking components on which they focus. Its adoption as an educational goal has been recommended on the basis of respect for students’ autonomy and preparing students for success in life and for democratic citizenship. “Critical thinkers” have the dispositions and abilities that lead them to think critically when appropriate. The abilities can be identified directly; the dispositions indirectly, by considering what factors contribute to or impede exercise of the abilities. Standardized tests have been developed to assess the degree to which a person possesses such dispositions and abilities. Educational intervention has been shown experimentally to improve them, particularly when it includes dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring. Controversies have arisen over the generalizability of critical thinking across domains, over alleged bias in critical thinking theories and instruction, and over the relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking.

2.1 Dewey’s Three Main Examples

2.2 dewey’s other examples, 2.3 further examples, 2.4 non-examples, 3. the definition of critical thinking, 4. its value, 5. the process of thinking critically, 6. components of the process, 7. contributory dispositions and abilities, 8.1 initiating dispositions, 8.2 internal dispositions, 9. critical thinking abilities, 10. required knowledge, 11. educational methods, 12.1 the generalizability of critical thinking, 12.2 bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, 12.3 relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking, other internet resources, related entries.

Use of the term ‘critical thinking’ to describe an educational goal goes back to the American philosopher John Dewey (1910), who more commonly called it ‘reflective thinking’. He defined it as

active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Dewey 1910: 6; 1933: 9)

and identified a habit of such consideration with a scientific attitude of mind. His lengthy quotations of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill indicate that he was not the first person to propose development of a scientific attitude of mind as an educational goal.

In the 1930s, many of the schools that participated in the Eight-Year Study of the Progressive Education Association (Aikin 1942) adopted critical thinking as an educational goal, for whose achievement the study’s Evaluation Staff developed tests (Smith, Tyler, & Evaluation Staff 1942). Glaser (1941) showed experimentally that it was possible to improve the critical thinking of high school students. Bloom’s influential taxonomy of cognitive educational objectives (Bloom et al. 1956) incorporated critical thinking abilities. Ennis (1962) proposed 12 aspects of critical thinking as a basis for research on the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking ability.

Since 1980, an annual international conference in California on critical thinking and educational reform has attracted tens of thousands of educators from all levels of education and from many parts of the world. Also since 1980, the state university system in California has required all undergraduate students to take a critical thinking course. Since 1983, the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking has sponsored sessions in conjunction with the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA). In 1987, the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Philosophy commissioned a consensus statement on critical thinking for purposes of educational assessment and instruction (Facione 1990a). Researchers have developed standardized tests of critical thinking abilities and dispositions; for details, see the Supplement on Assessment . Educational jurisdictions around the world now include critical thinking in guidelines for curriculum and assessment.

For details on this history, see the Supplement on History .

2. Examples and Non-Examples

Before considering the definition of critical thinking, it will be helpful to have in mind some examples of critical thinking, as well as some examples of kinds of thinking that would apparently not count as critical thinking.

Dewey (1910: 68–71; 1933: 91–94) takes as paradigms of reflective thinking three class papers of students in which they describe their thinking. The examples range from the everyday to the scientific.

Transit : “The other day, when I was down town on 16th Street, a clock caught my eye. I saw that the hands pointed to 12:20. This suggested that I had an engagement at 124th Street, at one o’clock. I reasoned that as it had taken me an hour to come down on a surface car, I should probably be twenty minutes late if I returned the same way. I might save twenty minutes by a subway express. But was there a station near? If not, I might lose more than twenty minutes in looking for one. Then I thought of the elevated, and I saw there was such a line within two blocks. But where was the station? If it were several blocks above or below the street I was on, I should lose time instead of gaining it. My mind went back to the subway express as quicker than the elevated; furthermore, I remembered that it went nearer than the elevated to the part of 124th Street I wished to reach, so that time would be saved at the end of the journey. I concluded in favor of the subway, and reached my destination by one o’clock.” (Dewey 1910: 68–69; 1933: 91–92)

Ferryboat : “Projecting nearly horizontally from the upper deck of the ferryboat on which I daily cross the river is a long white pole, having a gilded ball at its tip. It suggested a flagpole when I first saw it; its color, shape, and gilded ball agreed with this idea, and these reasons seemed to justify me in this belief. But soon difficulties presented themselves. The pole was nearly horizontal, an unusual position for a flagpole; in the next place, there was no pulley, ring, or cord by which to attach a flag; finally, there were elsewhere on the boat two vertical staffs from which flags were occasionally flown. It seemed probable that the pole was not there for flag-flying.

“I then tried to imagine all possible purposes of the pole, and to consider for which of these it was best suited: (a) Possibly it was an ornament. But as all the ferryboats and even the tugboats carried poles, this hypothesis was rejected. (b) Possibly it was the terminal of a wireless telegraph. But the same considerations made this improbable. Besides, the more natural place for such a terminal would be the highest part of the boat, on top of the pilot house. (c) Its purpose might be to point out the direction in which the boat is moving.

“In support of this conclusion, I discovered that the pole was lower than the pilot house, so that the steersman could easily see it. Moreover, the tip was enough higher than the base, so that, from the pilot’s position, it must appear to project far out in front of the boat. Moreover, the pilot being near the front of the boat, he would need some such guide as to its direction. Tugboats would also need poles for such a purpose. This hypothesis was so much more probable than the others that I accepted it. I formed the conclusion that the pole was set up for the purpose of showing the pilot the direction in which the boat pointed, to enable him to steer correctly.” (Dewey 1910: 69–70; 1933: 92–93)

Bubbles : “In washing tumblers in hot soapsuds and placing them mouth downward on a plate, bubbles appeared on the outside of the mouth of the tumblers and then went inside. Why? The presence of bubbles suggests air, which I note must come from inside the tumbler. I see that the soapy water on the plate prevents escape of the air save as it may be caught in bubbles. But why should air leave the tumbler? There was no substance entering to force it out. It must have expanded. It expands by increase of heat, or by decrease of pressure, or both. Could the air have become heated after the tumbler was taken from the hot suds? Clearly not the air that was already entangled in the water. If heated air was the cause, cold air must have entered in transferring the tumblers from the suds to the plate. I test to see if this supposition is true by taking several more tumblers out. Some I shake so as to make sure of entrapping cold air in them. Some I take out holding mouth downward in order to prevent cold air from entering. Bubbles appear on the outside of every one of the former and on none of the latter. I must be right in my inference. Air from the outside must have been expanded by the heat of the tumbler, which explains the appearance of the bubbles on the outside. But why do they then go inside? Cold contracts. The tumbler cooled and also the air inside it. Tension was removed, and hence bubbles appeared inside. To be sure of this, I test by placing a cup of ice on the tumbler while the bubbles are still forming outside. They soon reverse” (Dewey 1910: 70–71; 1933: 93–94).

Dewey (1910, 1933) sprinkles his book with other examples of critical thinking. We will refer to the following.

Weather : A man on a walk notices that it has suddenly become cool, thinks that it is probably going to rain, looks up and sees a dark cloud obscuring the sun, and quickens his steps (1910: 6–10; 1933: 9–13).

Disorder : A man finds his rooms on his return to them in disorder with his belongings thrown about, thinks at first of burglary as an explanation, then thinks of mischievous children as being an alternative explanation, then looks to see whether valuables are missing, and discovers that they are (1910: 82–83; 1933: 166–168).

Typhoid : A physician diagnosing a patient whose conspicuous symptoms suggest typhoid avoids drawing a conclusion until more data are gathered by questioning the patient and by making tests (1910: 85–86; 1933: 170).

Blur : A moving blur catches our eye in the distance, we ask ourselves whether it is a cloud of whirling dust or a tree moving its branches or a man signaling to us, we think of other traits that should be found on each of those possibilities, and we look and see if those traits are found (1910: 102, 108; 1933: 121, 133).

Suction pump : In thinking about the suction pump, the scientist first notes that it will draw water only to a maximum height of 33 feet at sea level and to a lesser maximum height at higher elevations, selects for attention the differing atmospheric pressure at these elevations, sets up experiments in which the air is removed from a vessel containing water (when suction no longer works) and in which the weight of air at various levels is calculated, compares the results of reasoning about the height to which a given weight of air will allow a suction pump to raise water with the observed maximum height at different elevations, and finally assimilates the suction pump to such apparently different phenomena as the siphon and the rising of a balloon (1910: 150–153; 1933: 195–198).

Diamond : A passenger in a car driving in a diamond lane reserved for vehicles with at least one passenger notices that the diamond marks on the pavement are far apart in some places and close together in others. Why? The driver suggests that the reason may be that the diamond marks are not needed where there is a solid double line separating the diamond lane from the adjoining lane, but are needed when there is a dotted single line permitting crossing into the diamond lane. Further observation confirms that the diamonds are close together when a dotted line separates the diamond lane from its neighbour, but otherwise far apart.

Rash : A woman suddenly develops a very itchy red rash on her throat and upper chest. She recently noticed a mark on the back of her right hand, but was not sure whether the mark was a rash or a scrape. She lies down in bed and thinks about what might be causing the rash and what to do about it. About two weeks before, she began taking blood pressure medication that contained a sulfa drug, and the pharmacist had warned her, in view of a previous allergic reaction to a medication containing a sulfa drug, to be on the alert for an allergic reaction; however, she had been taking the medication for two weeks with no such effect. The day before, she began using a new cream on her neck and upper chest; against the new cream as the cause was mark on the back of her hand, which had not been exposed to the cream. She began taking probiotics about a month before. She also recently started new eye drops, but she supposed that manufacturers of eye drops would be careful not to include allergy-causing components in the medication. The rash might be a heat rash, since she recently was sweating profusely from her upper body. Since she is about to go away on a short vacation, where she would not have access to her usual physician, she decides to keep taking the probiotics and using the new eye drops but to discontinue the blood pressure medication and to switch back to the old cream for her neck and upper chest. She forms a plan to consult her regular physician on her return about the blood pressure medication.

Candidate : Although Dewey included no examples of thinking directed at appraising the arguments of others, such thinking has come to be considered a kind of critical thinking. We find an example of such thinking in the performance task on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), which its sponsoring organization describes as

a performance-based assessment that provides a measure of an institution’s contribution to the development of critical-thinking and written communication skills of its students. (Council for Aid to Education 2017)

A sample task posted on its website requires the test-taker to write a report for public distribution evaluating a fictional candidate’s policy proposals and their supporting arguments, using supplied background documents, with a recommendation on whether to endorse the candidate.

Immediate acceptance of an idea that suggests itself as a solution to a problem (e.g., a possible explanation of an event or phenomenon, an action that seems likely to produce a desired result) is “uncritical thinking, the minimum of reflection” (Dewey 1910: 13). On-going suspension of judgment in the light of doubt about a possible solution is not critical thinking (Dewey 1910: 108). Critique driven by a dogmatically held political or religious ideology is not critical thinking; thus Paulo Freire (1968 [1970]) is using the term (e.g., at 1970: 71, 81, 100, 146) in a more politically freighted sense that includes not only reflection but also revolutionary action against oppression. Derivation of a conclusion from given data using an algorithm is not critical thinking.

What is critical thinking? There are many definitions. Ennis (2016) lists 14 philosophically oriented scholarly definitions and three dictionary definitions. Following Rawls (1971), who distinguished his conception of justice from a utilitarian conception but regarded them as rival conceptions of the same concept, Ennis maintains that the 17 definitions are different conceptions of the same concept. Rawls articulated the shared concept of justice as

a characteristic set of principles for assigning basic rights and duties and for determining… the proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation. (Rawls 1971: 5)

Bailin et al. (1999b) claim that, if one considers what sorts of thinking an educator would take not to be critical thinking and what sorts to be critical thinking, one can conclude that educators typically understand critical thinking to have at least three features.

One could sum up the core concept that involves these three features by saying that critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking. This core concept seems to apply to all the examples of critical thinking described in the previous section. As for the non-examples, their exclusion depends on construing careful thinking as excluding jumping immediately to conclusions, suspending judgment no matter how strong the evidence, reasoning from an unquestioned ideological or religious perspective, and routinely using an algorithm to answer a question.

If the core of critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking, conceptions of it can vary according to its presumed scope, its presumed goal, one’s criteria and threshold for being careful, and the thinking component on which one focuses. As to its scope, some conceptions (e.g., Dewey 1910, 1933) restrict it to constructive thinking on the basis of one’s own observations and experiments, others (e.g., Ennis 1962; Fisher & Scriven 1997; Johnson 1992) to appraisal of the products of such thinking. Ennis (1991) and Bailin et al. (1999b) take it to cover both construction and appraisal. As to its goal, some conceptions restrict it to forming a judgment (Dewey 1910, 1933; Lipman 1987; Facione 1990a). Others allow for actions as well as beliefs as the end point of a process of critical thinking (Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b). As to the criteria and threshold for being careful, definitions vary in the term used to indicate that critical thinking satisfies certain norms: “intellectually disciplined” (Scriven & Paul 1987), “reasonable” (Ennis 1991), “skillful” (Lipman 1987), “skilled” (Fisher & Scriven 1997), “careful” (Bailin & Battersby 2009). Some definitions specify these norms, referring variously to “consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1910, 1933); “the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning” (Glaser 1941); “conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven & Paul 1987); the requirement that “it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria, and is self-correcting” (Lipman 1987); “evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations” (Facione 1990a); and “plus-minus considerations of the product in terms of appropriate standards (or criteria)” (Johnson 1992). Stanovich and Stanovich (2010) propose to ground the concept of critical thinking in the concept of rationality, which they understand as combining epistemic rationality (fitting one’s beliefs to the world) and instrumental rationality (optimizing goal fulfillment); a critical thinker, in their view, is someone with “a propensity to override suboptimal responses from the autonomous mind” (2010: 227). These variant specifications of norms for critical thinking are not necessarily incompatible with one another, and in any case presuppose the core notion of thinking carefully. As to the thinking component singled out, some definitions focus on suspension of judgment during the thinking (Dewey 1910; McPeck 1981), others on inquiry while judgment is suspended (Bailin & Battersby 2009, 2021), others on the resulting judgment (Facione 1990a), and still others on responsiveness to reasons (Siegel 1988). Kuhn (2019) takes critical thinking to be more a dialogic practice of advancing and responding to arguments than an individual ability.

In educational contexts, a definition of critical thinking is a “programmatic definition” (Scheffler 1960: 19). It expresses a practical program for achieving an educational goal. For this purpose, a one-sentence formulaic definition is much less useful than articulation of a critical thinking process, with criteria and standards for the kinds of thinking that the process may involve. The real educational goal is recognition, adoption and implementation by students of those criteria and standards. That adoption and implementation in turn consists in acquiring the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker.

Conceptions of critical thinking generally do not include moral integrity as part of the concept. Dewey, for example, took critical thinking to be the ultimate intellectual goal of education, but distinguished it from the development of social cooperation among school children, which he took to be the central moral goal. Ennis (1996, 2011) added to his previous list of critical thinking dispositions a group of dispositions to care about the dignity and worth of every person, which he described as a “correlative” (1996) disposition without which critical thinking would be less valuable and perhaps harmful. An educational program that aimed at developing critical thinking but not the correlative disposition to care about the dignity and worth of every person, he asserted, “would be deficient and perhaps dangerous” (Ennis 1996: 172).

Dewey thought that education for reflective thinking would be of value to both the individual and society; recognition in educational practice of the kinship to the scientific attitude of children’s native curiosity, fertile imagination and love of experimental inquiry “would make for individual happiness and the reduction of social waste” (Dewey 1910: iii). Schools participating in the Eight-Year Study took development of the habit of reflective thinking and skill in solving problems as a means to leading young people to understand, appreciate and live the democratic way of life characteristic of the United States (Aikin 1942: 17–18, 81). Harvey Siegel (1988: 55–61) has offered four considerations in support of adopting critical thinking as an educational ideal. (1) Respect for persons requires that schools and teachers honour students’ demands for reasons and explanations, deal with students honestly, and recognize the need to confront students’ independent judgment; these requirements concern the manner in which teachers treat students. (2) Education has the task of preparing children to be successful adults, a task that requires development of their self-sufficiency. (3) Education should initiate children into the rational traditions in such fields as history, science and mathematics. (4) Education should prepare children to become democratic citizens, which requires reasoned procedures and critical talents and attitudes. To supplement these considerations, Siegel (1988: 62–90) responds to two objections: the ideology objection that adoption of any educational ideal requires a prior ideological commitment and the indoctrination objection that cultivation of critical thinking cannot escape being a form of indoctrination.

Despite the diversity of our 11 examples, one can recognize a common pattern. Dewey analyzed it as consisting of five phases:

The process of reflective thinking consisting of these phases would be preceded by a perplexed, troubled or confused situation and followed by a cleared-up, unified, resolved situation (Dewey 1933: 106). The term ‘phases’ replaced the term ‘steps’ (Dewey 1910: 72), thus removing the earlier suggestion of an invariant sequence. Variants of the above analysis appeared in (Dewey 1916: 177) and (Dewey 1938: 101–119).

The variant formulations indicate the difficulty of giving a single logical analysis of such a varied process. The process of critical thinking may have a spiral pattern, with the problem being redefined in the light of obstacles to solving it as originally formulated. For example, the person in Transit might have concluded that getting to the appointment at the scheduled time was impossible and have reformulated the problem as that of rescheduling the appointment for a mutually convenient time. Further, defining a problem does not always follow after or lead immediately to an idea of a suggested solution. Nor should it do so, as Dewey himself recognized in describing the physician in Typhoid as avoiding any strong preference for this or that conclusion before getting further information (Dewey 1910: 85; 1933: 170). People with a hypothesis in mind, even one to which they have a very weak commitment, have a so-called “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998): they are likely to pay attention to evidence that confirms the hypothesis and to ignore evidence that counts against it or for some competing hypothesis. Detectives, intelligence agencies, and investigators of airplane accidents are well advised to gather relevant evidence systematically and to postpone even tentative adoption of an explanatory hypothesis until the collected evidence rules out with the appropriate degree of certainty all but one explanation. Dewey’s analysis of the critical thinking process can be faulted as well for requiring acceptance or rejection of a possible solution to a defined problem, with no allowance for deciding in the light of the available evidence to suspend judgment. Further, given the great variety of kinds of problems for which reflection is appropriate, there is likely to be variation in its component events. Perhaps the best way to conceptualize the critical thinking process is as a checklist whose component events can occur in a variety of orders, selectively, and more than once. These component events might include (1) noticing a difficulty, (2) defining the problem, (3) dividing the problem into manageable sub-problems, (4) formulating a variety of possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (5) determining what evidence is relevant to deciding among possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (6) devising a plan of systematic observation or experiment that will uncover the relevant evidence, (7) carrying out the plan of systematic observation or experimentation, (8) noting the results of the systematic observation or experiment, (9) gathering relevant testimony and information from others, (10) judging the credibility of testimony and information gathered from others, (11) drawing conclusions from gathered evidence and accepted testimony, and (12) accepting a solution that the evidence adequately supports (cf. Hitchcock 2017: 485).

Checklist conceptions of the process of critical thinking are open to the objection that they are too mechanical and procedural to fit the multi-dimensional and emotionally charged issues for which critical thinking is urgently needed (Paul 1984). For such issues, a more dialectical process is advocated, in which competing relevant world views are identified, their implications explored, and some sort of creative synthesis attempted.

If one considers the critical thinking process illustrated by the 11 examples, one can identify distinct kinds of mental acts and mental states that form part of it. To distinguish, label and briefly characterize these components is a useful preliminary to identifying abilities, skills, dispositions, attitudes, habits and the like that contribute causally to thinking critically. Identifying such abilities and habits is in turn a useful preliminary to setting educational goals. Setting the goals is in its turn a useful preliminary to designing strategies for helping learners to achieve the goals and to designing ways of measuring the extent to which learners have done so. Such measures provide both feedback to learners on their achievement and a basis for experimental research on the effectiveness of various strategies for educating people to think critically. Let us begin, then, by distinguishing the kinds of mental acts and mental events that can occur in a critical thinking process.

By definition, a person who does something voluntarily is both willing and able to do that thing at that time. Both the willingness and the ability contribute causally to the person’s action, in the sense that the voluntary action would not occur if either (or both) of these were lacking. For example, suppose that one is standing with one’s arms at one’s sides and one voluntarily lifts one’s right arm to an extended horizontal position. One would not do so if one were unable to lift one’s arm, if for example one’s right side was paralyzed as the result of a stroke. Nor would one do so if one were unwilling to lift one’s arm, if for example one were participating in a street demonstration at which a white supremacist was urging the crowd to lift their right arm in a Nazi salute and one were unwilling to express support in this way for the racist Nazi ideology. The same analysis applies to a voluntary mental process of thinking critically. It requires both willingness and ability to think critically, including willingness and ability to perform each of the mental acts that compose the process and to coordinate those acts in a sequence that is directed at resolving the initiating perplexity.

Consider willingness first. We can identify causal contributors to willingness to think critically by considering factors that would cause a person who was able to think critically about an issue nevertheless not to do so (Hamby 2014). For each factor, the opposite condition thus contributes causally to willingness to think critically on a particular occasion. For example, people who habitually jump to conclusions without considering alternatives will not think critically about issues that arise, even if they have the required abilities. The contrary condition of willingness to suspend judgment is thus a causal contributor to thinking critically.

Now consider ability. In contrast to the ability to move one’s arm, which can be completely absent because a stroke has left the arm paralyzed, the ability to think critically is a developed ability, whose absence is not a complete absence of ability to think but absence of ability to think well. We can identify the ability to think well directly, in terms of the norms and standards for good thinking. In general, to be able do well the thinking activities that can be components of a critical thinking process, one needs to know the concepts and principles that characterize their good performance, to recognize in particular cases that the concepts and principles apply, and to apply them. The knowledge, recognition and application may be procedural rather than declarative. It may be domain-specific rather than widely applicable, and in either case may need subject-matter knowledge, sometimes of a deep kind.

Reflections of the sort illustrated by the previous two paragraphs have led scholars to identify the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a “critical thinker”, i.e., someone who thinks critically whenever it is appropriate to do so. We turn now to these three types of causal contributors to thinking critically. We start with dispositions, since arguably these are the most powerful contributors to being a critical thinker, can be fostered at an early stage of a child’s development, and are susceptible to general improvement (Glaser 1941: 175)

8. Critical Thinking Dispositions

Educational researchers use the term ‘dispositions’ broadly for the habits of mind and attitudes that contribute causally to being a critical thinker. Some writers (e.g., Paul & Elder 2006; Hamby 2014; Bailin & Battersby 2016a) propose to use the term ‘virtues’ for this dimension of a critical thinker. The virtues in question, although they are virtues of character, concern the person’s ways of thinking rather than the person’s ways of behaving towards others. They are not moral virtues but intellectual virtues, of the sort articulated by Zagzebski (1996) and discussed by Turri, Alfano, and Greco (2017).

On a realistic conception, thinking dispositions or intellectual virtues are real properties of thinkers. They are general tendencies, propensities, or inclinations to think in particular ways in particular circumstances, and can be genuinely explanatory (Siegel 1999). Sceptics argue that there is no evidence for a specific mental basis for the habits of mind that contribute to thinking critically, and that it is pedagogically misleading to posit such a basis (Bailin et al. 1999a). Whatever their status, critical thinking dispositions need motivation for their initial formation in a child—motivation that may be external or internal. As children develop, the force of habit will gradually become important in sustaining the disposition (Nieto & Valenzuela 2012). Mere force of habit, however, is unlikely to sustain critical thinking dispositions. Critical thinkers must value and enjoy using their knowledge and abilities to think things through for themselves. They must be committed to, and lovers of, inquiry.

A person may have a critical thinking disposition with respect to only some kinds of issues. For example, one could be open-minded about scientific issues but not about religious issues. Similarly, one could be confident in one’s ability to reason about the theological implications of the existence of evil in the world but not in one’s ability to reason about the best design for a guided ballistic missile.

Facione (1990a: 25) divides “affective dispositions” of critical thinking into approaches to life and living in general and approaches to specific issues, questions or problems. Adapting this distinction, one can usefully divide critical thinking dispositions into initiating dispositions (those that contribute causally to starting to think critically about an issue) and internal dispositions (those that contribute causally to doing a good job of thinking critically once one has started). The two categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, open-mindedness, in the sense of willingness to consider alternative points of view to one’s own, is both an initiating and an internal disposition.

Using the strategy of considering factors that would block people with the ability to think critically from doing so, we can identify as initiating dispositions for thinking critically attentiveness, a habit of inquiry, self-confidence, courage, open-mindedness, willingness to suspend judgment, trust in reason, wanting evidence for one’s beliefs, and seeking the truth. We consider briefly what each of these dispositions amounts to, in each case citing sources that acknowledge them.

Some of the initiating dispositions, such as open-mindedness and willingness to suspend judgment, are also internal critical thinking dispositions, in the sense of mental habits or attitudes that contribute causally to doing a good job of critical thinking once one starts the process. But there are many other internal critical thinking dispositions. Some of them are parasitic on one’s conception of good thinking. For example, it is constitutive of good thinking about an issue to formulate the issue clearly and to maintain focus on it. For this purpose, one needs not only the corresponding ability but also the corresponding disposition. Ennis (1991: 8) describes it as the disposition “to determine and maintain focus on the conclusion or question”, Facione (1990a: 25) as “clarity in stating the question or concern”. Other internal dispositions are motivators to continue or adjust the critical thinking process, such as willingness to persist in a complex task and willingness to abandon nonproductive strategies in an attempt to self-correct (Halpern 1998: 452). For a list of identified internal critical thinking dispositions, see the Supplement on Internal Critical Thinking Dispositions .

Some theorists postulate skills, i.e., acquired abilities, as operative in critical thinking. It is not obvious, however, that a good mental act is the exercise of a generic acquired skill. Inferring an expected time of arrival, as in Transit , has some generic components but also uses non-generic subject-matter knowledge. Bailin et al. (1999a) argue against viewing critical thinking skills as generic and discrete, on the ground that skilled performance at a critical thinking task cannot be separated from knowledge of concepts and from domain-specific principles of good thinking. Talk of skills, they concede, is unproblematic if it means merely that a person with critical thinking skills is capable of intelligent performance.

Despite such scepticism, theorists of critical thinking have listed as general contributors to critical thinking what they variously call abilities (Glaser 1941; Ennis 1962, 1991), skills (Facione 1990a; Halpern 1998) or competencies (Fisher & Scriven 1997). Amalgamating these lists would produce a confusing and chaotic cornucopia of more than 50 possible educational objectives, with only partial overlap among them. It makes sense instead to try to understand the reasons for the multiplicity and diversity, and to make a selection according to one’s own reasons for singling out abilities to be developed in a critical thinking curriculum. Two reasons for diversity among lists of critical thinking abilities are the underlying conception of critical thinking and the envisaged educational level. Appraisal-only conceptions, for example, involve a different suite of abilities than constructive-only conceptions. Some lists, such as those in (Glaser 1941), are put forward as educational objectives for secondary school students, whereas others are proposed as objectives for college students (e.g., Facione 1990a).

The abilities described in the remaining paragraphs of this section emerge from reflection on the general abilities needed to do well the thinking activities identified in section 6 as components of the critical thinking process described in section 5 . The derivation of each collection of abilities is accompanied by citation of sources that list such abilities and of standardized tests that claim to test them.

Observational abilities : Careful and accurate observation sometimes requires specialist expertise and practice, as in the case of observing birds and observing accident scenes. However, there are general abilities of noticing what one’s senses are picking up from one’s environment and of being able to articulate clearly and accurately to oneself and others what one has observed. It helps in exercising them to be able to recognize and take into account factors that make one’s observation less trustworthy, such as prior framing of the situation, inadequate time, deficient senses, poor observation conditions, and the like. It helps as well to be skilled at taking steps to make one’s observation more trustworthy, such as moving closer to get a better look, measuring something three times and taking the average, and checking what one thinks one is observing with someone else who is in a good position to observe it. It also helps to be skilled at recognizing respects in which one’s report of one’s observation involves inference rather than direct observation, so that one can then consider whether the inference is justified. These abilities come into play as well when one thinks about whether and with what degree of confidence to accept an observation report, for example in the study of history or in a criminal investigation or in assessing news reports. Observational abilities show up in some lists of critical thinking abilities (Ennis 1962: 90; Facione 1990a: 16; Ennis 1991: 9). There are items testing a person’s ability to judge the credibility of observation reports in the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, Levels X and Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). Norris and King (1983, 1985, 1990a, 1990b) is a test of ability to appraise observation reports.

Emotional abilities : The emotions that drive a critical thinking process are perplexity or puzzlement, a wish to resolve it, and satisfaction at achieving the desired resolution. Children experience these emotions at an early age, without being trained to do so. Education that takes critical thinking as a goal needs only to channel these emotions and to make sure not to stifle them. Collaborative critical thinking benefits from ability to recognize one’s own and others’ emotional commitments and reactions.

Questioning abilities : A critical thinking process needs transformation of an inchoate sense of perplexity into a clear question. Formulating a question well requires not building in questionable assumptions, not prejudging the issue, and using language that in context is unambiguous and precise enough (Ennis 1962: 97; 1991: 9).

Imaginative abilities : Thinking directed at finding the correct causal explanation of a general phenomenon or particular event requires an ability to imagine possible explanations. Thinking about what policy or plan of action to adopt requires generation of options and consideration of possible consequences of each option. Domain knowledge is required for such creative activity, but a general ability to imagine alternatives is helpful and can be nurtured so as to become easier, quicker, more extensive, and deeper (Dewey 1910: 34–39; 1933: 40–47). Facione (1990a) and Halpern (1998) include the ability to imagine alternatives as a critical thinking ability.

Inferential abilities : The ability to draw conclusions from given information, and to recognize with what degree of certainty one’s own or others’ conclusions follow, is universally recognized as a general critical thinking ability. All 11 examples in section 2 of this article include inferences, some from hypotheses or options (as in Transit , Ferryboat and Disorder ), others from something observed (as in Weather and Rash ). None of these inferences is formally valid. Rather, they are licensed by general, sometimes qualified substantive rules of inference (Toulmin 1958) that rest on domain knowledge—that a bus trip takes about the same time in each direction, that the terminal of a wireless telegraph would be located on the highest possible place, that sudden cooling is often followed by rain, that an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug generally shows up soon after one starts taking it. It is a matter of controversy to what extent the specialized ability to deduce conclusions from premisses using formal rules of inference is needed for critical thinking. Dewey (1933) locates logical forms in setting out the products of reflection rather than in the process of reflection. Ennis (1981a), on the other hand, maintains that a liberally-educated person should have the following abilities: to translate natural-language statements into statements using the standard logical operators, to use appropriately the language of necessary and sufficient conditions, to deal with argument forms and arguments containing symbols, to determine whether in virtue of an argument’s form its conclusion follows necessarily from its premisses, to reason with logically complex propositions, and to apply the rules and procedures of deductive logic. Inferential abilities are recognized as critical thinking abilities by Glaser (1941: 6), Facione (1990a: 9), Ennis (1991: 9), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 99, 111), and Halpern (1998: 452). Items testing inferential abilities constitute two of the five subtests of the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson & Glaser 1980a, 1980b, 1994), two of the four sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), three of the seven sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), 11 of the 34 items on Forms A and B of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992), and a high but variable proportion of the 25 selected-response questions in the Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Experimenting abilities : Knowing how to design and execute an experiment is important not just in scientific research but also in everyday life, as in Rash . Dewey devoted a whole chapter of his How We Think (1910: 145–156; 1933: 190–202) to the superiority of experimentation over observation in advancing knowledge. Experimenting abilities come into play at one remove in appraising reports of scientific studies. Skill in designing and executing experiments includes the acknowledged abilities to appraise evidence (Glaser 1941: 6), to carry out experiments and to apply appropriate statistical inference techniques (Facione 1990a: 9), to judge inductions to an explanatory hypothesis (Ennis 1991: 9), and to recognize the need for an adequately large sample size (Halpern 1998). The Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) includes four items (out of 52) on experimental design. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) makes room for appraisal of study design in both its performance task and its selected-response questions.

Consulting abilities : Skill at consulting sources of information comes into play when one seeks information to help resolve a problem, as in Candidate . Ability to find and appraise information includes ability to gather and marshal pertinent information (Glaser 1941: 6), to judge whether a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable (Ennis 1962: 84), to plan a search for desired information (Facione 1990a: 9), and to judge the credibility of a source (Ennis 1991: 9). Ability to judge the credibility of statements is tested by 24 items (out of 76) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) and by four items (out of 52) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). The College Learning Assessment’s performance task requires evaluation of whether information in documents is credible or unreliable (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Argument analysis abilities : The ability to identify and analyze arguments contributes to the process of surveying arguments on an issue in order to form one’s own reasoned judgment, as in Candidate . The ability to detect and analyze arguments is recognized as a critical thinking skill by Facione (1990a: 7–8), Ennis (1991: 9) and Halpern (1998). Five items (out of 34) on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992) test skill at argument analysis. The College Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) incorporates argument analysis in its selected-response tests of critical reading and evaluation and of critiquing an argument.

Judging skills and deciding skills : Skill at judging and deciding is skill at recognizing what judgment or decision the available evidence and argument supports, and with what degree of confidence. It is thus a component of the inferential skills already discussed.

Lists and tests of critical thinking abilities often include two more abilities: identifying assumptions and constructing and evaluating definitions.

In addition to dispositions and abilities, critical thinking needs knowledge: of critical thinking concepts, of critical thinking principles, and of the subject-matter of the thinking.

We can derive a short list of concepts whose understanding contributes to critical thinking from the critical thinking abilities described in the preceding section. Observational abilities require an understanding of the difference between observation and inference. Questioning abilities require an understanding of the concepts of ambiguity and vagueness. Inferential abilities require an understanding of the difference between conclusive and defeasible inference (traditionally, between deduction and induction), as well as of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. Experimenting abilities require an understanding of the concepts of hypothesis, null hypothesis, assumption and prediction, as well as of the concept of statistical significance and of its difference from importance. They also require an understanding of the difference between an experiment and an observational study, and in particular of the difference between a randomized controlled trial, a prospective correlational study and a retrospective (case-control) study. Argument analysis abilities require an understanding of the concepts of argument, premiss, assumption, conclusion and counter-consideration. Additional critical thinking concepts are proposed by Bailin et al. (1999b: 293), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 105–106), Black (2012), and Blair (2021).

According to Glaser (1941: 25), ability to think critically requires knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning. If we review the list of abilities in the preceding section, however, we can see that some of them can be acquired and exercised merely through practice, possibly guided in an educational setting, followed by feedback. Searching intelligently for a causal explanation of some phenomenon or event requires that one consider a full range of possible causal contributors, but it seems more important that one implements this principle in one’s practice than that one is able to articulate it. What is important is “operational knowledge” of the standards and principles of good thinking (Bailin et al. 1999b: 291–293). But the development of such critical thinking abilities as designing an experiment or constructing an operational definition can benefit from learning their underlying theory. Further, explicit knowledge of quirks of human thinking seems useful as a cautionary guide. Human memory is not just fallible about details, as people learn from their own experiences of misremembering, but is so malleable that a detailed, clear and vivid recollection of an event can be a total fabrication (Loftus 2017). People seek or interpret evidence in ways that are partial to their existing beliefs and expectations, often unconscious of their “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998). Not only are people subject to this and other cognitive biases (Kahneman 2011), of which they are typically unaware, but it may be counter-productive for one to make oneself aware of them and try consciously to counteract them or to counteract social biases such as racial or sexual stereotypes (Kenyon & Beaulac 2014). It is helpful to be aware of these facts and of the superior effectiveness of blocking the operation of biases—for example, by making an immediate record of one’s observations, refraining from forming a preliminary explanatory hypothesis, blind refereeing, double-blind randomized trials, and blind grading of students’ work. It is also helpful to be aware of the prevalence of “noise” (unwanted unsystematic variability of judgments), of how to detect noise (through a noise audit), and of how to reduce noise: make accuracy the goal, think statistically, break a process of arriving at a judgment into independent tasks, resist premature intuitions, in a group get independent judgments first, favour comparative judgments and scales (Kahneman, Sibony, & Sunstein 2021). It is helpful as well to be aware of the concept of “bounded rationality” in decision-making and of the related distinction between “satisficing” and optimizing (Simon 1956; Gigerenzer 2001).

Critical thinking about an issue requires substantive knowledge of the domain to which the issue belongs. Critical thinking abilities are not a magic elixir that can be applied to any issue whatever by somebody who has no knowledge of the facts relevant to exploring that issue. For example, the student in Bubbles needed to know that gases do not penetrate solid objects like a glass, that air expands when heated, that the volume of an enclosed gas varies directly with its temperature and inversely with its pressure, and that hot objects will spontaneously cool down to the ambient temperature of their surroundings unless kept hot by insulation or a source of heat. Critical thinkers thus need a rich fund of subject-matter knowledge relevant to the variety of situations they encounter. This fact is recognized in the inclusion among critical thinking dispositions of a concern to become and remain generally well informed.

Experimental educational interventions, with control groups, have shown that education can improve critical thinking skills and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests. For information about these tests, see the Supplement on Assessment .

What educational methods are most effective at developing the dispositions, abilities and knowledge of a critical thinker? In a comprehensive meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of strategies for teaching students to think critically, Abrami et al. (2015) found that dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring each increased the effectiveness of the educational intervention, and that they were most effective when combined. They also found that in these studies a combination of separate instruction in critical thinking with subject-matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically was more effective than either by itself. However, the difference was not statistically significant; that is, it might have arisen by chance.

Most of these studies lack the longitudinal follow-up required to determine whether the observed differential improvements in critical thinking abilities or dispositions continue over time, for example until high school or college graduation. For details on studies of methods of developing critical thinking skills and dispositions, see the Supplement on Educational Methods .

12. Controversies

Scholars have denied the generalizability of critical thinking abilities across subject domains, have alleged bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, and have investigated the relationship of critical thinking to other kinds of thinking.

McPeck (1981) attacked the thinking skills movement of the 1970s, including the critical thinking movement. He argued that there are no general thinking skills, since thinking is always thinking about some subject-matter. It is futile, he claimed, for schools and colleges to teach thinking as if it were a separate subject. Rather, teachers should lead their pupils to become autonomous thinkers by teaching school subjects in a way that brings out their cognitive structure and that encourages and rewards discussion and argument. As some of his critics (e.g., Paul 1985; Siegel 1985) pointed out, McPeck’s central argument needs elaboration, since it has obvious counter-examples in writing and speaking, for which (up to a certain level of complexity) there are teachable general abilities even though they are always about some subject-matter. To make his argument convincing, McPeck needs to explain how thinking differs from writing and speaking in a way that does not permit useful abstraction of its components from the subject-matters with which it deals. He has not done so. Nevertheless, his position that the dispositions and abilities of a critical thinker are best developed in the context of subject-matter instruction is shared by many theorists of critical thinking, including Dewey (1910, 1933), Glaser (1941), Passmore (1980), Weinstein (1990), Bailin et al. (1999b), and Willingham (2019).

McPeck’s challenge prompted reflection on the extent to which critical thinking is subject-specific. McPeck argued for a strong subject-specificity thesis, according to which it is a conceptual truth that all critical thinking abilities are specific to a subject. (He did not however extend his subject-specificity thesis to critical thinking dispositions. In particular, he took the disposition to suspend judgment in situations of cognitive dissonance to be a general disposition.) Conceptual subject-specificity is subject to obvious counter-examples, such as the general ability to recognize confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions. A more modest thesis, also endorsed by McPeck, is epistemological subject-specificity, according to which the norms of good thinking vary from one field to another. Epistemological subject-specificity clearly holds to a certain extent; for example, the principles in accordance with which one solves a differential equation are quite different from the principles in accordance with which one determines whether a painting is a genuine Picasso. But the thesis suffers, as Ennis (1989) points out, from vagueness of the concept of a field or subject and from the obvious existence of inter-field principles, however broadly the concept of a field is construed. For example, the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning hold for all the varied fields in which such reasoning occurs. A third kind of subject-specificity is empirical subject-specificity, according to which as a matter of empirically observable fact a person with the abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker in one area of investigation will not necessarily have them in another area of investigation.

The thesis of empirical subject-specificity raises the general problem of transfer. If critical thinking abilities and dispositions have to be developed independently in each school subject, how are they of any use in dealing with the problems of everyday life and the political and social issues of contemporary society, most of which do not fit into the framework of a traditional school subject? Proponents of empirical subject-specificity tend to argue that transfer is more likely to occur if there is critical thinking instruction in a variety of domains, with explicit attention to dispositions and abilities that cut across domains. But evidence for this claim is scanty. There is a need for well-designed empirical studies that investigate the conditions that make transfer more likely.

It is common ground in debates about the generality or subject-specificity of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that critical thinking about any topic requires background knowledge about the topic. For example, the most sophisticated understanding of the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning is of no help unless accompanied by some knowledge of what might be plausible explanations of some phenomenon under investigation.

Critics have objected to bias in the theory, pedagogy and practice of critical thinking. Commentators (e.g., Alston 1995; Ennis 1998) have noted that anyone who takes a position has a bias in the neutral sense of being inclined in one direction rather than others. The critics, however, are objecting to bias in the pejorative sense of an unjustified favoring of certain ways of knowing over others, frequently alleging that the unjustly favoured ways are those of a dominant sex or culture (Bailin 1995). These ways favour:

A common thread in this smorgasbord of accusations is dissatisfaction with focusing on the logical analysis and evaluation of reasoning and arguments. While these authors acknowledge that such analysis and evaluation is part of critical thinking and should be part of its conceptualization and pedagogy, they insist that it is only a part. Paul (1981), for example, bemoans the tendency of atomistic teaching of methods of analyzing and evaluating arguments to turn students into more able sophists, adept at finding fault with positions and arguments with which they disagree but even more entrenched in the egocentric and sociocentric biases with which they began. Martin (1992) and Thayer-Bacon (1992) cite with approval the self-reported intimacy with their subject-matter of leading researchers in biology and medicine, an intimacy that conflicts with the distancing allegedly recommended in standard conceptions and pedagogy of critical thinking. Thayer-Bacon (2000) contrasts the embodied and socially embedded learning of her elementary school students in a Montessori school, who used their imagination, intuition and emotions as well as their reason, with conceptions of critical thinking as

thinking that is used to critique arguments, offer justifications, and make judgments about what are the good reasons, or the right answers. (Thayer-Bacon 2000: 127–128)

Alston (2001) reports that her students in a women’s studies class were able to see the flaws in the Cinderella myth that pervades much romantic fiction but in their own romantic relationships still acted as if all failures were the woman’s fault and still accepted the notions of love at first sight and living happily ever after. Students, she writes, should

be able to connect their intellectual critique to a more affective, somatic, and ethical account of making risky choices that have sexist, racist, classist, familial, sexual, or other consequences for themselves and those both near and far… critical thinking that reads arguments, texts, or practices merely on the surface without connections to feeling/desiring/doing or action lacks an ethical depth that should infuse the difference between mere cognitive activity and something we want to call critical thinking. (Alston 2001: 34)

Some critics portray such biases as unfair to women. Thayer-Bacon (1992), for example, has charged modern critical thinking theory with being sexist, on the ground that it separates the self from the object and causes one to lose touch with one’s inner voice, and thus stigmatizes women, who (she asserts) link self to object and listen to their inner voice. Her charge does not imply that women as a group are on average less able than men to analyze and evaluate arguments. Facione (1990c) found no difference by sex in performance on his California Critical Thinking Skills Test. Kuhn (1991: 280–281) found no difference by sex in either the disposition or the competence to engage in argumentative thinking.

The critics propose a variety of remedies for the biases that they allege. In general, they do not propose to eliminate or downplay critical thinking as an educational goal. Rather, they propose to conceptualize critical thinking differently and to change its pedagogy accordingly. Their pedagogical proposals arise logically from their objections. They can be summarized as follows:

A common thread in these proposals is treatment of critical thinking as a social, interactive, personally engaged activity like that of a quilting bee or a barn-raising (Thayer-Bacon 2000) rather than as an individual, solitary, distanced activity symbolized by Rodin’s The Thinker . One can get a vivid description of education with the former type of goal from the writings of bell hooks (1994, 2010). Critical thinking for her is open-minded dialectical exchange across opposing standpoints and from multiple perspectives, a conception similar to Paul’s “strong sense” critical thinking (Paul 1981). She abandons the structure of domination in the traditional classroom. In an introductory course on black women writers, for example, she assigns students to write an autobiographical paragraph about an early racial memory, then to read it aloud as the others listen, thus affirming the uniqueness and value of each voice and creating a communal awareness of the diversity of the group’s experiences (hooks 1994: 84). Her “engaged pedagogy” is thus similar to the “freedom under guidance” implemented in John Dewey’s Laboratory School of Chicago in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It incorporates the dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring that Abrami (2015) found to be most effective in improving critical thinking skills and dispositions.

What is the relationship of critical thinking to problem solving, decision-making, higher-order thinking, creative thinking, and other recognized types of thinking? One’s answer to this question obviously depends on how one defines the terms used in the question. If critical thinking is conceived broadly to cover any careful thinking about any topic for any purpose, then problem solving and decision making will be kinds of critical thinking, if they are done carefully. Historically, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ were two names for the same thing. If critical thinking is conceived more narrowly as consisting solely of appraisal of intellectual products, then it will be disjoint with problem solving and decision making, which are constructive.

Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives used the phrase “intellectual abilities and skills” for what had been labeled “critical thinking” by some, “reflective thinking” by Dewey and others, and “problem solving” by still others (Bloom et al. 1956: 38). Thus, the so-called “higher-order thinking skills” at the taxonomy’s top levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation are just critical thinking skills, although they do not come with general criteria for their assessment (Ennis 1981b). The revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson et al. 2001) likewise treats critical thinking as cutting across those types of cognitive process that involve more than remembering (Anderson et al. 2001: 269–270). For details, see the Supplement on History .

As to creative thinking, it overlaps with critical thinking (Bailin 1987, 1988). Thinking about the explanation of some phenomenon or event, as in Ferryboat , requires creative imagination in constructing plausible explanatory hypotheses. Likewise, thinking about a policy question, as in Candidate , requires creativity in coming up with options. Conversely, creativity in any field needs to be balanced by critical appraisal of the draft painting or novel or mathematical theory.

How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.

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10 Barriers to Critical Thinking & Tips to Overcome Them

students overcoming barriers to critical thinking

Critical thinking is an essential life skill, especially in an age where deceptions like “my truth” and “your truth” run rampant. 

It allows us to think our way through issues and arrive at effective solutions, and it is a skill that deserves the dedication it takes to hone it.

In some cases, there are invisible barriers to critical thinking that must first be broken down before progress can be made. 

Because it is so vitally important for our teens to develop such skills—to think for themselves in a world pressuring them to tow the line—I think it’s worth addressing potential obstacles in their way. 

Here are 10 common barriers to critical thinking that may reveal themselves as you seek to teach this vital skill. 

1. Lack of Practice

Considering what causes a lack of critical thinking , the word “practice” comes to mind. 

The phrase “practice makes progress” rings true when developing critical thinking skills .

Critical thinking may be discussed at length and encouraged theoretically, but is it expressed in the assignments or exercises our teens do on a daily basis?

Sadly, many assignments simply ask for regurgitated facts from a textbook that require little to no real thinking. 

If we want to see our students thrive in the realm of critical thinking, we need to provide them with opportunities to practice and apply what they’ve learned in real-life situations.

2. Perceived Inability to Teach It

The idea that you’re not capable of teaching such a thing may just become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

If you believe you can’t teach critical thinking, you may not even try. If you do try, you may be plagued by self-doubt that shakes your confidence. 

If you’ve ever thought …

“Why is critical thinking so difficult?”

You’re not alone.

It can be hard to plainly identify what critical thinking is and how to teach it. That’s one of the main reasons we created Philosophy Adventure —to provide an intriguing way to teach critical thinking effectively.

20 Questions: Exercises in Critical Thinking

Get a Question-Based Critical Thinking Exercise—Free!

Introduce critical thinking gently & easily with thought-provoking exercises.

3. Normalcy Bias

Normalcy bias is a subconscious response that falsely assures things will remain the same as they always were. 

Every type of bias works against critical thinking as it uses emotion to make decisions rather than rational thought rooted in truth.

This bias encourages our minds to ignore danger and new information in favor of maintaining the safety and security of our “regular” lives. 

For example, normalcy bias leads us to believe that freedom will always be free despite growing threats to quench it. 

Frankly, it’s a dangerous barrier to critical thinking with the potential for lasting consequences.

4. Group-Think

The group-think effect is a phenomenon where individuals conform to the beliefs of others in order to avoid appearing different. 

It can lead to mass conformity in which society grows blind to flaws in opinion-based reasoning. 

Why think for yourself when someone else can do it for you? It’s a sobering thought—and a major obstacle to critical thinking—but I fear it’s one that is sweeping the world.

This is an especially tough barrier for teenagers who are often desperate to be accepted and liked by their peers. 

Rather than relying on critical thinking to decipher between right and wrong, they may cave to peer pressure because “everyone else is doing it.”

This barrier is yet another poignant example of why it’s so important to help our children develop critical thinking skills.  

5. Distorted View of Truth

We’re also susceptible to having a distorted view of what is fact and what isn’t. If we’re not careful, our view of truth can be distorted by misleading opinions.

what is barrier of critical thinking

Passionate people with deeply held beliefs are often willing to loudly defend them. 

Such passion and charisma can seduce teens and adults alike who may not fully know what they believe— or why they believe it . 

Of all the psychological obstacles to critical thinking, fear is a weighty one. 

I humbly suggest that it is the fear of failure or the fear of change that is most likely to act as a hindrance to critical thinking. 

Sometimes, when we look at an issue from every angle, we find that the only right reaction is to change. 

Likewise, if we fear failure, we’re likely to not act or try at all. 

And when it comes to trying to discern the truth in order to act upon it, not doing so can be far worse than the perceived failure itself. 

7. Viewing Everything Through the Lens of “Self”

Some people call it “egocentric thinking.” Whatever the name, it is the tendency to think about the world only as it relates to us. 

This self-centered thinking is natural, but there’s great value in training our minds to be able to view issues from another’s point of view. When problem-solving, it’s important to consider other perspectives.

This is particularly true when dealing with people who may be affected by our actions.

8. Past Experiences

Past experiences, relationships, even trauma can change us in a number of ways. 

What happened in the past surrounding any given thing most certainly influences how we think and feel about that thing in the future. 

But it’s important to recognize past experiences for what they are—a single moment (or period) of time.

They should not define our thoughts, nor should they dictate our actions as we seek to answer life’s questions objectively.  

Undoubtedly, it can be difficult to put such things in perspective so, and it calls for self-control, but it’s important to train our teens to try.  

Relying exclusively on the past to make decisions today can lead to negative outcomes as it relies on information that may not be true. 

9. Assumptions

Assumptions dampen our ability to learn. Though often flawed, assumptions quench our desire  to ask questions because we think we already know the answers. 

What a sad state to be stuck in because the truth is …

We don’t know what we don’t know.

How can we learn what we don’t know if we never root out the truth in a given matter?

Similarly, some people assume that because they don’t understand something, then it must be impossible to learn. 

That’s simply not true. We have an innate ability to learn new things, and critical thinking helps us do just that—with integrity.  

10. Time Constraints

There’s so much to learn in school that it can be hard to find the time to invest in critical thinking discussion and activities . 

This skill can often be moved to the side while teens learn about world history and how to write a proper essay—both of which are no doubt important. 

But I would argue that critical thinking gives students the foundation to not only better digest the material learned but to excel in it. 

How to Overcome Common Barriers to Critical Thinking 

We’ve established that critical thinking is an essential part of becoming a discerning adult, unmoved by news biases or passionate, emotional language. 

That being said, how do we break through the barriers that hinder critical thinking and move forward to teach such a significant skill?

You can help your students better develop their critical thinking skills by encouraging thoughtful questions and debate. 

When consuming news from around the world, inspire them to challenge their initial emotional reactions to the information presented. Teach them how to seek impartial data and use that to form an educated opinion. 

Providing real-world examples and connections between topics is a great way to encourage teens to think more deeply about a subject. 

Rather than presenting multiple choice answers or fill-in-the-blanks, ask them to talk through the question out loud based on the information they’ve been given.  

You can also try a fun exercise with these critical thinking questions for kids .

The ability to clearly vocalize beliefs and express thoughts is a priceless skill, and one that we have weaved into every lesson of Philosophy Adventure :

what is barrier of critical thinking

will your children recognize truth?

Critical thinking is a learned skill that requires practice (and breaking down barriers when they arise). 

However, the ability to identify logical fallacies in arguments and recognize deception is well worth investing in. 

Recognizing potential barriers that are obstructing that end goal is a solid first step. 

About The Author

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Stacy Farrell


Life In Charge

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5 Barriers to Critical Thinking

Posted by Fred Magoro | Sep 27, 2021 | Featured , Mindset | 0 |

5 Barriers to Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is essential to using your overall experience, background, common sense, and other attributes to become more aware of how your efforts for success are being spent. When you have barriers to the critical thinking process, it can seriously harm your ability to move forward.

When you become aware of these barriers, you can better overcome them and focus your thinking on what’s going to move you forward rather than getting stuck behind a barrier – unable to move forward.

Here are five barriers that can impede the critical thinking process:

1. thinking in black or white.

Some people ignore a situation’s complexities by thinking that there’s only one way to solve a problem. The problem is placed in a category, given a label and that’s the only way that matters. Thinking in black and white comes from our need to have certainty in our lives, but it’s false logic to assume that everything is totally one way.

2. Thinking with the Ego

Egocentric thinking is thinking with a lack of understanding others’ wants and needs. It limits your thinking to only your point of view and doesn’t have room for others’ ideas. This thinking process is deeply embedded in our psyches, and it sometimes takes deliberate effort to overcome it.

3. Social Thinking

The drone mentality of social thinking only lets us see things in the way of the popular point of view – or the way that our spouse, companions, parents, and friends think. Thinking outside the box is almost impossible when you have a barrier of social thinking and it can greatly impede the critical thinking process.

4. Authoritative Thinking

Just because someone in authority says it’s true doesn’t mean it is. You’ve likely been swayed at one time or another by political leaders who say one thing is true only to find out later that it was a lie or a misleading way of thinking. The authority could be a person, peer group, institution, or anything that makes you think that they’re right because they’re in an authoritative position.

5. Judgmental Thinking

When you judge something or someone based on moral evaluation it’s usually done in haste and based on our past in some way – such as the way we were raised, educated, or other values and mores. Judgmental thinking is usually non-rational thinking and can block understanding and insight about a person or an issue.

It’s important that we recognize our own barriers to the critical thinking process and replace those barriers with rational and reasoned thinking and then make a concentrated effort to avoid them.

About The Author

Fred Magoro

Fred Magoro

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What Are Four Barriers to Critical Thinking?

Robert russell.

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The late 19th century American philosopher Charles Peirce developed a sophisticated model for critical thinking. Peirce was the founder of the tradition of American philosophy called Pragmatism. According to Pragmatism, all thought is contextual. People's thoughts and beliefs help them to make sense of the world. When the context changes or your beliefs become problematic, you are compelled to "fix your beliefs." This is done through opening the road to inquiry. The barriers to critical thinking, in Peirce's terms, are anything that blocks the road to inquiry.

Explore this article

1 Stubborness

One of the barriers to critical thinking is stubbornness. Peirce referred to this as "the method of tenacity." Having a clear set of beliefs and opinions helps to make sense of things, provides comfort and doesn't leave you in a state of indecisiveness. A person is "tenacious" or stubborn, in Peirce's sense, when he clings stubbornly to his beliefs even when evidence and new facts emerge that place his views in question.

2 Prejudice

Another barrier that hinders critical thinking is prejudice or bias. On a practical level, people know that it is wrong to be prejudiced or biased against others. However, Peirce's view of prejudice and bias is more subtle, and simply refers to the fact that thought doesn't occur in a vacuum. The 20th century philosopher Hans Georg Gadamer argued that prejudice is a condition of thought. Everyone comes from particular traditions and cultures that shape the ways in which they view the world. Your family and the social environment you grow up in affect the way you think about and evaluate things and events. One of the goals of the scientific method is to root out subjective biases and influences. Peirce argued that science should be based on a community of inquirers rather than the individual scientist, as individual thought is one-sided and incomplete.

Because a person's beliefs and worldviews provide comfort and guidance, anything that places those beliefs in question is threatening. Fear may prevent you from pursuing a line of questioning or from confronting evidence and facts that may force you to reevaluate your position. Fear interferes with critical thinking on an individual level or at an institutional level. Galileo's conflict with the Catholic Church is an example of institutional fear. The Church felt threatened by Galileo's heliocentric view of the universe and stubbornly clung to the geocentric view that places the earth at the center of the universe.

Another barrier to critical thinking is laziness. Critical thinking takes effort, patience and a willingness to explore, analyze and consider different points of view. The original model of critical thinking is the Socratic method. The Socratic method is a primary teaching tool in most law schools. The Greek philosopher Socrates (469 to 399 BC) pursued truth by engaging in a dialogue about a particular topic. A genuine dialogue requires that the parties involved are willing to be swayed by the force of the better argument.

About the Author

Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.

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Eight Barriers to Critical Thinking

Eight Barriers to Critical Thinking Part 1 of 2 by Mike Saxton, PhD

At the beginning of every term, I share a message with all my students about being critical thinkers, warning them about fallacious thinking: allowing cognitive biases and logical fallacies to replace reason. I highlight the barriers to critical thinking that come up most often, both in and outside the classroom. When students are aware of these concepts, they can participate in breaking down barriers and allowing real discussion to take place. While this article is not an exhaustive list, it comprises a number of issues that surface in academic settings.

Confirmation Bias Confirmation bias, one of the better-known fallacies, is effectively “cherry picking.” People seek only evidence that supports their views and disregard contrary points. This bias forms the foundation of “echo chambers,” where people with similar beliefs group together and assure each other that their view is the correct one. While it’s normal and reasonable to seek the company of those with similar views and interests, it can be highly detrimental to managers when they only seek advice from “yes people.” Part of the critical thinking that’s so important in management is to explore ideas contrary to one’s own and to evaluate them appropriately.

Normalcy Bias Normalcy bias — the belief that because an event has seldom, if ever, occurred, it will never occur — can be intimidating, especially in business environments or project management. A person operating under a normalcy bias may ignore dangerous warning signs for significant events. A good example is the credit implosion of 2008. Although numerous individuals sounded the alarm, they were unfortunately dismissed and accused of paranoia. When they turned out to be correct, the global economy was near catastrophe.

Emotional Clouding It is no secret that people are becoming increasingly sensitive to views that run contrary to their own. This sensitivity tends to elicit an emotional response. When confronted by areas of disagreement, logic flies out the window, replaced with reactions that defy reason. Emotion-based decision-making in management has led business units and entire organizations down destructive paths. I knew a small business owner who had an emotional response when the management qualifications of a business partner were challenged. In reality, the partner had no management experience or training, and the owner of the other company was correct in questioning the supposed expertise. This inappropriate response ultimately caused the small business owner to lose out on a valuable merger.

Sophistry and Rhetoric This critical thinking obstacle treats conversations and discourse as competitive sports; the goal is to win, not to learn or seek truth, although some will claim otherwise. Illustrations can be found in the legal field. Prosecuting attorneys are interested in securing convictions or putting together advantageous plea bargains, while defense attorneys have the job of creating reasonable doubt. While there are certain ethical guidelines overall, both sides are more interested in winning than in reaching the truth. While this concept has its function in a courtroom, it does not belong in a classroom or in management. A board room decision made because one member “won” an argument will not benefit the company if that argument turns out to be wrong or unpacked by data (a discussion on data-driven management is a topic of its own).

Click here to go to Part 2 of “Eight Barriers to Critical Thinking Part II.”

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Dr. Mike Saxton has been an adjunct faculty member at Goodwin for three years. He is passionate about working with adult learners and strives to develop a learning environment that fosters holistic growth for the student, not just academically. He uses his diverse professional, personal, and academic experience to offer guidance above and beyond just passing the test. Dr. Saxton encourages students to pass the test of life through both successes and learning from failures. As an instructor and mentor, he utilizes his diverse background that includes higher education, wireless technology services, information technology, and self-defense instruction. He has served in Student Affairs as an administrator, instructional faculty member, property management, business owner, database developer, network manager, and self-defense instructor. Dr. Saxton graduated Eastern Connecticut State University in 2001 and 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a master’s degree in Organizational Management, respectively. He holds CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Project+, CompTIA Cloud Essentials+, CompTIA CIOS, Six Sigma Data Analytics, and Blockchain Council Blockchain Expert certifications.

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First, let’s briefly examine some barriers to critical thinking.

Take another look at the visual summary below on critical and analytical thinking, which was introduced at the end of Session 3. Note the warning sign next to the ‘black pit’ to the lower right of this figure.

A visual summary of critical and analytical thinking

This figure shows a visual summary of critical and analytical thinking. It includes phrases such as ‘objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement’, ‘abilities’, ‘dispositions’ and ‘questioning’.

We have provided you with a larger version of this image in PDF format [ Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. ( Hide tip ) ] .

What are the common pitfalls or barriers to thinking critically and analytically? Some of these were highlighted in the visual summary, and include:

Why do you think being aware of these potential pitfalls is important?

As a critical and reflective thinker, you will need to be aware of the barriers, acknowledge the challenges they may present, and overcome these as best you can. This starts with an understanding of expectations. Some students feel anxious about questioning the work of experts. Critical thinking does not mean that you are challenging someone’s work or telling them that they are wrong, but encourages a deeper understanding, a consideration of alternative views, and engagement in thought, discourse or research that informs your independent judgement. At postgraduate level you will also need to read widely around a subject in order to engage effectively with critical and analytical thinking, and to ask questions: there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, only supported arguments. This is at the heart of postgraduate study.

Critical thinking encourages you to be constructive, by considering the strengths and weaknesses of a claim and differing sides to an argument. It helps you to clarify points, encourages deeper thought, and allows you to determine whether information that you come across is accurate and reliable. This helps you to form your own judgement, and drives research forward.

People can find it difficult to think critically, irrespective of their education or intellectual ability. The key to understanding critical thinking is not only knowing and making sure that you understand the process, but also being able to put this into practice by applying your knowledge.

Critical and reflective thinking are complex and lifelong skills that you continue to develop as part of your personal and professional growth. In your everyday life, you may also come across those who do not exercise critical thinking, and this might impact on decisions that affect you. It is important to recognise this, and to use critical and reflective thinking to ensure that your own view is informed by reasoned judgement, supported by evidence.

Take another look at the visual summary. You will see two aspects to critical thinking: one focusing on the disposition of the person engaged in critical and reflective thinking, and the other concerning their abilities. Let’s focus here on dispositions. At a personal level, barriers to critical thinking can arise through:

Be aware that thinking critically is not simply adhering to a formula. For example, reflect on the following questions:



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