In a 1941 book, researcher Edward Glaser defined critical thinking as an attitude that inclined certain people to approach problems in a thoughtful way. Glaser said critical thinkers are skilled in applying logical inquiry methods to work out reasoned solutions to problems. The basic characteristics used to identify critical thinkers haven’t changed much since Glaser wrote, “An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking.” Critical thinkers demonstrate actions and behaviors that make them stand out in problem solving situations.
Clarifies Through Debate
When an argument ensues over how to deal with a problem, the critical thinker is likely to be the person doing more listening than shouting. Critical thinkers listen empathetically, and they are open-minded about alternative viewpoints, according to researchers at the California State University Fullerton campus. At the same time, notes Paul Schoemaker, founder of Decision Strategies International, they are frequently labeled as “mavericks” because they value their own interpretations over conventional wisdom. Critical thinkers also value the viewpoints of other mavericks who have credible ideas that differ from popular opinion, according to Schoemaker. They use debates to clarify problems and test answers, so critical thinkers often associate with people who have divergent opinions on the issue at hand.
Socrates questioned his students relentlessly to force them to challenge their beliefs. Critical thinkers apply similar Socratic techniques to solve problems. They use questions clearly to define problems or to find new ways to frame existing problems. In the early stages of a problem solving discussion, critical thinkers will slow down the discourse to seek the most precise interpretation of a problem before they begin to gather evidence or seek solutions, states Critical Thinking.org. In a debate, they ask people to define terms and explain their thinking to sift through bias, opinions and assumptions that can cloud reasoning.
Gathers and Tests Information
Critical thinkers make informed decisions and offer informed solutions. To do so, they gather information and then assess the evidence before drawing conclusions. Schoemaker points out that critical thinkers will often probe the fringe thinkers in a discipline to find cutting edge ideas and to examine innovative research. They seek out data and information from many sources, but they review that information carefully, seeking to weed out bias and unsupported theories. In other words, critical thinkers don’t accept any fact until they have tested it to prove its reliability.
Reflects with Metacognition
Critical thinkers also tend to be metacognitive thinkers. In its simplest form, metacognition refers to thinking about thinking. A metacognitive thinker reviews all his strategies and problem solving tools and decides which ones apply best to the situation at hand. Metacognitive thinkers also review their own thinking and decision making dispassionately to analyze their own mistakes and misjudgments, according to researchers at California State University-Fullerton. Because they engage in metacognition, critical thinkers often appear reflective and introspective. This behavior allows them to accept their own failures as learning opportunities, Schoemaker notes. Their talent for metacognition helps them refine their critical thinking skills for future situations.
- Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images