How to develop critical thinking

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What is critical thinking and why you need itWhat prevents critical thinking7 key attributes of critical thinkingHow to learn to think critically15 qualities that help develop critical thinking9 books on critical thinking
How to develop critical thinking

What it's about. Critical thinking is a type of thinking that is based on thinking logically about all the information you receive. A key aspect of critical thinking is the ability to evaluate the plausibility of incoming information and draw conclusions about its truth.

How to Develop? To develop critical thinking, control your thought processes, fight stereotypes and beliefs, think for yourself, ask questions, and don't expect a perfect result.

What is critical thinking and why do we need it

In 1910, the American philosopher John Dewey coined the term "critical thinking." In fact, in most cases he called it reflexive thinking and defined it as the vigorous, persistent and thorough examination of any idea or material in terms of arguments and the conclusion derived from them.

Critical thinking plays a role in a variety of circumstances in life:

data from several different sources do not match or contradict each other;a superior convinces you that there is only one way to accomplish a task;a famous person or someone in your circle of acquaintances tells you about their achievements;loved ones insistently advise you to choose a particular job or place of study;strangers handing out advice about proper child care.

Relying on critical thinking allows you to trust reliable sources, to avoid being manipulated, and to make informed choices.

The path to self-knowledge or exploration of the world around us is about thinking. Its components can be actions or images, intuition or analysis, logic, creativity, criticism.

Thinking has many directions, each of which has its own characteristics that help to deal with the problems and questions that arise in life. Critical thinking is based on a settled, clear approach to life. We often use it because it can help even in the most difficult moments.

Reflective thinking includes skills such as:

Making sense of conditions, emotions, circumstances, beliefs, and rules;subjecting information to analysis;determining the truthfulness of attitudes and their justifications;searching for facts, checking them, and forming conclusions;formulating and arguing thoughts;controlling the flow of thought: checking and correcting personal reasoning.

In the absence of the aforementioned abilities, we develop a tendency to trust unverified sources and lack the ability to transform our point of view. In another case, we behave differently, e.g:

if we encounter discrepancies in academic materials, we question each source, then check it afterwards, calculate the exact information, and try to arrive at the truth;in an environment where someone from the environment imposes a personal opinion, we can independently judge the logic and rationality of their arguments and compare with our own position;with a possible ready-made solution, we pause to consider the circumstances from all sides and come to our own conclusion.

In addition to being an aid to life or work, critical thinking is also beneficial to one's mental state. This is confirmed by a study from Huazhong University of Science and Technology - according to the scientists' advice to improve mental health, the emphasis should be placed on its development.

What prevents you from thinking critically

Our brain tries to spend the least amount of effort to solve problems, and reflective thinking requires a high level of energy and attention. For this reason, we cannot think rationally and find a logical way out of every situation. Periodically, we blindly believe in patterns, prior experiences, and feelings. This is how personal thinking captures us in its net.

At times when there is very little time to make a decision, and there is either a lot of information or not enough, we make mental errors. Rescuing the situation, the brain automatically directs all attention to the patterns and results of previous practice, which may not always be an example to follow. Here are the possible errors:

Confirmation error, when we find information consistent with personal beliefs and then miss or disbelieve contrary information. For example, a person who believes that changing fields after 40 years will not work, is very likely to find evidence of this, passing by the opposite arguments, or considering them false.

Attribution error is the evaluation of people's behavior based on their personal qualities, but not on their circumstances. At the same time, analyzing our own actions, we focus on the situation itself, omitting our own character. And when a colleague is late for a meeting, inside we will condemn him for his lack of discipline, although we always write off all our delays to technical problems, urgent matters or the need to complete the last task.

The halo effect is responsible for the moments when the first impression of a person is shifted to the qualities that we have not yet discovered in him. For example, if in a store we choose a manager in a suit and glasses and bypass his colleague with dreadlocks, thinking that the latter is incompetent. But in reality it could be both excellent professionals.

The systematic survivor error is to rely on positive results without considering other cases. We don't often turn to statistics or consider the possibility of repeating an individual success. If a neighbor has a steady income from her dog's funny video account, we're more likely to treat it as a possible earning option rather than luck.

"After" does not mean "because of." - is another type of illusion in which we turn two consecutive events into cause and effect. However, for example, if a mother's friend's daughter took an English course and then moved to America, it does not mean that all of this happened only because of her studies.

Emotions also affect the rationality of thinking if the situation matters to us. During a job check by a supervisor, a term paper defense, or a child's performance at a concert, we expect a decent grade because we remember all the effort we put in. This desire for approval cannot be called a disinterested appraisal.

These are the circumstances in which people tend to attract arguments tuned to their truth. Figurative expressions and attempts to provoke a response from the interlocutor go into action. In order to maintain an adequate assessment, one must learn self-control: to be able to stop in time to assess one's own position, as well as to allow a comprehensive view of the situation and other points of view.

It is not worth getting hung up on this either. During family time or vacations, it's much more important to give in to emotions rather than keep a clear mind and clear thoughts.

7 Key Signs of Critical Thinking

Often people are convinced of their talent for thinking critically. In reality, few people can boast this skill, and not even on a regular basis. True critical thinking fulfills all seven criteria, which we will examine in detail next.


We have a tendency to stay with our point of view, to base ourselves on stereotypes, and to adhere to a pre-selected position. This helps to minimize cognitive load and avoid overstress. Lack of flexibility prevents most people from achieving an appropriate degree of critical thinking. Many are used to taking ready-made information and processing it according to established principles.

Flexibility in thinking is useful in another area. The vast majority of people trust the opinion that was voiced in the first place. If two friends in the company had a conflict, will support the one who first voiced his position and condemned the opponent. A fair assessment of the situation will be able to the person who can think flexibly, because his opinion will not come from a sequence of two different versions.


Despite the high level of complexity of logic as a science, many people can subconsciously understand its basics. This aspect of reflective thinking means that the individual follows the laws of logic in his or her evaluation. Each conclusion of such a person is justified, thought processes and actions are systematic, and the evaluation of cause and effect relationships is regular and not subject to confusion.

Social orientation

There is a degree of selfishness in every person, which boils down to leaning toward the point of view that is more convenient. This path is not possible with critical thinking formed.

Every case will be analyzed from all sides and not from a position of self-interest, but through social objectivity and adequacy. If any controversy arises in a public place, all circumstances will be examined with fairness and with a possible admission of error.


Every statement must have its reasoning and body of evidence. A person who is able to think critically understands this and in disagreements applies exactly those facts that he can confirm, and not just by saying, "Everyone knows that!" Of course, in such a scenario, he will also be picky about other people's arguments and will not hesitate to ask the many unloved questions about the source of the information or its verification.


The lack of objectivity in the thinking of people with a high level of critical thinking means that authoritative opinion and one's own emotions can be ignored, and there is no fear of upsetting someone.

If you want to test yourself for impartiality, recall or imagine moments when your close friend in the course of an argument with a stranger was objectively wrong. Will you pay attention to it? How will you behave under the circumstances - will you point out his error, or remain silent? Verification is very effective for critical thinking, because sometimes it is very difficult to refuse a preconceived notion.


Critical thinking does not tolerate haphazardness or inconsistency; confusion and disorder in the head are not acceptable. A person must be collected in order to deftly distribute information from different spheres. In addition to the consistency of his actions, intentions and conclusions, hence the difficulty in imposing a third-party opinion and distracting from the logical chain.


A large number of people are not aware of their attachment to easy solutions in the form of already ready-made system of ideas, which was interpreted under their own principles by another person. But developed critical thinking does not permit the appropriation of another person's point of view. It is more important for him to gather sufficient evidence from which one can already determine one's own opinion.

How to learn to think critically

We read articles on the Internet with amazing results of research by British scientists or discussions on new forums, watch the news on the federal channel explaining the reasons for a new law, or argue at the planning meeting about the best approach to a problem. So what does it take to develop critical thinking?

The first step. First you need to analyze all the materials, interpret the information, and evaluate the inputs if necessary. This is a very important area that relates to working with data. What comes first and what comes second? Where is the source and where is the outcome? Where is the connection between the components?

The second step. The critical thinker is hard to fool because he or she will see all the discrepancies in thinking. Use a basic chain of critical questions. Do you understand the subject of the discussion? Have you been tried to be moved to another topic? Is the topic not narrowing or broadening? How truthful are the arguments? Are the arguments sufficiently deep? Did differences arise? Is the cause and effect relationship clear enough?

Step three. Finding inaccuracies is one thing, and it is quite another to identify the cause and present it to your opponent. Central to critical thinking is the capacity for argumentation and demonstrable evidence. Proof should not be built on skillful presentation or structure, but precisely on grounds established from different angles.

Fourth step. You can learn how to analyze a situation, identify all the errors in the textbook logic tasks, erect arguments, but the value of these skills will be zero in the absence of the ability to transfer these skills to business practice and build on it. For this reason, the fourth aspect of critical thinking is the use of results in real-world problem solving.

15 qualities that help you develop critical thinking


This is a skill we learn in early childhood. It combines the ability to grasp details and receive information through the senses. The result of the gathered sensations is the formation of one's own point of view and an in-depth perception of one's surroundings.


Many leaders with a high level of critical thinking have a heightened awareness of the world and the people around them. As we grow up, we stop following our natural interest, even though it opens us up to a thirst for new insights and expansions. Not to quench it, but rather to strengthen it - do not take everything for granted, and show the desire to get to the bottom of it.


Being impassive about everything is impossible because of our value system and past experiences. In spite of this, you should try to keep an open mind about circumstances of all kinds as you deal with them. Abstract away from personal emotions and morally put a wall between yourself and the imposition of others, focusing on the facts and available scientific data.


Reflect on the mechanisms of our own mental operations. Such reasoning points out our potential mistakes and our level of focus, the key to working through inner thoughts, emotions, and feelings.

Analytical Thinking

Any task requires evaluation and examination of information: signing a contract, turning in a report or work plan, interpersonal relationships. You need to break down the entire body of data item by item and make sense of it individually and as a system. The basis of the analysis is to review, summarize and evaluate the evidence base. Once all the criteria are met, an objective conclusion can be reached.

Ability to identify misconceptions

The degree of trust in sources is a significant factor. Find confirmation of your opinion and note inaccuracies or errors that often go undisclosed and affect our cognition.

As you think about certain information, think about the source. Isn't that resource seeking its own benefit? And could it be using false facts for this purpose or, conversely, withholding them?

Know how to determine what is relevant

It is equally difficult to identify exactly what information is most relevant and significant in a situation. All new information seems important at first, but rarely proves to be so. Once again, review resources for bias, maybe their role is to steer away from a more useful opinion.

The ability to make assumptions based on facts

Information rarely comes to us along with its explanation. All data requires making one's own relation to it with conclusions. It is also not necessary to forget about the probable ways of the course of events.

However, it is not necessary to attach the skill of forming a viewpoint based on facts to mere assumptions. For example, finding out that someone's weight is 115 kilograms, you will have the idea that this person is either sick or overweight. In reality, though, you would need data about their height and build to make that kind of conclusion.

Lack of arrogance

Be able to admit your mistakes and not overestimate yourself. To think critically, you need to understand your weaknesses and strengths. Therefore do not immediately reject the position of another person without hesitation. Work on yourself, notice the moments of your failure and be ready to revise personal principles at some point.

Willingness to challenge the status quo

You don't have to go the traditional route just because of his past success. Consider all the information you have and find the appropriate methodology. This willingness to disrupt the status quo seems provocative at first glance, but it is an aspect of being innovative.

Openness to everything new

Hasty conclusions rarely lead to a good outcome. Deal with situations from all sides, listening to everyone's opinions and positions. There is no need to take sides without knowing the full picture. And it will be impossible to get it, if you rely on a third-party opinion in advance, without considering the others.

Recognize common fallacies in thinking

Combat misconceptions that lead you astray. Investigate the most common cognitive mistakes. Here are a few examples that not infrequently creep into our thoughts or arguments:

Explanation, in which the reason or conclusion of the evidence is put forth to justify it.
The error of the easy way-if you insist to the last minute on a more favorable position, even when there are more realistic options.

Confusion about the causal relationship and connection between events. If two phenomena occur at the same time, it seems that one caused the other.

Creative Intelligence

It is customary to associate the creative mind with creating ideas and critical thinking with parsing and critiquing them. But by following a creative impulse, you can come up with original solutions to difficult situations.

Stop holding on to templates. Find new hobbies, develop all-around, give in to unusual experiments and learn to look at everything from different positions.

The ability to effectively establish communication

Misunderstandings in various relationships start from the inability to look at the situation from a different angle. In this case, critical thinking contributes to the competent construction of one's views and control over the flow of the interlocutor's thoughts.

Listening skills

In addition to stating one's position, it is important to listen to the other person, to give feedback without being passive in communication. Use clarifying questions to clearly distinguish between conjecture and fact. Your task is to extract maximum information and understand the interlocutor, getting to the heart of the conversation.

Books on critical thinking

Tom Chatfield's book "Critical Thinking. Analyze, Doubt, Form Your Opinion." This book is a guide to parsing information. Its author points out certain criteria for lying and provides five methods of critical thinking. The book is filled with examples and humor.Johnson & Blair, "Logical Self-Defense." This is the classic version of the book on informal logic. The publication outlines the basis of rational argumentation and provides clear definitions of common logical tricks. Assignments from the book can be used to master key concepts and principles in practice.Dan Ariely, Predictable Irrationality. An understandable explanation with vivid examples of how hidden forces and factors affect us in real life. After reading this, you will reconsider your thinking habits and look at past decisions differently.Barbara Oakley, Think Like a Mathematician. An accurate and illustrative guide to training our brains.Massimo Piliucci, How to Be Stoic: Ancient Philosophy and Modern Life is a book about surviving, overcoming doubt, and staying calm in a fickle world full of ambiguous and contradictory information.Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings is a philosophical treatise written by a samurai in the 17th century. Despite the date of its creation, the language is accessible.Daniel Kahneman, "Thinking, Fast and Slow," an explanation of our irrational actions from a Princeton University professor, and the connection to the two types of thinking fast and slow.Eliezer Yudkowsky, "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rational Thinking" - Artificial Intelligence expert shows the workings of the scientific method. The reader is provided with patterns of productive thinking: the narrative proceeds from the protagonist, and by his reasoning one can understand which steps lead to the right solutions.

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