Back To CourseCritical Thinking Study Guide
6 chapters | 62 lessons
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Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.
In this lesson, we'll define critical thinking as the ability to think about an issue and make decisions objectively, without being encumbered by personal interests, assumptions, or influence from social groups. For example, have you ever made a judgment about a person based on what someone else told you, and later heard another side of the story? We have all made decisions or addressed a situation in a way we regretted because we did not think critically. This lesson explores the limitations that hold us back from thinking critically, and the tendencies that can be difficult to acknowledge or admit. We'll consider how understanding these barriers can be a start to overcoming them.
Throughout our day, we pay a lot of attention to our own needs and wants. For example, we may spend time considering what we want for lunch, when we'll be finished with work, and even what other people are thinking about us. At times, we may be even more focused on ourselves. For example, if we are struggling with a breakup, or excited about moving to a new place, we might be thinking of ourselves more than usual.
Focusing on your own needs and wants can be a normal part of life, but self-interested thinking is a problem when you aren't able to think objectively because of it. For example, let's say that your boss comes to you and says that she wants to promote your coworker Bob, and wants to know your assessment of his work. You realize that Bob's promotion would change his schedule and would mean he could no longer give you a ride to work. You'd have to start taking the bus to work, which would be time consuming and expensive. You don't like that idea, so you tell your boss that you think Bob is not qualified for the job. As a result, he doesn't get the promotion.
In this case, you've let your own needs get in the way of considering whether Bob is right for the position. You've allowed the tunnel vision of your own desires to block you from being fair and objective about Bob's situation. People who think only in self-interested terms generally do not use critical thinking. When a person believes themselves to be more important that other people, this is egocentrism. Egocentrism is also not conducive to critical thinking.
What about when it's not just your own needs you're considering, but the beliefs and views of the group around you? For example, let's say that you are part of a carpool, and Bob is the driver because he has a nice-sized SUV that can hold your group of 5 people. You want to tell your supervisor that Bob's an excellent fit for the position, but the carpool group you're in doesn't want to lose their carpool driver. They want you to tell your boss that Bob is not a fit for the new role. When a group of people wants one thing based on mutual self-interested thinking, this is called group bias. Group bias occurs when you value the views of your own group to the detriment of other groups. You forgive the failings of people like you, and you exaggerate the shortcomings of those unlike you.
If you go along with the group to fit in, you are sacrificing your own critical thinking skills to herd instinct. As you might guess, herd instinct has to do with wanting to be part of a group for survival and protection. In a social situation, like your carpool group, your physical survival is not at risk, but you might go along with them anyway to avoid being an outcast. If you go along with the group's wishes in this circumstance, you're allowing group bias and herd instinct to prevent you from critical thinking.
The tendency to allow a group to influence your thinking and decisions is also called sociocentrism. Like egocentrism, this is a type of tunnel vision. Only it's not just a focus on your own desires; it's a focus on the group's needs, wants, and views. The bottom line is that we can fail to think critically when we allow the views and opinions of a group to influence our opinions and actions.
Believing something without good reason can be described as an assumption. For example, suppose you once knew a person who was very religious. When you interacted with that person, you felt he was judging your behaviors based on his religious beliefs. Later, you meet another person with the same religion, and you avoid interaction because you think he or she will be judgmental. In this case, you are making an assumption.
Our assumptions are not always incorrect, but we make them without any real proof. They can lead us into trouble unless we question them. Assumptions are often used to justify unfair treatment of others and are a barrier to critical thinking.
Good critical thinking skills involve acknowledging our limitations and questioning our assumptions. You might think that because you have moments of prejudice or self-interested thinking, you're not a great critical thinker. In fact, just being aware of when and how you do this is a start to becoming a better one.
A next step is to question assumptions and consider where they originated. You can examine your own tendency to engage in egocentrist or sociocentrist behavior that places you, or your group, ahead of others unfairly.
This doesn't mean you disregard your own needs. Instead, you aim for objectivity and empathy, putting yourself in another person's position and seeing things from their point of view. It's important to continually learn what it's like to be a part of different groups and to question the stereotypes you may have developed without even realizing it.
Critical thinking is the ability to think about an issue and make decisions objectively, without being encumbered by personal interests, assumptions, or influence from social groups. When you focus solely on your own needs and previously held beliefs, you can get stuck in self-interested thinking and egocentrism. This can block you from being objective and treating others fairly. Similarly, you may allow the feelings and needs of a group become a barrier to critical thinking. This tendency is known as sociocentrism and may involve group bias, which places the needs of the group above those of others, often creating prejudice against those outside of the group. We can all aim to improve our critical thinking skills by questioning assumptions and stereotypes about others.
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Back To CourseCritical Thinking Study Guide
6 chapters | 62 lessons