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What Are Critical Thinking Skills and Why Are They Important?

Learn what critical thinking skills are, why they’re important, and how to develop and apply them in your workplace and everyday life.

[Featured Image]:  Project Manager, approaching  and analyzing the latest project with a team member,

We often use critical thinking skills without even realizing it. When you make a decision, such as which cereal to eat for breakfast, you're using critical thinking to determine the best option for you that day.

Critical thinking is like a muscle that can be exercised and built over time. It is a skill that can help propel your career to new heights. You'll be able to solve workplace issues, use trial and error to troubleshoot ideas, and more.

We'll take you through what it is and some examples so you can begin your journey in mastering this skill.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the ability to interpret, evaluate, and analyze facts and information that are available, to form a judgment or decide if something is right or wrong.

More than just being curious about the world around you, critical thinkers make connections between logical ideas to see the bigger picture. Building your critical thinking skills means being able to advocate your ideas and opinions, present them in a logical fashion, and make decisions for improvement.

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Why is critical thinking important?

Critical thinking is useful in many areas of your life, including your career. It makes you a well-rounded individual, one who has looked at all of their options and possible solutions before making a choice.

According to the University of the People in California, having critical thinking skills is important because they are [ 1 ]:

Crucial for the economy

Essential for improving language and presentation skills

Very helpful in promoting creativity

Important for self-reflection

The basis of science and democracy 

Critical thinking skills are used every day in a myriad of ways and can be applied to situations such as a CEO approaching a group project or a nurse deciding in which order to treat their patients.

Examples of common critical thinking skills

Critical thinking skills differ from individual to individual and are utilized in various ways. Examples of common critical thinking skills include:

Identification of biases: Identifying biases means knowing there are certain people or things that may have an unfair prejudice or influence on the situation at hand. Pointing out these biases helps to remove them from contention when it comes to solving the problem and allows you to see things from a different perspective.

Research: Researching details and facts allows you to be prepared when presenting your information to people. You’ll know exactly what you’re talking about due to the time you’ve spent with the subject material, and you’ll be well-spoken and know what questions to ask to gain more knowledge. When researching, always use credible sources and factual information.

Open-mindedness: Being open-minded when having a conversation or participating in a group activity is crucial to success. Dismissing someone else’s ideas before you’ve heard them will inhibit you from progressing to a solution, and will often create animosity. If you truly want to solve a problem, you need to be willing to hear everyone’s opinions and ideas if you want them to hear yours.

Analysis: Analyzing your research will lead to you having a better understanding of the things you’ve heard and read. As a true critical thinker, you’ll want to seek out the truth and get to the source of issues. It’s important to avoid taking things at face value and always dig deeper.

Problem-solving: Problem-solving is perhaps the most important skill that critical thinkers can possess. The ability to solve issues and bounce back from conflict is what helps you succeed, be a leader, and effect change. One way to properly solve problems is to first recognize there’s a problem that needs solving. By determining the issue at hand, you can then analyze it and come up with several potential solutions.

How to develop critical thinking skills

You can develop critical thinking skills every day if you approach problems in a logical manner. Here are a few ways you can start your path to improvement:

1. Ask questions.

Be inquisitive about everything. Maintain a neutral perspective and develop a natural curiosity, so you can ask questions that develop your understanding of the situation or task at hand. The more details, facts, and information you have, the better informed you are to make decisions.

2. Practice active listening.

Utilize active listening techniques, which are founded in empathy, to really listen to what the other person is saying. Critical thinking, in part, is the cognitive process of reading the situation: the words coming out of their mouth, their body language, their reactions to your own words. Then, you might paraphrase to clarify what they're saying, so both of you agree you're on the same page.

3. Develop your logic and reasoning.

This is perhaps a more abstract task that requires practice and long-term development. However, think of a schoolteacher assessing the classroom to determine how to energize the lesson. There's options such as playing a game, watching a video, or challenging the students with a reward system. Using logic, you might decide that the reward system will take up too much time and is not an immediate fix. A video is not exactly relevant at this time. So, the teacher decides to play a simple word association game.

Scenarios like this happen every day, so next time, you can be more aware of what will work and what won't. Over time, developing your logic and reasoning will strengthen your critical thinking skills.

Learn tips and tricks on how to become a better critical thinker and problem solver through online courses from notable educational institutions on Coursera. Start with Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking from Duke University or Mindware: Critical Thinking for the Information Age from the University of Michigan.

Article sources

University of the People, “ Why is Critical Thinking Important?: A Survival Guide , https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/why-is-critical-thinking-important/.” Accessed May 18, 2023.

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Why Is Critical Thinking Important? A Survival Guide


Why is critical thinking important? The decisions that you make affect your quality of life. And if you want to ensure that you live your best, most successful and happy life, you’re going to want to make conscious choices. That can be done with a simple thing known as critical thinking. Here’s how to improve your critical thinking skills and make decisions that you won’t regret.

What Is Critical Thinking?

You’ve surely heard of critical thinking, but you might not be entirely sure what it really means, and that’s because there are many definitions. For the most part, however, we think of critical thinking as the process of analyzing facts in order to form a judgment. Basically, it’s thinking about thinking.

How Has The Definition Evolved Over Time?

The first time critical thinking was documented is believed to be in the teachings of Socrates , recorded by Plato. But throughout history, the definition has changed.

Today it is best understood by philosophers and psychologists and it’s believed to be a highly complex concept. Some insightful modern-day critical thinking definitions include :

  • “Reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do.”
  • “Deciding what’s true and what you should do.”

The Importance Of Critical Thinking

Why is critical thinking important? Good question! Here are a few undeniable reasons why it’s crucial to have these skills.

1. Critical Thinking Is Universal

Critical thinking is a domain-general thinking skill. What does this mean? It means that no matter what path or profession you pursue, these skills will always be relevant and will always be beneficial to your success. They are not specific to any field.

2. Crucial For The Economy

Our future depends on technology, information, and innovation. Critical thinking is needed for our fast-growing economies, to solve problems as quickly and as effectively as possible.

3. Improves Language & Presentation Skills

In order to best express ourselves, we need to know how to think clearly and systematically — meaning practice critical thinking! Critical thinking also means knowing how to break down texts, and in turn, improve our ability to comprehend.

4. Promotes Creativity

By practicing critical thinking, we are allowing ourselves not only to solve problems but also to come up with new and creative ideas to do so. Critical thinking allows us to analyze these ideas and adjust them accordingly.

5. Important For Self-Reflection

Without critical thinking, how can we really live a meaningful life? We need this skill to self-reflect and justify our ways of life and opinions. Critical thinking provides us with the tools to evaluate ourselves in the way that we need to.

Woman deep into thought as she looks out the window, using her critical thinking skills to do some self-reflection.

6. The Basis Of Science & Democracy

In order to have a democracy and to prove scientific facts, we need critical thinking in the world. Theories must be backed up with knowledge. In order for a society to effectively function, its citizens need to establish opinions about what’s right and wrong (by using critical thinking!).

Benefits Of Critical Thinking

We know that critical thinking is good for society as a whole, but what are some benefits of critical thinking on an individual level? Why is critical thinking important for us?

1. Key For Career Success

Critical thinking is crucial for many career paths. Not just for scientists, but lawyers , doctors, reporters, engineers , accountants, and analysts (among many others) all have to use critical thinking in their positions. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, critical thinking is one of the most desirable skills to have in the workforce, as it helps analyze information, think outside the box, solve problems with innovative solutions, and plan systematically.

2. Better Decision Making

There’s no doubt about it — critical thinkers make the best choices. Critical thinking helps us deal with everyday problems as they come our way, and very often this thought process is even done subconsciously. It helps us think independently and trust our gut feeling.

3. Can Make You Happier!

While this often goes unnoticed, being in touch with yourself and having a deep understanding of why you think the way you think can really make you happier. Critical thinking can help you better understand yourself, and in turn, help you avoid any kind of negative or limiting beliefs, and focus more on your strengths. Being able to share your thoughts can increase your quality of life.

4. Form Well-Informed Opinions

There is no shortage of information coming at us from all angles. And that’s exactly why we need to use our critical thinking skills and decide for ourselves what to believe. Critical thinking allows us to ensure that our opinions are based on the facts, and help us sort through all that extra noise.

5. Better Citizens

One of the most inspiring critical thinking quotes is by former US president Thomas Jefferson: “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” What Jefferson is stressing to us here is that critical thinkers make better citizens, as they are able to see the entire picture without getting sucked into biases and propaganda.

6. Improves Relationships

While you may be convinced that being a critical thinker is bound to cause you problems in relationships, this really couldn’t be less true! Being a critical thinker can allow you to better understand the perspective of others, and can help you become more open-minded towards different views.

7. Promotes Curiosity

Critical thinkers are constantly curious about all kinds of things in life, and tend to have a wide range of interests. Critical thinking means constantly asking questions and wanting to know more, about why, what, who, where, when, and everything else that can help them make sense of a situation or concept, never taking anything at face value.

8. Allows For Creativity

Critical thinkers are also highly creative thinkers, and see themselves as limitless when it comes to possibilities. They are constantly looking to take things further, which is crucial in the workforce.

9. Enhances Problem Solving Skills

Those with critical thinking skills tend to solve problems as part of their natural instinct. Critical thinkers are patient and committed to solving the problem, similar to Albert Einstein, one of the best critical thinking examples, who said “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Critical thinkers’ enhanced problem-solving skills makes them better at their jobs and better at solving the world’s biggest problems. Like Einstein, they have the potential to literally change the world.

10. An Activity For The Mind

Just like our muscles, in order for them to be strong, our mind also needs to be exercised and challenged. It’s safe to say that critical thinking is almost like an activity for the mind — and it needs to be practiced. Critical thinking encourages the development of many crucial skills such as logical thinking, decision making, and open-mindness.

11. Creates Independence

When we think critically, we think on our own as we trust ourselves more. Critical thinking is key to creating independence, and encouraging students to make their own decisions and form their own opinions.

12. Crucial Life Skill

Critical thinking is crucial not just for learning, but for life overall! Education isn’t just a way to prepare ourselves for life, but it’s pretty much life itself. Learning is a lifelong process that we go through each and every day.

How to Think Critically

Now that you know the benefits of thinking critically, how do you actually do it?

How To Improve Your Critical Thinking

  • Define Your Question: When it comes to critical thinking, it’s important to always keep your goal in mind. Know what you’re trying to achieve, and then figure out how to best get there.
  • Gather Reliable Information: Make sure that you’re using sources you can trust — biases aside. That’s how a real critical thinker operates!
  • Ask The Right Questions: We all know the importance of questions, but be sure that you’re asking the right questions that are going to get you to your answer.
  • Look Short & Long Term: When coming up with solutions, think about both the short- and long-term consequences. Both of them are significant in the equation.
  • Explore All Sides: There is never just one simple answer, and nothing is black or white. Explore all options and think outside of the box before you come to any conclusions.

How Is Critical Thinking Developed At School?

Critical thinking is developed in nearly everything we do. However, much of this important skill is encouraged to be practiced at school, and rightfully so! Critical thinking goes beyond just thinking clearly — it’s also about thinking for yourself.

When a teacher asks a question in class, students are given the chance to answer for themselves and think critically about what they learned and what they believe to be accurate. When students work in groups and are forced to engage in discussion, this is also a great chance to expand their thinking and use their critical thinking skills.

How Does Critical Thinking Apply To Your Career?

Once you’ve finished school and entered the workforce, your critical thinking journey only expands and grows from here!

Impress Your Employer

Employers value employees who are critical thinkers, ask questions, offer creative ideas, and are always ready to offer innovation against the competition. No matter what your position or role in a company may be, critical thinking will always give you the power to stand out and make a difference.

Careers That Require Critical Thinking

Some of many examples of careers that require critical thinking include:

  • Human resources specialist
  • Marketing associate
  • Business analyst

Truth be told however, it’s probably harder to come up with a professional field that doesn’t require any critical thinking!

Photo by  Oladimeji Ajegbile  from  Pexels

What is someone with critical thinking skills capable of doing.

Someone with critical thinking skills is able to think rationally and clearly about what they should or not believe. They are capable of engaging in their own thoughts, and doing some reflection in order to come to a well-informed conclusion.

A critical thinker understands the connections between ideas, and is able to construct arguments based on facts, as well as find mistakes in reasoning.

The Process Of Critical Thinking

The process of critical thinking is highly systematic.

What Are Your Goals?

Critical thinking starts by defining your goals, and knowing what you are ultimately trying to achieve.

Once you know what you are trying to conclude, you can foresee your solution to the problem and play it out in your head from all perspectives.

What Does The Future Of Critical Thinking Hold?

The future of critical thinking is the equivalent of the future of jobs. In 2020, critical thinking was ranked as the 2nd top skill (following complex problem solving) by the World Economic Forum .

We are dealing with constant unprecedented changes, and what success is today, might not be considered success tomorrow — making critical thinking a key skill for the future workforce.

Why Is Critical Thinking So Important?

Why is critical thinking important? Critical thinking is more than just important! It’s one of the most crucial cognitive skills one can develop.

By practicing well-thought-out thinking, both your thoughts and decisions can make a positive change in your life, on both a professional and personal level. You can hugely improve your life by working on your critical thinking skills as often as you can.

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Education in the 21st Century pp 9–27 Cite as

Creativity and Critical Thinking

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The twenty-first century has seen a rapid growth of curriculum initiatives that consider the development of cross-curriculum competencies as a core issue, and significant for every discipline area. Both because of such cross-curriculum developments and because of the nature of STEM itself, the integration of the particular core competencies of ‘creativity’ and ‘critical thinking’ across the STEM disciplines has also grown rapidly in educational importance. Creativity and critical thinking in education are best viewed from the perspectives of both learner development and teacher expertise, with the attributes specific to each concept appropriately seen as increasing in sophistication or complexity over time. A broad examination of each of the two concepts and their interrelatedness, and the consequent implications for educational practice concerned with developing them, creates a lens through which to view the application of creativity and critical thinking across the complexity and diversity of the STEM disciplines and their integrated forms.

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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.

  • It is done for the purpose of making up one’s mind about what to believe or do.
  • The person engaging in the thinking is trying to fulfill standards of adequacy and accuracy appropriate to the thinking.
  • The thinking fulfills the relevant standards to some threshold level.

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:

  • suggestions , in which the mind leaps forward to a possible solution;
  • an intellectualization of the difficulty or perplexity into a problem to be solved, a question for which the answer must be sought;
  • the use of one suggestion after another as a leading idea, or hypothesis , to initiate and guide observation and other operations in collection of factual material;
  • the mental elaboration of the idea or supposition as an idea or supposition ( reasoning , in the sense on which reasoning is a part, not the whole, of inference); and
  • testing the hypothesis by overt or imaginative action. (Dewey 1933: 106–107; italics in original)

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.

  • Observing : One notices something in one’s immediate environment (sudden cooling of temperature in Weather , bubbles forming outside a glass and then going inside in Bubbles , a moving blur in the distance in Blur , a rash in Rash ). Or one notes the results of an experiment or systematic observation (valuables missing in Disorder , no suction without air pressure in Suction pump )
  • Feeling : One feels puzzled or uncertain about something (how to get to an appointment on time in Transit , why the diamonds vary in spacing in Diamond ). One wants to resolve this perplexity. One feels satisfaction once one has worked out an answer (to take the subway express in Transit , diamonds closer when needed as a warning in Diamond ).
  • Wondering : One formulates a question to be addressed (why bubbles form outside a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , how suction pumps work in Suction pump , what caused the rash in Rash ).
  • Imagining : One thinks of possible answers (bus or subway or elevated in Transit , flagpole or ornament or wireless communication aid or direction indicator in Ferryboat , allergic reaction or heat rash in Rash ).
  • Inferring : One works out what would be the case if a possible answer were assumed (valuables missing if there has been a burglary in Disorder , earlier start to the rash if it is an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug in Rash ). Or one draws a conclusion once sufficient relevant evidence is gathered (take the subway in Transit , burglary in Disorder , discontinue blood pressure medication and new cream in Rash ).
  • Knowledge : One uses stored knowledge of the subject-matter to generate possible answers or to infer what would be expected on the assumption of a particular answer (knowledge of a city’s public transit system in Transit , of the requirements for a flagpole in Ferryboat , of Boyle’s law in Bubbles , of allergic reactions in Rash ).
  • Experimenting : One designs and carries out an experiment or a systematic observation to find out whether the results deduced from a possible answer will occur (looking at the location of the flagpole in relation to the pilot’s position in Ferryboat , putting an ice cube on top of a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , measuring the height to which a suction pump will draw water at different elevations in Suction pump , noticing the spacing of diamonds when movement to or from a diamond lane is allowed in Diamond ).
  • Consulting : One finds a source of information, gets the information from the source, and makes a judgment on whether to accept it. None of our 11 examples include searching for sources of information. In this respect they are unrepresentative, since most people nowadays have almost instant access to information relevant to answering any question, including many of those illustrated by the examples. However, Candidate includes the activities of extracting information from sources and evaluating its credibility.
  • Identifying and analyzing arguments : One notices an argument and works out its structure and content as a preliminary to evaluating its strength. This activity is central to Candidate . It is an important part of a critical thinking process in which one surveys arguments for various positions on an issue.
  • Judging : One makes a judgment on the basis of accumulated evidence and reasoning, such as the judgment in Ferryboat that the purpose of the pole is to provide direction to the pilot.
  • Deciding : One makes a decision on what to do or on what policy to adopt, as in the decision in Transit to take the subway.

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.

  • Attentiveness : One will not think critically if one fails to recognize an issue that needs to be thought through. For example, the pedestrian in Weather would not have looked up if he had not noticed that the air was suddenly cooler. To be a critical thinker, then, one needs to be habitually attentive to one’s surroundings, noticing not only what one senses but also sources of perplexity in messages received and in one’s own beliefs and attitudes (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Habit of inquiry : Inquiry is effortful, and one needs an internal push to engage in it. For example, the student in Bubbles could easily have stopped at idle wondering about the cause of the bubbles rather than reasoning to a hypothesis, then designing and executing an experiment to test it. Thus willingness to think critically needs mental energy and initiative. What can supply that energy? Love of inquiry, or perhaps just a habit of inquiry. Hamby (2015) has argued that willingness to inquire is the central critical thinking virtue, one that encompasses all the others. It is recognized as a critical thinking disposition by Dewey (1910: 29; 1933: 35), Glaser (1941: 5), Ennis (1987: 12; 1991: 8), Facione (1990a: 25), Bailin et al. (1999b: 294), Halpern (1998: 452), and Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo (2001).
  • Self-confidence : Lack of confidence in one’s abilities can block critical thinking. For example, if the woman in Rash lacked confidence in her ability to figure things out for herself, she might just have assumed that the rash on her chest was the allergic reaction to her medication against which the pharmacist had warned her. Thus willingness to think critically requires confidence in one’s ability to inquire (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Courage : Fear of thinking for oneself can stop one from doing it. Thus willingness to think critically requires intellectual courage (Paul & Elder 2006: 16).
  • Open-mindedness : A dogmatic attitude will impede thinking critically. For example, a person who adheres rigidly to a “pro-choice” position on the issue of the legal status of induced abortion is likely to be unwilling to consider seriously the issue of when in its development an unborn child acquires a moral right to life. Thus willingness to think critically requires open-mindedness, in the sense of a willingness to examine questions to which one already accepts an answer but which further evidence or reasoning might cause one to answer differently (Dewey 1933; Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b; Halpern 1998, Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). Paul (1981) emphasizes open-mindedness about alternative world-views, and recommends a dialectical approach to integrating such views as central to what he calls “strong sense” critical thinking. In three studies, Haran, Ritov, & Mellers (2013) found that actively open-minded thinking, including “the tendency to weigh new evidence against a favored belief, to spend sufficient time on a problem before giving up, and to consider carefully the opinions of others in forming one’s own”, led study participants to acquire information and thus to make accurate estimations.
  • Willingness to suspend judgment : Premature closure on an initial solution will block critical thinking. Thus willingness to think critically requires a willingness to suspend judgment while alternatives are explored (Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Halpern 1998).
  • Trust in reason : Since distrust in the processes of reasoned inquiry will dissuade one from engaging in it, trust in them is an initiating critical thinking disposition (Facione 1990a, 25; Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001; Paul & Elder 2006). In reaction to an allegedly exclusive emphasis on reason in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, Thayer-Bacon (2000) argues that intuition, imagination, and emotion have important roles to play in an adequate conception of critical thinking that she calls “constructive thinking”. From her point of view, critical thinking requires trust not only in reason but also in intuition, imagination, and emotion.
  • Seeking the truth : If one does not care about the truth but is content to stick with one’s initial bias on an issue, then one will not think critically about it. Seeking the truth is thus an initiating critical thinking disposition (Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). A disposition to seek the truth is implicit in more specific critical thinking dispositions, such as trying to be well-informed, considering seriously points of view other than one’s own, looking for alternatives, suspending judgment when the evidence is insufficient, and adopting a position when the evidence supporting it is sufficient.

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:

  • reinforcement of egocentric and sociocentric biases over dialectical engagement with opposing world-views (Paul 1981, 1984; Warren 1998)
  • distancing from the object of inquiry over closeness to it (Martin 1992; Thayer-Bacon 1992)
  • indifference to the situation of others over care for them (Martin 1992)
  • orientation to thought over orientation to action (Martin 1992)
  • being reasonable over caring to understand people’s ideas (Thayer-Bacon 1993)
  • being neutral and objective over being embodied and situated (Thayer-Bacon 1995a)
  • doubting over believing (Thayer-Bacon 1995b)
  • reason over emotion, imagination and intuition (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • solitary thinking over collaborative thinking (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • written and spoken assignments over other forms of expression (Alston 2001)
  • attention to written and spoken communications over attention to human problems (Alston 2001)
  • winning debates in the public sphere over making and understanding meaning (Alston 2001)

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:

  • Focus on argument networks with dialectical exchanges reflecting contesting points of view rather than on atomic arguments, so as to develop “strong sense” critical thinking that transcends egocentric and sociocentric biases (Paul 1981, 1984).
  • Foster closeness to the subject-matter and feeling connected to others in order to inform a humane democracy (Martin 1992).
  • Develop “constructive thinking” as a social activity in a community of physically embodied and socially embedded inquirers with personal voices who value not only reason but also imagination, intuition and emotion (Thayer-Bacon 2000).
  • In developing critical thinking in school subjects, treat as important neither skills nor dispositions but opening worlds of meaning (Alston 2001).
  • Attend to the development of critical thinking dispositions as well as skills, and adopt the “critical pedagogy” practised and advocated by Freire (1968 [1970]) and hooks (1994) (Dalgleish, Girard, & Davies 2017).

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.

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Article • 8 min read

Critical Thinking

Developing the right mindset and skills.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

We make hundreds of decisions every day and, whether we realize it or not, we're all critical thinkers.

We use critical thinking each time we weigh up our options, prioritize our responsibilities, or think about the likely effects of our actions. It's a crucial skill that helps us to cut out misinformation and make wise decisions. The trouble is, we're not always very good at it!

In this article, we'll explore the key skills that you need to develop your critical thinking skills, and how to adopt a critical thinking mindset, so that you can make well-informed decisions.

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the discipline of rigorously and skillfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions, and beliefs. You'll need to actively question every step of your thinking process to do it well.

Collecting, analyzing and evaluating information is an important skill in life, and a highly valued asset in the workplace. People who score highly in critical thinking assessments are also rated by their managers as having good problem-solving skills, creativity, strong decision-making skills, and good overall performance. [1]

Key Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinkers possess a set of key characteristics which help them to question information and their own thinking. Focus on the following areas to develop your critical thinking skills:

Being willing and able to explore alternative approaches and experimental ideas is crucial. Can you think through "what if" scenarios, create plausible options, and test out your theories? If not, you'll tend to write off ideas and options too soon, so you may miss the best answer to your situation.

To nurture your curiosity, stay up to date with facts and trends. You'll overlook important information if you allow yourself to become "blinkered," so always be open to new information.

But don't stop there! Look for opposing views or evidence to challenge your information, and seek clarification when things are unclear. This will help you to reassess your beliefs and make a well-informed decision later. Read our article, Opening Closed Minds , for more ways to stay receptive.

Logical Thinking

You must be skilled at reasoning and extending logic to come up with plausible options or outcomes.

It's also important to emphasize logic over emotion. Emotion can be motivating but it can also lead you to take hasty and unwise action, so control your emotions and be cautious in your judgments. Know when a conclusion is "fact" and when it is not. "Could-be-true" conclusions are based on assumptions and must be tested further. Read our article, Logical Fallacies , for help with this.

Use creative problem solving to balance cold logic. By thinking outside of the box you can identify new possible outcomes by using pieces of information that you already have.


Many of the decisions we make in life are subtly informed by our values and beliefs. These influences are called cognitive biases and it can be difficult to identify them in ourselves because they're often subconscious.

Practicing self-awareness will allow you to reflect on the beliefs you have and the choices you make. You'll then be better equipped to challenge your own thinking and make improved, unbiased decisions.

One particularly useful tool for critical thinking is the Ladder of Inference . It allows you to test and validate your thinking process, rather than jumping to poorly supported conclusions.

Developing a Critical Thinking Mindset

Combine the above skills with the right mindset so that you can make better decisions and adopt more effective courses of action. You can develop your critical thinking mindset by following this process:

Gather Information

First, collect data, opinions and facts on the issue that you need to solve. Draw on what you already know, and turn to new sources of information to help inform your understanding. Consider what gaps there are in your knowledge and seek to fill them. And look for information that challenges your assumptions and beliefs.

Be sure to verify the authority and authenticity of your sources. Not everything you read is true! Use this checklist to ensure that your information is valid:

  • Are your information sources trustworthy ? (For example, well-respected authors, trusted colleagues or peers, recognized industry publications, websites, blogs, etc.)
  • Is the information you have gathered up to date ?
  • Has the information received any direct criticism ?
  • Does the information have any errors or inaccuracies ?
  • Is there any evidence to support or corroborate the information you have gathered?
  • Is the information you have gathered subjective or biased in any way? (For example, is it based on opinion, rather than fact? Is any of the information you have gathered designed to promote a particular service or organization?)

If any information appears to be irrelevant or invalid, don't include it in your decision making. But don't omit information just because you disagree with it, or your final decision will be flawed and bias.

Now observe the information you have gathered, and interpret it. What are the key findings and main takeaways? What does the evidence point to? Start to build one or two possible arguments based on what you have found.

You'll need to look for the details within the mass of information, so use your powers of observation to identify any patterns or similarities. You can then analyze and extend these trends to make sensible predictions about the future.

To help you to sift through the multiple ideas and theories, it can be useful to group and order items according to their characteristics. From here, you can compare and contrast the different items. And once you've determined how similar or different things are from one another, Paired Comparison Analysis can help you to analyze them.

The final step involves challenging the information and rationalizing its arguments.

Apply the laws of reason (induction, deduction, analogy) to judge an argument and determine its merits. To do this, it's essential that you can determine the significance and validity of an argument to put it in the correct perspective. Take a look at our article, Rational Thinking , for more information about how to do this.

Once you have considered all of the arguments and options rationally, you can finally make an informed decision.

Afterward, take time to reflect on what you have learned and what you found challenging. Step back from the detail of your decision or problem, and look at the bigger picture. Record what you've learned from your observations and experience.

Critical thinking involves rigorously and skilfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions and beliefs. It's a useful skill in the workplace and in life.

You'll need to be curious and creative to explore alternative possibilities, but rational to apply logic, and self-aware to identify when your beliefs could affect your decisions or actions.

You can demonstrate a high level of critical thinking by validating your information, analyzing its meaning, and finally evaluating the argument.

Critical Thinking Infographic

See Critical Thinking represented in our infographic: An Elementary Guide to Critical Thinking .

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Part Two: You are the President and CEO of You

Thinking Critically and Creatively

Dr. andrew robert baker.

Critical and creative thinking skills are perhaps the most fundamental skills involved in making judgments and solving problems. They are some of the most important skills I have ever developed. I use them everyday and continue to work to improve them both.

The ability to think critically about a matter—to analyze a question, situation, or problem down to its most basic parts—is what helps us evaluate the accuracy and truthfulness of statements, claims, and information we read and hear. It is the sharp knife that, when honed, separates fact from fiction, honesty from lies, and the accurate from the misleading. We all use this skill to one degree or another almost every day. For example, we use critical thinking every day as we consider the latest consumer products and why one particular product is the best among its peers. Is it a quality product because a celebrity endorses it? Because a lot of other people may have used it? Because it is made by one company versus another? Or perhaps because it is made in one country or another? These are questions representative of critical thinking.

The academic setting demands more of us in terms of critical thinking than everyday life. It demands that we evaluate information and analyze a myriad of issues. It is the environment where our critical thinking skills can be the difference between success and failure. In this environment we must consider information in an analytical, critical manner. We must ask questions—What is the source of this information? Is this source an expert one and what makes it so? Are there multiple perspectives to consider on an issue? Do multiple sources agree or disagree on an issue? Does quality research substantiate information or opinion? Do I have any personal biases that may affect my consideration of this information? It is only through purposeful, frequent, intentional questioning such as this that we can sharpen our critical thinking skills and improve as students, learners, and researchers. Developing my critical thinking skills over a twenty year period as a student in higher education enabled me to complete a quantitative dissertation, including analyzing research and completing statistical analysis, and earning my Ph.D. in 2014.

While critical thinking analyzes information and roots out the true nature and facets of problems, it is creative thinking that drives progress forward when it comes to solving these problems. Exceptional creative thinkers are people that invent new solutions to existing problems that do not rely on past or current solutions. They are the ones who invent solution C when everyone else is still arguing between A and B. Creative thinking skills involve using strategies to clear the mind so that our thoughts and ideas can transcend the current limitations of a problem and allow us to see beyond barriers that prevent new solutions from being found.

Brainstorming is the simplest example of intentional creative thinking that most people have tried at least once. With the quick generation of many ideas at once we can block-out our brain’s natural tendency to limit our solution-generating abilities so we can access and combine many possible solutions/thoughts and invent new ones. It is sort of like sprinting through a race’s finish line only to find there is new track on the other side and we can keep going, if we choose. As with critical thinking, higher education both demands creative thinking from us and is the perfect place to practice and develop the skill. Everything from word problems in a math class, to opinion or persuasive speeches and papers, call upon our creative thinking skills to generate new solutions and perspectives in response to our professor’s demands. Creative thinking skills ask questions such as—What if? Why not? What else is out there? Can I combine perspectives/solutions? What is something no one else has brought-up? What is being forgotten/ignored? What about ______? It is the opening of doors and options that follows problem-identification.

Consider an assignment that required you to compare two different authors on the topic of education and select and defend one as better. Now add to this scenario that your professor clearly prefers one author over the other. While critical thinking can get you as far as identifying the similarities and differences between these authors and evaluating their merits, it is creative thinking that you must use if you wish to challenge your professor’s opinion and invent new perspectives on the authors that have not previously been considered.

So, what can we do to develop our critical and creative thinking skills? Although many students may dislike it, group work is an excellent way to develop our thinking skills. Many times I have heard from students their disdain for working in groups based on scheduling, varied levels of commitment to the group or project, and personality conflicts too, of course. True—it’s not always easy, but that is why it is so effective. When we work collaboratively on a project or problem we bring many brains to bear on a subject. These different brains will naturally develop varied ways of solving or explaining problems and examining information. To the observant individual we see that this places us in a constant state of back and forth critical/creative thinking modes.

For example, in group work we are simultaneously analyzing information and generating solutions on our own, while challenging other’s analyses/ideas and responding to challenges to our own analyses/ideas. This is part of why students tend to avoid group work—it challenges us as thinkers and forces us to analyze others while defending ourselves, which is not something we are used to or comfortable with as most of our educational experiences involve solo work. Your professors know this—that’s why we assign it—to help you grow as students, learners, and thinkers!

Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom Copyright © 2015 by Thomas Priester is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Original research article, fostering creativity and critical thinking in college: a cross-cultural investigation.

is critical thinking necessary for creativity

  • 1 Department of Psychology, Pace University, New York, NY, United States
  • 2 Developmental and Educational Research Center for Children's Creativity, Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China

Enhancing creativity and critical thinking have garnered the attention of educators and researchers for decades. They have been highlighted as essential skills for the 21st century. A total of 103 United States students (53 female, 24 male, two non-binary, and 24 non-reporting) and 166 Chinese students (128 female, 30 male, one non-binary, and seven non-reporting) completed an online survey. The survey includes the STEAM-related creative problem solving, Sternberg scientific reasoning tasks, psychological critical thinking (PCT) exam, California critical thinking (CCT) skills test, and college experience survey, as well as a demographic questionnaire. A confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) yields a two-factor model for all creativity and critical thinking measurements. Yet, the two latent factors are strongly associated with each other ( r =0.84). Moreover, Chinese students outperform American students in measures of critical thinking, whereas Americans outperform Chinese students in measures of creativity. Lastly, the results also demonstrate that having some college research experience (such as taking research method courses) could positively influence both United States and Chinese students’ creativity and critical thinking skills. Implications are discussed.


Creativity and critical thinking have been recognized as essential skills in the 21st century ( National Education Association, 2012 ). Many researchers and educators have focused on these two skills, including acquisition, enhancement, and performance. In addition, numerous studies have been devoted to understanding the conceptual complexities involved in creativity and critical thinking. Although similar to each other, creativity and critical thinking are distinctive by definition, each with a different emphasis.

The concept of creativity has evolved over the years. It was almost exclusively conceptualized as divergent thinking when Guilford (1956 , 1986) proposed divergent thinking as a part of intelligence. Earlier measures of creativity took the approach of divergent thinking, measuring creative potential ( Wallach and Kogan, 1965 ; Torrance, 1966 , 1988 ; Runco and Albert, 1986 ; Kim, 2005 ). In 1990s, many creativity scholars challenged the validity of tests of divergent thinking, and suggested that divergent thinking only captures the trivial sense of creativity, and proposed to use the product-oriented method to measure creativity ( Csikszentmihalyi, 1988 ; Amabile, 1996 ; Sternberg and Lubart, 1999 ). A system model of creativity, which recognizes the important roles individual, field, and domain have played, was used as a framework to conceptualize creativity. A widely accepted definition for creativity is a person’s ability to generate an idea or product that is deemed as both novel and appropriate by experts in a field of human activities ( Scott and Bruce, 1994 ; Amabile, 1996 ; Csikszentmihalyi, 1999 ; Sternberg and Lubart, 1999 ; Hunter et al., 2007 ). Corazza and Lubart (2021) recently proposed a dynamic definition of creativity, in which creativity is defined as a context-embedded phenomenon that is tightly related to the cultural and social environment. Based on this new definition, measures of creativity should be context-specific and culturally relevant, especially when it is examined cross-culturally.

Similarly, the conceptualization of critical thinking has also evolved over the years. Earlier definitions emphasized the broad multidimensional aspects of critical thinking, including at least three aspects: attitude, knowledge, and skills ( Glaser, 1941 ). The definition has been evolved to include specific components for each aspect ( Watson and Glaser, 1980 ). For example, critical thinking is recognized as the ability to use cognitive skills or strategies to increase the probability of a desirable outcome ( Halpern, 1999 ). More specifically, cognitive skills such as evaluation, problem-solving, reflective thinking, logical reasoning, and probability thinking are recognized as parts of critical thinking skills in research and assessments ( Ennis, 1987 , Scriven and Paul, 1987 , Halpern, 1999 ). Moving into the 21st century, metacognition and self-regulatory skills have also become essential components for critical thinking in addition to the cognitive skills recognized by earlier scholars ( Korn, 2014 , Paul and Elder, 2019 ).

Similar to the concept of creativity, critical thinking is also viewed as multidimensional and domain specific ( Bensley and Murtagh, 2012 ). For example, critical thinking in psychology, also referred to as psychological critical thinking (PCT), is defined as one’s ability to evaluate claims in a way that explicitly incorporates basic principles of psychological science ( Lawson, 1999 ). As one of the important hub sciences, psychology is often regarded as a foundational course for scientific training in American higher education ( Boyack et al., 2005 ). In psychological discourse, critical thinking is often defined in tandem with scientific thinking, which places significance on hypothesis-testing and problem-solving in order to reduce bias and erroneous beliefs ( Halpern, 1984 ; American Psychological Association, 2016 ; Lamont, 2020 ; Sternberg and Halpern, 2020 ). Based on this definition, measures of critical thinking should assess cognitive skills (i.e., evaluation, logical reasoning) and ability to utilize scientific methods for problem-solving.

In addition to the evolution of the definitions of critical thinking and creativity, research into these two concepts has led to the development of various measurements. For both concepts, there have been numerous measurements that have been studied, utilized, and improved.

The complexities associated with creativity (i.e., context-relevant and domain-specificity) pose a major issue for its measurement. Many different types of creativity measures have been developed in the past. Measures using a divergent thinking approach, such as the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking ( Torrance, 1974 ) and Alternate Uses Test ( Guilford et al., 1960 ), a product-oriented approach, a third person nomination approach, as well as a self-report approach measuring personality ( Gough, 1979 ), creative behavior ( Hocevar and Michael, 1979 ; Rodriguez-Boerwinkle et al., 2021 ), and creative achievement ( Carson et al., 2005 ; Diedrich et al., 2018 ).

Both the divergent thinking and the product-oriented approaches have been widely used in the creativity literature to objectively measure creativity. The tasks of both approaches are generally heuristic, meaning that no correct answer is expected and the process does not need to be rational. When scoring divergent thinking, the number of responses (i.e., fluency) and the rareness of the response (i.e., originality) were used to represent creativity. When scoring products using the product-orientated approach, a group of experts provides their subjective ratings on various dimensions such as originality, appropriateness, and aesthetically appealing to these products using their subjective criteria. When there is a consensus among the experts, average ratings of these expert scores are used to represent the creativity of the products. This approach is also named as Consensual Assessment Technique (CAT; Amabile, 1982 , 1996 ). Some scholars viewed the CAT approach as focusing on the convergent aspect of creativity ( Lubart et al., 2013 ). Recognizing the importance of divergent and convergent thinking in conceptualizing creativity, Lubart et al. (2013) have suggested including divergent thinking and product-oriented approach (i.e., CAT) to objective measures of creativity ( Barbot et al., 2011 ).

Similar to measures of creativity, measurements of critical thinking are also multilevel and multi-approach. In an article reviewing the construction of critical thinking in psychological studies, Lamont (2020) argues that critical thinking became a scientific object when psychologists attempted to measure it. Different from measures of creativity, where the tasks are heuristic in nature, measures of critical thinking require participants to engage in logical thinking. Therefore, the nature of critical thinking tasks is more algorithmic.

The interest in the study of critical thinking is evident in the increased efforts in the past decades to measure such a complex, multidimensional skill. Watson-Glaser Tests for Critical Thinking ( Watson and Glaser, 1938 ) is widely recognized as the first official measure of critical thinking. Since then, numerous measurements of critical thinking have been developed to evaluate both overall and domain-specific critical thinking, such as the PCT Exam ( Lawson, 1999 ; See Mueller et al., 2020 for list of assessments). A few of the most commonly used contemporary measures of critical thinking include the Watson-Glaser Test for Critical Thinking Appraisals ( Watson and Glaser, 1980 ), Cornell Critical Thinking Test ( Ennis et al., 1985 ), and California Critical Thinking (CCT) Skills Test ( Facione and Facione, 1994 ). As the best established and widely used standardized critical thinking measures, these tests have been validated in various studies and have been used as a criterion for meta-analyses ( Niu et al., 2013 ; Ross et al., 2013 ).

There have also been concerns regarding the usage of these standardized measures of critical thinking on its own due to its emphasis on measuring general cognitive abilities of participants, while negating the domain-specific aspect of critical thinking ( Lamont, 2020 ). The issues associated with standardized measures are not unique to standardized critical thinking measures, as same types of criticisms have been raised for standardized college admissions measures such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). To develop an assessment that encompasses a broader range of student abilities that is more aligned to scientific disciplines, Sternberg and Sternberg (2017) developed a scientific inquiry and reasoning measure. This measure is aimed to assess participants’ ability to utilize scientific methods and to think scientifically in order to investigate a topic or solve a problem ( Sternberg and Sternberg, 2017 ). The strength of this measure is that it assesses students’ abilities (i.e., ability to think critically) that are domain-specific and relevant to the sciences. Considering the multidimensional aspect of critical thinking, a combination of a standardized critical thinking measure, an assessment measuring cognitive abilities involved in critical thinking; and a measure that assesses domain-specific critical thinking, would provide a comprehensive evaluation of critical thinking.

The Relationship Between Creativity and Critical Thinking

Most of the studies thus far referenced have investigated creativity and critical thinking separately; however, the discussion on the relationship between creativity and critical thinking spans decades of research ( Barron and Harrington, 1981 ; Glassner and Schwartz, 2007 ; Wechsler et al., 2018 ; Akpur, 2020 ). Some earlier studies on the relationship between divergent thinking and critical thinking have observed a moderate correlation ( r =0.23, p <0.05) between the two ( Gibson et al., 1968 ). Using measures of creative personality, Gadzella and Penland (1995) also found a moderate correlation ( r =0.36, p <0.05) between creative personality and critical thinking.

Recent studies have further supported the positive correlation between critical thinking and creativity. For example, using the creative thinking disposition scale to measure creativity, Akpur (2020) found a moderate correlation between the two among college students ( r =0.27, p <0.05). Similarly, using the critical thinking disposition scale to measure critical thinking and scientific creativity scale and creative self-efficacy scale to measure creativity, Qiang et al. (2020) studied the relationship between critical thinking and creativity to a large sample of high school students ( n =1,153). They found that the relationship between the two varied depending on the type of measurement of creativity. More specifically, the correlation between critical thinking disposition and creative self-efficacy was r =0.045 ( p <0.001), whereas the correlation between critical thinking disposition and scientific creativity was r =0.15 ( p <0.01).

Recognizing the moderate relationship between the two, researchers have also aimed to study the independence of creativity and critical thinking. Some studies have found evidence that these constructs are relatively autonomous. The results of Wechsler et al. (2018) study, which aimed to investigate whether creativity and critical thinking are independent or complementary processes, found a relative autonomy of creativity and critical thinking and found that the variables were only moderately correlated. The researchers in this study suggest that a model that differentiated the two latent variables associated with creativity and critical thinking dimensions was the most appropriate method of analysis ( Wechsler et al., 2018 ). Evidence to suggest that creativity and critical thinking are fairly independent processes was also found in study of Ling and Loh (2020) . The results of their research, which examined the relationship of creativity and critical thinking to pattern recognition, revealed that creativity is a weak predictor of pattern recognition. In contrast, critical thinking is a good predictor ( Ling and Loh, 2020 ).

It is worth noting that a possible explanation for the inconsistencies in these studies’ results is the variance in the definition and the measures used to evaluate creativity and critical thinking. Based on the current literature on the relationship between creativity and critical thinking, we believe that more investigation was needed to further clarify the relationship between creativity and critical thinking which became a catalyst for the current study.

Cross-Cultural Differences in Creativity and Critical Thinking Performance

Results from various cross-cultural studies suggest that there are differences in creativity and critical thinking skills among cultures. A common belief is that individuals from Western cultures are believed to be more critical and creative compared to non-Westerners, whereas individuals from non-Western cultures are believed to be better at critical thinking related tasks compared to Westerners ( Ng, 2001 ; Wong and Niu, 2013 ; Lee et al., 2015 ). For example, Wong and Niu (2013) found a persistent cultural stereotype regarding creativity and critical thinking skills that exist cross-culturally. In their study, both Chinese and Americans believed that Chinese perform better in deductive reasoning (a skill comparable to critical thinking) and that Americans perform better on creativity. This stereotype belief was found to be incredibly persistent as participants did not change their opinions even when presented with data that contradicted their beliefs.

Interestingly, research does suggest that such a stereotype might be based on scientific evidence ( Niu et al., 2007 ; Wong and Niu, 2013 ). In the same study, it was revealed that Chinese did in fact perform better than Americans in deductive reasoning, and Americans performed better in creativity tests ( Wong and Niu, 2013 ). Similarly, Lee et al. (2015) found that compared to American students, Korean students believed that they are more prone to use receptive learning abilities (remembering and reproducing what is taught) instead of critical and creative learning abilities.

Cultural Influence on Critical Thinking

Other studies investigating the cultural influence on critical thinking have had more nuanced findings. Manalo et al. (2013) study of university students from New Zealand and Japan found that culture-related factors (self-construal, regulatory mode, and self-efficacy) do influence students’ critical thinking use. Still, the differences in those factors do not necessarily equate to differences in critical thinking. Their results found that students from Western and Asian cultural environments did not have significant differences in their reported use of critical thinking. The researchers in this study suggest that perhaps the skills and values nurtured in the educational environment have a more significant influence on students’ use of critical thinking ( Manalo et al., 2013 ).

Another study found that New Zealand European students performed better on objective measures of critical thinking than Chinese students. Still, such differences could be explained by the student’s English proficiency and not dialectical thinking style. It was also revealed in this study that Chinese students tended to rely more on dialectical thinking to solve critical thinking problems compared to the New Zealand European students ( Lun et al., 2010 ). Other research on the cultural differences in thinking styles revealed that Westerners are more likely to use formal logical rules in reasoning. In contrast, Asians are more likely to use intuitive experience-based sense when solving critical thinking problems ( Nisbett et al., 2001 ).

These studies suggest that culture can be used as a broad taxonomy to explain differences in critical thinking use. Still, one must consider the educational environment and thinking styles when studying the nature of the observed discrepancies. For instance, cultural differences in thinking style, in particular, might explain why Westerners perform better on some critical thinking measures, whereas Easterners perform better on others.

Cultural Influence on Creative Performance

Historically, creativity studies have suggested that individuals from non-Western cultures are not as creative as Westerners ( Torrance, 1974 ; Jellen and Urban, 1989 ; Niu and Sternberg, 2001 ; Tang et al., 2015 ). For example, in one study, Americans generated more aesthetically pleasing artworks (as judged by both American and Chinese judges) than Chinese ( Niu and Sternberg, 2001 ). However, recent creativity research has suggested that cross-cultural differences are primarily attributable to the definition of creativity rather than the level of creativity between cultures. As aforementioned, creativity is defined as an idea or product that is both novel and appropriate. Many cross-cultural studies have found that Westerners have a preference and perform better in the novelty aspect, and Easterners have a preference and perform better in the appropriateness aspect. In cross-cultural studies, Rockstuhl and Ng (2008) found that Israelis tend to generate more original ideas than their Singaporean counterparts. In contrast, Singaporeans tend to produce more appropriate ideas. Bechtoldt et al. (2012) found in their study that Koreans generated more useful ideas, whereas Dutch students developed more original ideas. Liou and Lan (2018) found Taiwanese tend to create and select more useful ideas, whereas Americans tend to generate and choose more novel ideas. The differences in creativity preference and performance found in these studies suggest that cultural influence is a prominent factor in creativity.

In summary, cross-cultural studies have supported the notion that culture influences both creativity and critical thinking. This cultural influence seems relatively unambiguous in creativity as it has been found in multiple studies that cultural background can explain differences in performance and preference to the dual features of creativity. Critical thinking has also been influenced by culture, albeit in an opaquer nature in comparison to creativity. Critical thinking is ubiquitous in all cultures, but the conception of critical thinking and the methods used to think critically (i.e., thinking styles) are influenced by cultural factors.

Influence of College Experience on Creativity and Critical Thinking

Given its significance as a core academic ability, the hypothesis of many colleges and universities emphasize that students will gain critical thinking skills as the result of their education. Fortunately, studies have shown that these efforts have had some promising outcomes. Around 92% of students in multi-institution research reported gains in critical thinking. Only 8.9% of students believed that their critical thinking had not changed or had grown weaker ( Tsui, 1998 ). A more recent meta-analysis by Huber and Kuncel (2016) found that students make substantial gains in critical thinking during college. In addition, the efforts to enhance necessary thinking skills have led to the development of various skill-specific courses. Mill et al. (1994) found that among three groups of undergraduate students, a group that received tutorial sessions and took research methodology and statistics performed significantly better on scientific reasoning and critical thinking abilities tests than control groups. Penningroth et al. (2007) found that students who took a class in which they were required to engage in active learning and critical evaluation of claims by applying scientific concepts, had greater improvement in psychological critical thinking than students in the comparison groups. There have also been studies in which students’ scientific inquiry and critical thinking skills have improved by taking a course designed with specific science thinking and reasoning modules ( Stevens and Witkow, 2014 ; Stevens et al., 2016 ).

Using a Survey of Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), Lopatto (2004 , 2008) found that research experience can help students gain various learning skills such as ability to integrate theory and practice, ability to analyze data, skill in the interpretation of results, and understanding how scientists work on problem. All of these learning skills correspond to at least one of the dimensions mentioned earlier in the definition of critical thinking (i.e., evaluation, analytical thinking, and problem solving through). Thus, results of SURE provide evidence that critical thinking can be enhanced through research experience ( Lopatto, 2004 , 2008 ).

In comparison to critical thinking, only a few studies have examined the interaction between creativity and college experience. Previous research on STEM provides some evidence to suggest that STEM education can promote the learner’s creativity ( Land, 2013 , Guo and Woulfin, 2016 , Kuo et al., 2018 ). Notably, study of Kuo et al. (2018) suggest that project-based learning in STEM has the merits of improving one’s creativity. They found that the STEM Interdisciplinary Project-Based Learning (IPBL) course is a practical approach to improve college student’s creativity ( Kuo et al., 2018 ). College research experience in particular, has been reported as important or very important by faculty and students for learning how to approach problems creatively ( Zydney et al., 2002 ).

Although specific college courses aimed to enhance creativity have been scarce, some training programs have been developed specifically to improve creativity. Scott et al. (2004) conducted a quantitative review of various creativity training and found that divergent thinking, creative problem solving, and creativity performance can be enhanced through skill-specific training programs. Embodied creativity training programs, consisting of creativity fitness exercises and intensive workshops, have also been effective in enhancing participants’ creative production and improving their creative self-efficacy ( Byrge and Tang, 2015 ).

Both critical thinking and creativity were also found to be important in students’ learning. Using a longitudinal design for one semester to 52 graduate students in biology, Siburian et al. (2019) studied how critical thinking and creative thinking contribute to improving cognitive learning skills. They found that both critical and creative thinking significantly contributes to enhancing cognitive learning skills ( R 2 =0.728). They each contribute separately to the development of cognitive learning skills ( b was 0.123 between critical thinking and cognitive learning and 0.765 between creative thinking and cognitive learning). The results from research on creativity and critical thinking indicate that training and experiences of students in college can enhance both of these skills.

Current Study

Previous literature on creativity and critical thinking suggests that there is a positive correlation between these two skills. Moreover, cultural background influences creativity and critical thinking conception and performance. However, our literature review suggests that there are only a few studies that have investigated creativity and critical thinking simultaneously to examine whether cultural background is a significant influence in performance. In addition, most of the past research on creativity and critical thinking have relied on dispositions or self-reports to measure the two skills and the investigation on the actual performance have been scarce. Lastly, past studies suggest that the acquisition and enhancement of these skills are influenced by various factors. Notably, college experience and skill-specific training have been found to improve both creativity and critical thinking. However, it is not yet clear how college experience aids in fostering creativity and critical thinking and which elements of college education are beneficial for enhancing these two skills. The cultural influence on creativity and critical thinking performance also needs further investigation.

The current study aimed to answer two questions related to this line of thought. How does culture influence creativity and critical thinking performance? How does college experience affect creativity and critical thinking? Based on past findings, we developed three hypotheses. First, we hypothesized that there is a positive association between critical thinking and creativity. Second, we suggest that college students from different countries have different levels of creativity and critical thinking. More specifically, we predicted that United States students would perform better than Chinese students on both creativity and critical thinking. Last, we hypothesized that having college research experience (through courses or research labs) will enhance creativity and critical thinking.

Materials and Methods


The study was examined by the Internal Review Board by the host university in the United States and obtained an agreement from a partner university in China to meet the ethical standard of both countries.

Participants include 103 university students from the United States and 166 university students from Mainland China. Among all participants, 181 were female (67.3%), 54 were male (20.1%), non-binary or gender fluid ( n =3, 1.1%), and some did not report their gender ( n =31, 11.5%). The majority of participants majored in social sciences ( n =197, 73.2%). Other disciplines include business and management ( n =38, 14.1%), engineering and IT ( n =20, 7.4%), and sciences ( n =14, 5.2%). A Chi-square analysis was performed to see if the background in major was different between the American and Chinese samples. The results showed that the two samples are comparable in college majors, X 2 (3, 265) =5.50, p =0.138.

The American participants were recruited through campus recruitment flyers and a commercial website called Prolific (online survey distribution website). Ethnicities of the American participants were White ( n =44, 42.7%), Asian ( n =13, 12.6%), Black or African American ( n =11, 10.7%), Hispanic or Latinos ( n =5, 4.9%), and some did not report their ethnicity ( n =30, 29.1%). The Chinese participants were recruited through online recruitment flyers. All Chinese students were of Han ethnicity.

After reviewing and signing an online consent form, both samples completed a Qualtrics survey containing creativity and critical thinking measures.


Steam related creative problem solving.

This is a self-designed measurement, examining participant’s divergent and convergent creative thinking in solving STEAM-related real-life problems. It includes three vignettes, each depicting an issue that needs to be resolved. Participants were given a choice to pick two vignettes to which they would like to provide possible solutions for. Participants were asked to provide their answers in two parts. In the first part, participants were asked to provide as many solutions as they can think of for the problem depicted (divergent). In the second part, participants were asked to choose one of the solutions they gave in the first part that they believe is the most creative and elaborate on how they would carry out the solution (convergent).

The responses for the first part of the problem (i.e., divergent) were scored based on fluency (number of solutions given). Each participant received a score on fluency by averaging the number of solutions given across three tasks. In order to score the originality of the second part of the solution (i.e., convergent), we invited four graduate students who studied creativity for at least 1year as expert judges to independently rate the originality of all solutions. The Cronbach’s Alpha of the expert ratings was acceptable for all three vignette solutions (0.809, 0.906, and 0.703). We then averaged the originality scores provided by the four experts to represent the originality of each solution. We then averaged the top three solutions as rated by the experts to represent the student’s performance on originality. In the end, each student received two scores on this task: fluency and originality.

Psychological Critical Thinking Exam

We adopted an updated PCT Exam developed by Lawson et al. (2015) , which made improvements to the original measure ( Lawson, 1999 ). We used PCT to measure the participants’ domain-specific critical thinking: critical thinking involved in the sciences. The initial assessment aimed to examine the critical thinking of psychology majors; however, the updated measure was developed so that it can be used to examine students’ critical thinking in a variety of majors. The split-half reliability of the revised measurement was 0.88, and test-retest reliability was 0.90 ( Lawson et al., 2015 ). Participants were asked to identify issues with a problematic claim made in two short vignettes. For example, one of the questions states:

Over the past few years, Jody has had several dreams that apparently predicted actual events. For example, in one dream, she saw a car accident and later that week she saw a van run into the side of a pickup truck. In another dream, she saw dark black clouds and lightning and 2days later a loud thunderstorm hit her neighborhood. She believes these events are evidence that she has a psychic ability to predict the future through her dreams. Could the event have occurred by chance? State whether or not there is a problem with the person’s conclusions and explain the problem (if there is one).

Responses were scored based on the rubric provided in the original measurement ( Lawson et al., 2015 ). If no problem was identified the participants would receive zero points. If a problem was recognized but misidentified, the participants would receive one point. If the main problem was identified and other less relevant problems were identified, the participants received two points. If participants identified only the main problem, they received three points. Following the rubric, four graduate students independently rated the students’ critical thinking task. The Cronbach’s Alpha of the expert ratings was acceptable for both vignettes (0.773 and 0.712). The average of the four scores given by the experts was used as the final score for the participants.

California Critical Thinking Skills Test

This objective measure of critical thinking was developed by Facione and Facione (1994) . We used CCT to measure a few of the multidimensions of critical thinking such as evaluation, logical reasoning, and probability thinking. Five sample items provided from Insight Assessment were used instead of the standard 40-min long CCT. Participants were presented with everyday scenarios with 4–6 answer choices. Participants were asked to make an accurate and complete interpretation of the question in order to correctly answer the question by choosing the right answer choice (each correct answer was worth one point). This test is commonly used to measure critical thinking, and previous research has reported its reliability as r =0.86 ( Hariri and Bagherinejad, 2012 ).

Sternberg Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning

This measure was developed by Sternberg and Sternberg (2017) as an assessment of scientific reasoning. We used this assessment as a domain-specific assessment to measure participants’ scientific creativity (generating testable hypotheses) and scientific critical thinking involved in generating experiments. For this two-part measure, participants were asked to read two short vignettes. For one of the vignettes, participants were asked to generate as many hypotheses as possible to explain the events described in the vignette. For the other, create an experiment to test the hypothesis mentioned in the vignette.

After carefully reviewing the measurement, we notice that the nature of the tasks in the first part of this measure (hypothesis generation) relied on heuristics, requiring participants to engage in divergent thinking. The number of valid hypotheses provided (i.e., fluency) was used to represent the performance of this task. We, therefore, deem that this part measures creativity. In contrast, the second part of the measure, experiment generation, asked participants to use valid scientific methods to design an experiment following the procedure of critical thinking such as evaluation, problem-solving, and task evaluation. Its scoring also followed algorithms so that a correct answer could be achieved. For the above reasons, we believe hypotheses generation is a measurement of creativity and experiment generation is a measurement for critical thinking.

Based on the recommended scoring manual, one graduate student calculated the fluency score from the hypothesis generation measurement. Four experts read through all students’ responses to the experiment generation. They discussed a rubric on how to score these responses, using a four-point scale, with a “0” representing no response or wrong response, a “1” representing partially correct, a “2” representing correct response. An additional point (the three points) was added if the participant provided multiple design methods. Based on the above rubric, the four experts independently scored this part of the questionnaire. The Cronbach’s Alpha of the four expert ratings was 0.792. The average score of the four judges was used to represent their critical thinking scores on this task.

College Experience Survey

Participants were asked about their past research experience, either specifically in psychology or in general academia. Participants were asked to choose between three choices: no research experience, intermediate research experience (i.e., research work for class, research work for lab), and advanced research experience (i.e., professional research experience, published works).

Demographic and Background Questionnaire

Series of standard demographic questions were asked, including participants’ age, gender, and ethnicity.

We performed a Pearson correlation to examine the relationship between creativity and critical thinking (the two-c), which include performances on three measures on creativity ( creativity originality , creativity fluency , and hypothesis generation ) and three measures on critical thinking ( experiment generation , CCT , and PCT ).

Most of the dependent variables had a significantly positive correlation. The only insignificant correlation was found between Sternberg hypothesis generation and CCT, r (247) =0.024, p =0.708 (see Table 1 ).


Table 1 . Correlation coefficients for study variables.

Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was conducted by applying SEM through AMOS 21 software program and the maximum likelihood method. One-factor and two-factor models have been analyzed, respectively (see Figure 1 ).


Figure 1 . The comparison of the two confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) models: one-factor vs. two-factor.

As it is demonstrated in Table 2 , the value ranges of the most addressed fit indices used in the analysis of SEM are presented. Comparing two models, χ 2 /df of the two-factor model is in a good fit, while the index of the one-factor model is in acceptable fit. The comparison of the two models suggest that the two-factor model is a better model than the one-factor model.


Table 2 . Recommended values for evaluation and the obtained values.

Cross-Cultural Differences in Critical Thinking and Creativity

We conducted a 2 (Country: the United States vs. China)×2 (Two-C: Creativity and Critical Thinking) ANOVA to investigate the cultural differences in critical thinking and creativity. We averaged scores of three critical thinking measurement ( experiment generation , PCT , and CCT ) to represent critical thinking and averaged three creativity scores ( creativity originality , creativity fluency , and hypothesis generation ).

This analysis revealed a significant main effect for the type of thinking (i.e., creative vs. critical thinking), F (1,247) =464.77, p <0.01, η p 2 =0.653. Moreover, there was a significant interaction between country (i.e., the United States vs. China) and type of thinking, F (1,247) =62.00, p <0.01, η p 2 =0.201. More specifically, Chinese students ( M =1.32, SD =0.59) outperformed American students ( M =1.02, SD =0.44) on critical thinking. In contrast, American students ( M =2.59, SD =1.07) outperformed Chinese students ( M =2.05, SD =0.83) on creativity.

Influence of Research Experience on Critical Thinking and Creativity

The last hypothesis states that having college research experience (through courses or research lab) would enhance students’ creativity and critical thinking from both countries. We performed a 2 (Two-C: Creativity and Critical Thinking)×2 (Country: the United States vs. China)×3 (Research Experience: Advanced vs. Some vs. No) ANOVA to test this hypothesis. This analysis revealed a significant main effect for research experience, F (2,239) =4.05, p =0.019, η p 2 =0.033. Moreover, there was a significant interaction between country (i.e., the United States vs. China) and research experience, F (2,239) =5.77, p =0.004, η p 2 =0.046. In addition, there was a three-way interaction among country, two-C, and research experience. More specifically, with an increase of research experience for American students, both critical thinking and creativity improved. In contrast, for Chinese students, the impact of research experience was not significant for creativity. However, some research experience positively impacted Chinese students’ critical thinking (see Figure 2 ).


Figure 2 . Estimated marginal means of Two-C for the United States and Chinese samples.

The current study aimed to investigate the relationship between creativity and critical thinking, how culture influences creativity and critical thinking, and how college research experience affects creativity and critical thinking. Our results supported the first hypothesis regarding the positive correlation among all of the dependent variables. The mean correlation between the measures of creativity and critical thinking was 0.230. This result was in line with the findings from previous research ( Gibson et al., 1968 ; Gadzella and Penland, 1995 ; Siburian et al., 2019 ; Akpur, 2020 ; Qiang et al., 2020 ). Moreover, our confirmatory factor analysis yielded similar results as analysis of Wechsler et al. (2018) and Akpur (2020) and provides more evidence of the relative independence between creativity and critical thinking. We found that at the latent variable level, the two skills are highly correlated to each other ( r =0.84). In addition, we found that although the one-factor model was an acceptable fit, a two-factor model was a better fit for analysis. This result suggests that despite the correlation between creativity and critical thinking, the two skills should be studied as separate factors for an appropriate and comprehensive analysis.

The results of this study partially confirmed our second hypothesis and replicated the findings from past studies ( Niu et al., 2007 ; Lun et al., 2010 ; Wong and Niu, 2013 ; Tang et al., 2015 ). As predicted, there was a significant main effect for culture in students’ performance for all six measures in the two-C analysis model. United States students performed better than Chinese students in all three creativity measures, and Chinese students performed better than United States students in all critical thinking measures. Given the diversity in the type of measures used in this study, the results suggest that United States and Chinese students’ performance aligns with the stereotype belief found in study of Wong and Niu (2013) . The findings from the current study suggest that the stereotype belief observed in both United States and Chinese students (United States students generally perform better on creativity tasks, while Chinese students perform typically better on critical thinking tasks) is not entirely unfounded. Furthermore, the clear discrepancy in performance between United States and Chinese students provides more evidence to suggest that creativity and critical thinking are relatively autonomous skills. Although, a high correlation between these two skills was found in our study, the fact that students from two different cultures have two different development trajectories in critical thinking and creativity suggests that these two skills are relatively autonomous.

Lastly, the results also confirmed our third hypothesis, that is, college research experience did have a positive influence on students’ creativity and critical thinking. Compared to students with no research experience, students with some research experience performed significantly better in all measures of creativity and critical thinking. This finding is consistent with the previous literature ( Mill et al., 1994 ; Penningroth et al., 2007 ; Stevens and Witkow, 2014 ; Stevens et al., 2016 ; Kuo et al., 2018 ). The result of our study suggests that college research experience is significant to enhance both creativity and critical thinking. As research experience becomes a more essential component of college education, our results suggest that it not only can add credential for applying to graduate school or help students learn skills specific to research, but also help students enhance both creativity and critical thinking. Furthermore, it is worth noting that this nature held true for both Chinese and American students. To our knowledge, this is a first investigation examining the role of research experience in both creativity and critical thinking cross-culturally.

In addition to the report of our findings, we would like to address some limitations of our study. First, we would like to note that this is a correlational and cross-sectional study. A positive correlation between research experience and the two dependent variables does not necessarily mean causation. Our results indeed indicate a positive correlation between research experience and the two-C variables; however, we are not sure of the nature of this relationship. It is plausible that students with higher creativity and critical thinking skills are more engaged in research as much as it is to argue in favor of a reversed directional relationship. Second, we would like to note the sample bias in our study. Majority of our participants were female, majoring in the social sciences and a relatively high number of participants chose not to report their gender. Third, we would like to note that our study did not measure all creativity and critical thinking dimensions, we discussed in the introduction. Instead, we focused on a few key dimensions of creativity and critical thinking. Our primary focus was on divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and scientific creativity as well as few key dimensions of critical thinking (evaluation, logical reasoning, and probability thinking), scientific critical thinking involved in problem solving and hypothesis testing. Moreover, our results do not show what specific components of research training are beneficial for the enhancement of creativity and critical thinking.

For future research, a longitudinal design involving a field experiment will help investigate how different research training components affect the development of creativity and critical thinking. In addition, a cross-cultural study can further examine how and why the students from different cultures differ from each other in the development of these two potentials. As such, it might shed some light on the role of culture in creativity and critical thinking.

Conclusion and Implication

The result of our study provides few insights to the study of creativity and critical thinking. First, creativity and critical thinking are a different construct yet highly correlated. Second, whereas Americans perform better on creativity measures, Chinese perform better on critical thinking measures. Third, for both American and Chinese students, college research experience is a significant influence on the enhancement of creativity and critical thinking. As research experience becomes more and more essential to college education, its role can not only add professional and postgraduate credentials, but also help students enhance both creativity and critical thinking.

Based on our results, we recommend that research training be prioritized in higher education. Moreover, each culture has strengths to develop one skill over the other, hence, each culture could invest more in developing skills that were found to be weaker in our study. Eastern cultures can encourage more creativity and Western cultures can encourage more critical thinking.

To conclude, we would like to highlight that, although recognized globally as essential skills, methods to foster creativity and critical thinking skills and understanding creativity and critical thinking as a construct requires further research. Interestingly, our study found that experience of research itself can help enhance creativity and critical thinking. Our study also aimed to expand the knowledge of creativity and critical thinking literature through an investigation of the relationship of the two variables and how cultural background influences the performance of these two skills. We hope that our findings can provide insights for researchers and educators to find constructive methods to foster students’ essential 21st century skills, creativity and critical thinking, to ultimately enhance their global competence and life success.

Data Availability Statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

Ethics Statement

The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by Institutional Review Board at Pace University. The participants provided their informed consent online prior to participating in the study.

Author Contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

This work was supported by the International Joint Research Project of Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University (ICER201904), and a scholarly research funding by Pace University.

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Torrance, E. P. (1988). “The nature of creativity as manifest in its testing” in The Nature of Creativity. ed. Sternberg, R. J. (New York: Cambridge University Press), 43–73.

Tsui, L. (1998). Fostering Critical Thinking in College Students: A Mixed-Methods Study of Influences Inside and Outside of the Classroom (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 9917229)

Wallach, M. A., and Kogan, N. (1965). Modes of Thinking in Young Children: A Study of the Creativity-Intelligence Distinction. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Watson, G. B., and Glaser, E. M. (1938). The Watson-Glaser Tests of Critical Thinking. New York, NY: Institute for Propaganda Analysis.

Watson, G. B., and Glaser, E. M. (1980). WGCTA Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal Manual: Forms A and B. San Antonio: The Psychological Corporation.

Wechsler, S. M., Saiz, C., Rivas, S. F., Vendramini, C. M. M., Almeida, L. S., Mundim, M. C., et al. (2018). Creative and critical thinking: independent or overlapping components? Think. Skills Creat. 27, 114–122. doi: 10.1016/j.tsc.2017.12.003

Wong, R., and Niu, W. (2013). Cultural difference in stereotype perceptions and performances in nonverbal deductive reasoning and creativity. J. Creat. Behav. 47, 41–59. doi: 10.1002/jocb.22

Zydney, A. L., Bennett, J. S., Shahid, A., and Bauer, K. W. (2002). Faculty perspectives regarding the undergraduate research experience in science and engineering. J. Eng. Educ. 91, 291–297. doi: 10.1002/j.2168-9830.2002.tb00706.x

Keywords: creativity, critical thinking, cross-cultural differences, college, research experience

Citation: Park JH, Niu W, Cheng L and Allen H (2021) Fostering Creativity and Critical Thinking in College: A Cross-Cultural Investigation. Front. Psychol . 12:760351. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.760351

Received: 18 August 2021; Accepted: 11 October 2021; Published: 11 November 2021.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2021 Park, Niu, Cheng and Allen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Li Cheng, [email protected]

† These authors have contributed equally to this work and share first authorship

This article is part of the Research Topic

Creativity and Innovation in STEAM Education

Anthony D. Fredericks Ed.D.

How Creative Are You?

14 statements to help you (re)discover your natural creativity..

Posted December 28, 2023 | Reviewed by Tyler Woods

  • All too often, we discover that the unbridled creativity we had as kids is missing as adults.
  • There are significant beliefs and practices that can improve anyone's creative output.
  • Creativity improvement is a long-term investment, not a short-term solution.

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As we move from childhood to adulthood, we often discover a decrease in our personal creativity . Where we were once imaginative and free-thinking as kids, we now admit that our creative expression is often stifled by our education or work environment. Many people, perhaps yourself, discover that their creative spirit is often in short supply just when it’s needed most.

As I reviewed decades of research for my book, From Fizzle to Sizzle: The Hidden Forces Crushing Your Creativity and How You Can Overcome Them , I unearthed a unique assembly of beliefs that are clearly endemic in folks who typically generate an abundance of “out of the box” ideas. I also discovered a compelling story involving the creativity of engineers at a major oil company. Executives of the company were concerned about the lack of creative output on the part of these employees. They decided to bring in a team of psychologists to see if they could determine any significant differences between those deemed to be creative and those categorized as “non-creative.” Their goal was to obtain a set of situations and practices that would lead to higher levels of creative production on the part of the “non-creatives.”

Over the course of three months, the team of psychologists asked a battery of questions focused on childhood experiences, family influences, academic performance, geographical preferences, and even favorite colors. After a thorough analysis of the resulting data, they concluded that a single factor clearly separated the two groups: The creative people thought they were creative, and the less creative people didn’t think they were.

This story suggests that when we believe ourselves to be “non-creative,” we seldom put ourselves into situations that allow us to engage in creative endeavors or thinking. If we believe that we have low levels of creativity, then we often don’t allow ourselves to engage in imaginative activities, take creative risks, play with possibilities, or look for alternate answers.

Digging deeper, I discovered specific habits and beliefs that generate a plethora of innovative ideas in situations that demand new ways of thinking. Subsequent interviews with pioneering thinkers revealed that their creative beliefs were utilized on a daily basis—they were not “one and done” tenets employed for a single project and then discarded. Rather, they were focal points that could be used across a range of intellectual challenges throughout one’s lifetime.

A Test for Creativity

Consider the following statements. Know that this collection is not exhaustive, nor exclusive for assessing your personal “creativity quotient.” Nevertheless, how you respond will not only provide you with critical “food for thought,” but alert you to the foundational concepts practiced by people recognized for their creative energy. Equally important, your responses form the foundation on what you need in order to initiate a more creative lifestyle, where to start this incredible journey, and what might need to change along the way. These questions are a guide to what is creatively necessary in any cognitive pursuit or mental task.

Ask yourself the following. Answer with either "Agree," "Undecided," "Don't Know," or "Disagree":

  • I concentrate harder on whatever interests me than most people.
  • In groups, I occasionally voice opinions that seem to turn heads.
  • It is more important for me to do what I believe to be right than to try to win the approval of others.
  • More than other people, I need to have things interesting and exciting.
  • I am able to stick with difficult problems over extended periods of time.
  • I often get my best ideas when doing nothing in particular.
  • I rely on intuitive hunches and feelings of “rightness” or “wrongness” when moving toward the solution of a problem.
  • I sometimes get a kick out of breaking the rules.
  • Daydreaming has provided the impetus for many of my more important projects.
  • I have a high degree of aesthetic sensitivity.
  • I am much more interested in coming up with new ideas than in trying to sell them to others.
  • I would enjoy spending an entire day alone, just “thinking about thinking."
  • Self-respect is much more critical than the respect of others.
  • Many problems I encounter cannot be resolved in terms of right or wrong solutions.

For many of us, our natural sense of creativity has been swept out of our minds by a system of societal myths, educational practices, workplace habits, and everyday expectations more concerned with conformity than with fostering creative expression. We have been 'educated' to be mentally compliant; we have not been trained to generate a plethora of creative solutions when faced with intellectual challenges or job-related problems. In so many ways, our thinking has become standardized, predictable, and convenient. “Thinking outside the box” is not what we do well.

On the other hand, you can use the statements above to guide your own creative “re-awakening.” You will discover, as have many others, that creativity is a daily work in progress—a personal commitment to time-tested principles and proven strategies. Know that the journey is filled with dynamic explorations and amazing discoveries.

Fredericks, Anthony D. From Fizzle to Sizzle: The Hidden Forces Crushing Your Creativity and How You Can Overcome Them . (Indianapolis, IN: Blue River Press, 2022).

Anthony D. Fredericks Ed.D.

Anthony D. Fredericks, Ed.D. , is Professor Emeritus of Education at York College of Pennsylvania. His latest book is In Search of the Old Ones: An Odyssey Among Ancient Trees (Smithsonian Books, 2023).

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  • What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

Published on May 30, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on May 31, 2023.

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment .

To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources .

Critical thinking skills help you to:

  • Identify credible sources
  • Evaluate and respond to arguments
  • Assess alternative viewpoints
  • Test hypotheses against relevant criteria

Table of contents

Why is critical thinking important, critical thinking examples, how to think critically, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about critical thinking.

Critical thinking is important for making judgments about sources of information and forming your own arguments. It emphasizes a rational, objective, and self-aware approach that can help you to identify credible sources and strengthen your conclusions.

Critical thinking is important in all disciplines and throughout all stages of the research process . The types of evidence used in the sciences and in the humanities may differ, but critical thinking skills are relevant to both.

In academic writing , critical thinking can help you to determine whether a source:

  • Is free from research bias
  • Provides evidence to support its research findings
  • Considers alternative viewpoints

Outside of academia, critical thinking goes hand in hand with information literacy to help you form opinions rationally and engage independently and critically with popular media.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Critical thinking can help you to identify reliable sources of information that you can cite in your research paper . It can also guide your own research methods and inform your own arguments.

Outside of academia, critical thinking can help you to be aware of both your own and others’ biases and assumptions.

Academic examples

However, when you compare the findings of the study with other current research, you determine that the results seem improbable. You analyze the paper again, consulting the sources it cites.

You notice that the research was funded by the pharmaceutical company that created the treatment. Because of this, you view its results skeptically and determine that more independent research is necessary to confirm or refute them. Example: Poor critical thinking in an academic context You’re researching a paper on the impact wireless technology has had on developing countries that previously did not have large-scale communications infrastructure. You read an article that seems to confirm your hypothesis: the impact is mainly positive. Rather than evaluating the research methodology, you accept the findings uncritically.

Nonacademic examples

However, you decide to compare this review article with consumer reviews on a different site. You find that these reviews are not as positive. Some customers have had problems installing the alarm, and some have noted that it activates for no apparent reason.

You revisit the original review article. You notice that the words “sponsored content” appear in small print under the article title. Based on this, you conclude that the review is advertising and is therefore not an unbiased source. Example: Poor critical thinking in a nonacademic context You support a candidate in an upcoming election. You visit an online news site affiliated with their political party and read an article that criticizes their opponent. The article claims that the opponent is inexperienced in politics. You accept this without evidence, because it fits your preconceptions about the opponent.

There is no single way to think critically. How you engage with information will depend on the type of source you’re using and the information you need.

However, you can engage with sources in a systematic and critical way by asking certain questions when you encounter information. Like the CRAAP test , these questions focus on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

When encountering information, ask:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert in their field?
  • What do they say? Is their argument clear? Can you summarize it?
  • When did they say this? Is the source current?
  • Where is the information published? Is it an academic article? Is it peer-reviewed ?
  • Why did the author publish it? What is their motivation?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence? Does it rely on opinion, speculation, or appeals to emotion ? Do they address alternative arguments?

Critical thinking also involves being aware of your own biases, not only those of others. When you make an argument or draw your own conclusions, you can ask similar questions about your own writing:

  • Am I only considering evidence that supports my preconceptions?
  • Is my argument expressed clearly and backed up with credible sources?
  • Would I be convinced by this argument coming from someone else?

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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is critical thinking necessary for creativity

Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

Critical thinking skills include the ability to:

You can assess information and arguments critically by asking certain questions about the source. You can use the CRAAP test , focusing on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

Ask questions such as:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence?

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test  and follow these guidelines:

  • The information should be up to date and current.
  • The author and publication should be a trusted authority on the subject you are researching.
  • The sources the author cited should be easy to find, clear, and unbiased.
  • For a web source, the URL and layout should signify that it is trustworthy.

Information literacy refers to a broad range of skills, including the ability to find, evaluate, and use sources of information effectively.

Being information literate means that you:

  • Know how to find credible sources
  • Use relevant sources to inform your research
  • Understand what constitutes plagiarism
  • Know how to cite your sources correctly

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search, interpret, and recall information in a way that aligns with our pre-existing values, opinions, or beliefs. It refers to the ability to recollect information best when it amplifies what we already believe. Relatedly, we tend to forget information that contradicts our opinions.

Although selective recall is a component of confirmation bias, it should not be confused with recall bias.

On the other hand, recall bias refers to the differences in the ability between study participants to recall past events when self-reporting is used. This difference in accuracy or completeness of recollection is not related to beliefs or opinions. Rather, recall bias relates to other factors, such as the length of the recall period, age, and the characteristics of the disease under investigation.

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Ryan, E. (2023, May 31). What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved January 2, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/working-with-sources/critical-thinking/

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Other students also liked, student guide: information literacy | meaning & examples, what are credible sources & how to spot them | examples, applying the craap test & evaluating sources.

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Learning to think together: Creativity, interdisciplinary collaboration and epistemic control

The world’s current struggles with the health, economic and social impacts of the horrific Covid-19 pandemic and Australia’s recent experience of climate crises, fire and flood, remind us that developing proficiency in addressing complex problems and working in interdisciplinary collaborative contexts are extraordinarily urgent. This worldwide pandemic poses potential social, political, economic and cultural catastrophes in addition to the immediate tragic outcomes for individuals and public health. Now more than ever we need to focus on developing our skills of creative and collaborative thinking. In this paper, I synthesise the research around creative collaboration, from a range of disciplines, and outline a framework to scaffold collaborative thinking in educational contexts to help students generate creative responses to complex problems. The framework develops students metacognitive understanding and epistemic awareness to enable meaningful epistemic shifting, perspective taking and cross disciplinary communication. Moving from epistemic awareness, through epistemic humility and epistemic empathy, students develop epistemic control. The article ends by calling for further research into the benefits of interdisciplinary metacognition across a range of learning contexts and a consideration of the need to go beyond often fixed adversarial critical thinking approaches and to develop an epistemic position based on inclusive collaboration and emergent creativity.

1. Introduction

As I write this, the world is experiencing a one in 100-year pandemic, with a great many people in lockdown, aiming to ‘flatten the curve’ and save lives. The current loss of life and threats to wellbeing caused by the virus and enforced social isolation, as well as the potentially catastrophic long term impact on social structures, economic stability and political systems caused by our response to the virus, highlight the complex and intractable problems we face in our interconnected global society. More precisely for me, Australia has just experienced the summer from hell. Intense bushfire activity that destroyed countless native animals and razed millions of hectares of bushland has underlined that – despite the dragging of feet by government - a comprehensive and coordinated response to the problem of climate change has long been personally, culturally, economically, nationally and internationally urgent.

These intense experiences reflect that we indeed live in post normal times ( Sardar, 2010 , 2015 ) – a world characterised by chaos, complexity and contradiction. The threats to our wellbeing in our ‘new’ everchanging normality require us to build new understandings. Horney, Pasmore, & O’Shea (2010) elaborate on what they call the VUCA world – one not unlike a battlefield, full of complexity, uncertainty, volatility and ambiguity. Our world is interconnected and interdependent, comprised of complex systems with complex problems.

1.1. Creativity, complex problems and education

The challenges we face can be described as complex problems. As Vandenbroeck (2012) argues, complex or ‘wicked’ problems have unclear boundaries and multiple stakeholders, making them difficult to negotiate. As Goodyear and Ellis (2007) remind us, complex problems are qualitatively different from other serious problems we have faced. There is often a scarcity and low quality of data and a constant need to reframe and renegotiate the problem, making them difficult to understand ( Vandenbroeck, 2012 ). Unlike tame problems ( Goodyear & Markauskaite, 2019 , p. 47; Vandenbroeck, 2012 ) complex problems are non-linear and unstable, with the problem needing to be defined and redefined throughout the process, often as a result of actions taken to address them.

Rittel and Webber (1973) argue that solutions to complex problems are not true or false but better or worse and there is an ‘inability to know beforehand what constitutes a good answer’ ( Horney et al., 2010 ). As they can ‘rarely be fully resolved’ ( Goodyear & Markauskaite, 2019 , p. 42), instead of solutions, complex problems invite strategies to address or minimise their negative impact. Horney et al. (2010) conclude that in this context ‘people connections matter as much or more than solid structure’. The people working on the wicked problem and their viewpoints form part of its formulation – that the way the problem is framed is a product of who is framing it ( Coyne, 2005 )creating a state of ambiguity often uncommon in fields and disciplines charged with taking on these challenges.

Ambiguity is a fundamental condition in complex problems – they are contextual and support, if not require, multiple interpretations. What does this mean for our young people in institutions of learning (secondary and tertiary/higher) that often emphasise certainty and linearity through high stakes testing, accountability based on success metrics and silos of disciplinary knowledge? How are our institutions preparing our young people for the future when they are still focussed on individual competitiveness and success based on assessment of certain known problems and solutions through tests and essay questions? The students of today will graduate into a world where interdisciplinary, multicultural and international teams will be likely, if not the norm. Learning that does not encourage a willingness to work with ambiguity, to recognise the specific strengths and limits of a single epistemic/disciplinary approach and does not encourage collaboration will not honour our duty to prepare our students for their future. These ‘knotty, confusing, and contested problematic situations’ ( Vandenbroeck, 2012 , p. 6) will challenge our students creative capacities as well as their discipline knowledge and collaborative skills. A core conceptual strength of a creative disposition is the ability to deal with ambiguity ( Sternberg, 2010 ). Tan (2015) suggests that the ability to cope well with novelty and ambiguity, the ability to break away from set ways of thinking, and the ability to think metaphorically are all ways to be more creative.

The complexity of the problems our young people will face (and we continue to face) can be overwhelming. We need to provide students with the skills to know ‘what to do when they do not know what to do’ ( McWilliam, 2008 , p. 266). Dealing with wicked problems requires collaborative and cooperative future making ( Goodyear & Markauskaite, 2019 , p. 42). Certain problems cannot be effectively met when approached from one discipline and complex problems require collaborative, creative solutions. This paper encourages educators to embrace creative collaboration to prepare young people for the epistemic challenge posed by these learning and working contexts. There is an urgent need to scaffold and structure creative and collaborative learning and strengthen interdisciplinary communication.

1.2. Creativity and collaboration

If complex problems require creative solutions, we need to consider what we mean by creativity. The standard definition of creativity is that creative products are novel and of value or appropriate to the context ( Sternberg, Kaufman, & Pretz, 2002 ) or worthwhile, original and appropriate ( Starko, 2005 ). These products are conceptual as well as tangible – approaches and theories as well as innovative tools and commodities. Creativity is acting on the world in a new and significant way ( Glaveanu, 2010 , p. 148). It is the fashioning of imaginative activity to produce an original and novel outcome ( NACCCE, 1999 , p. 30). However, as the complex problems we are discussing need to be addressed rather than solved, the concept of creativity I will consider here is both a disposition and a process. Taking Craft, Cremin, Burnard, Dragovic, and Chappell (2013)) possibility thinking as a starting point, creativity is habit of mind that sees ‘what is’ and can imagine ‘what might be’ (p. 539). As Cremin and Barnes (2018) suggest, creativity is the ‘serious play of ideas and possibilities’.

Creativity is a social rather than individual phenomenon ( Csikszentmihalyi, 1996 ; Ingold & Hallam, 2007 ; Sawyer, 2012 ). As Csikszentmihalyi argues, ‘creativity doesn’t happen inside people’s head but in the interaction between an individual’s thoughts and a sociocultural context’ (1996, p. 23). Csikszentmihalyi suggests that creativity benefits from the interplay of diverse ideas, that it thrives at the ‘intersection of different cultures, where beliefs, lifestyles and knowledge mingle and allow individuals to see new combinations of ideas with greater ease’(1996, p. 8). Creative ideas are formed and reformed in relationships and in a context ( Ingold & Hallam, 2007 ). Creativity is ‘deeply rooted in “connections” between person and the environment, self and others, creator and culture’ ( Glaveanu, 2010 , p. 147). As creativity occurs in a system, then what we do to increase the value and expectation of creativity within that system will work to generate the conditions in which creativity can thrive.

Vygotsky (2004) suggested that creativity was a combinatorial activity. It is about reconstruction – about combining and imaginatively reworking ‘elements of past experience …to generate new propositions and new behaviour’ (2004, p. 9). The richer an individual’s experience, the more the imagination has to play with and the more creative they will be. As a child’s experience is less rich than that of an adult, Vygotsky reminds us that creativity is neither fixed nor to be idealised as existing more purely in childhood. Vygotsky’s insights also focus our attention on everyday creativity – the incremental development of ideas and practices. He argues:

…creativity is present, not only when great historical works are born but also whenever a person imagines, combines, alters and creates something new, no matter how small a drop in the bucket this new thing appears compared to the work of geniuses. When we combine the phenomenon of collective creativity…we readily understand what an enormous percentage of what has been created by humanity is a product of the anonymous collective creative work of unknown inventors. (2004, p. 11)

This focus on the incremental, collaborative, combinatorial nature of creativity reinforces the importance of equipping all our students with the skills to contribute their ‘drop in the bucket’.

1.3. Group creativity

Creativity is enhanced by collaboration. As Sawyer (2012) argues, when asked to devise creative solutions to real world complex problems, groups outperform individuals (p. 234). Further, diverse groups are more creative than homogenous teams ( Sawyer, 2012 , p. 234). Consistent with Vygotsky’s observations regarding richness of experience and Csikszentmihalyi’s recommendation to increase the possibility of the intermingling of diverse ideas and practices, diversity in group participants would more likely lead to more innovative ideas. However, Sawyer also indicated that if measures to regulate interpersonal conflict were not in place, then the benefits of diversity might be offset ( Sawyer, 2012 , p. 246). Therefore, when scaffolding and teaching collaboration, we need to explore how to regulate interpersonal relations in diverse groups to facilitate their generation of creative products. Sawyer details the importance of and ideal conditions for creative diversity:

‘groups are more creative than individuals when they’ve worked together for a while, when they share a common set of conventions and knowledge and yet have complementary sets of expertise, and when the organisation rewards collaboration. Groups are more creative than individuals when the amount of shared knowledge corresponds to how well the problem is understood. If the group has to find a new problem, it’s better that they don’t share the same background and expertise…’ (p. 246).

Sawyer suggests that groups who all think the same will not be as creative as those who contain differing viewpoints and experiences, but those differences need to be managed.

Almajed, Skinner, Petersen, and Winning (2016) found that diverse groups, consisting of different perspectives, opinions and inputs, increased the experience and likelihood of positive learning outcomes. Researching dental students’ experience of collaborative learning, they found that learning was enhanced when it was focused on an ‘authentic complex context that involve[d] realistic use of …knowledge’. Almajed et al. (2016) study suggested that diversity leads to knowledge conflicts, but these were ‘opportunities for further learning by exposing [students] to different opinions and aspects of knowledge’. This ‘conceptual conflict’, where students original ideas are challenged, created a sense of ambiguity that developed into ‘epistemic curiosity’. However, they also found that, for the benefits of this diversity to emerge, group members needed to share a common disposition to learning and needed to learn how to manage these knowledge conflicts.

Group diversity is often characterised as a ‘double-edged sword’ ( Srikanth, Harvey, & Peterson, 2016 ). Despite its perceived benefits, diverse groups ‘often have less cohesion, less information sharing, less motivation to engage with other’s ideas, more coordination problems, and more interpersonal conflict ( Hawlina, Gillespie, & Zittoun, 2017 , p. 134). However, as Srikanth et al. (2016) concluded, rather than categorisation issues (such as demographic differences), problems in groups emerged from coordination failures – that is, failure to manage different perspectives (2016, p. 455). They conclude that ‘preventing coordination problems early in group development is likely to enable a group to capitalise on the positive aspects of social categorisation while avoiding the negative effects’ ( Srikanth et al., 2016 , p. 44). Further they argue that trying to diminish categorisation differences can also reduce the benefits of group members ‘sharing unique information’ (p10). Hawlina et al.’s research supported the observation that ‘unfavourable social outcomes do not stem from a priori intergroup biases but from the failure to coordinate different perspectives’ ( Hawlina et al., 2017 , p. 134). Adopting Torrance’s creativity indices of fluency, flexibility, originality and quality for measurement, Hawlina et al. (2017) concluded that perspective taking increased the creativity of the interactions between dyads working in non-real world non domain-based discussions. Their research found that participants’ perspective taking allowed them to quickly understand each other and develop a sense of mutual recognition, where ‘gaps did not need to be bridged’ as there was ‘acceptance and enthusiasm for the partner’s perspective’ (p. 143). Further, mutual recognition also allowed the climate for creativity to emerge – one of tolerance (withholding judgment), playfulness and mutual understanding. The findings of Hawlina et al. and Srikanth et al. demonstrate the benefits to group creativity of enabling individuals to quickly understand the perspective of others.

1.4. Knowledge, collaboration and dealing with ambiguity

As a social, systemic ( Csikszentmihalyi, 1996 ) phenomenon, domain knowledge is essential to creative thought. Csikszentmihalyi went as far as to say that ‘no one can be creative in a domain to which he or she is not exposed’ (1996, p. 29). Yet the complex world requires interdisciplinary collaboration, the integration of different disciplinary ways of knowing. Creative collaboration needs to integrate substantial domain and disciplinary knowledge to generate rigorous and creative responses to complex problems. Creativity benefits from epistemic diversity. Interdisciplinary groups working together, rather than in parallel (such as multidisciplinary groups 1 ) require collaboration based upon, not in spite of, disciplinary strength ( Greef, Post, Vink, & Wenting, 2017 ). As Lyall, Bruce, Tait, and Meagher (2011)) suggest, interdisciplinarity ‘approaches an issue from a range of disciplinary perspectives, and the contributions of the various disciplines are acknowledged and integrated to provide a holistic or systemic outcome: good interdisciplinary research is much more than the sum of its parts’ (p. 14) 2 . Integration creates a more comprehensive perspective ( Greef et al., 2017 ). The interdisciplinary approach also:

…enables students to demonstrate higher order thinking skills of creativity and integration, strong-sense critical thinking, balanced thinking or judgment, tolerance of ambiguity and diversity, ability to demystify expertise and challenge power structures, and ability to address real world problems. In terms of motivation, students see real world relevance to their education, get to think about the “big picture” context of the problem, and with their more comprehensive understanding are enabled to move from talk to informed action. ( Repko, Szostak, & Buchberger, 2016 , p. 256)

Interdisciplinarity, while valuing disciplinary knowledge, does not privilege disciplinary solutions. It discourages students from providing stock responses from their individual disciplinary perspectives that are then collated, evaluated, weighted or ranked and then discussed until a compromise is reached. Pre-prepared and pre-conceived responses are discouraged to allow creative ideas to emerge from collaborative and interdisciplinary discussion ( Sawyer, 2015 ).

Like collaboration itself, integrating different ways of knowing will benefit from scaffolds and structures, meta discussion and skills development. Without them, interdisciplinary discussion has the potential to be adversarial at worst and parallel at best, with each way of knowing adding their ideas without integration and thus not accessing the subsequent benefits of an interdisciplinary perspective.

The ambiguity and complexity of problems in the 21st century require flexibility and control in the way people think and apply knowledge. Approaching problems from different perspectives increases our likelihood of moving forward. Adaptability is key to creative development and creative problem solving. Metacognitive structures can address intellectual rigidity, a fixed approach to problem solving which makes it difficult for individuals to take on new ideas and change the way they approach problems, challenges and situations. Working with others on wicked problems necessitates rapid reconfiguration of methods and tools for inquiry ( Goodyear & Markauskaite, 2019 , p. 44). Goodyear and Markauskaite argue that students working on complex problems need to develop a range of epistemic, reflexive, pragmatic and interpersonal tools and to transform these tools into useful instruments (p. 49).

Yet, as Wiltshire, Rosch, Fiorella, and Fiore, 2014 , p. 1154) found,

…there has been little work describing how to train for collaborative problem solving. …[S]olving …complex problems requires the collaborative efforts of teams who are able to monitor and regulate their collective problem solving performance as they work to integrate complementary perspectives. … Without effective training to help teams monitor their collaborative processes, they are likely to fail when complex problems arise. (p. 1154)

Their research found that enhanced metacognition, the ‘awareness of one’s own cognitive processes and the ability to consciously monitor and control these processes… [was shown to] increase participants’ ability to apply new knowledge to solve novel problems’ (p. 1154). Specifically relevant to this argument was their finding that metacognitive prompts during collaboration improved the participants’ ability to communicate their knowledge and the underlying assumptions of that knowledge, enabling them to overcome possible coordination problems ( Srikanth et al., 2016 ).

2. Epistemic cognition - understanding how we know

The following metacognitive framework provides a scaffold for collaboration and knowledge integration for individuals working on complex real-world problems in diverse collaborative groups. It provides a practical range of tools and instruments for collaborative problem solving. This scaffold begins by focussing students on understanding how they make sense of the world and what forms of knowledge they value. A summary of the framework is provided at Fig. 1 .

Fig. 1

Framework for epistemic control.

2.1. Epistemic awareness

To develop an awareness of their own perspective and to understand how they make meaning, their own ‘way of knowing’, students need to actively reflect on their own knowledge tradition. This requires critical and meta-analysis of, and reflection on, their disciplinary practices, on the strengths and limits of both discipline knowledge and discipline methods - the products and the processes. It involves understanding what they know, how they know it and the assumptions these reflect. They ask, ‘What does knowledge mean in my discipline? How do we decide what is authentic knowledge?'

Each discipline ‘dictate[s] what you can know and what you can do with that knowledge…[and] limit[s] what questions you can ask’ ( Lyall et al., 2011 , p. 19). Smith-Doerr, Croissant, Vardi, and Sacco (2017)) explain disciplines as ‘epistemic cultures’ that consist of ‘interiorised processes of knowledge creation…practices, arrangements, and mechanisms…[that] make up how we know what we know’ (p. 71). Each discipline culture has a set of rules and strategies, called epistemic games, that constrain inquiry and target structures ( Collins & Ferguson, 1993 , p. 25). Like all games, disciplines have moves that need to be learned to succeed and progress ( Perkins, 1997 ) and are the mental processes that make knowledge ( Collins & Ferguson, 1993 ). Each discipline gives a different structure to their inquiries. The means of communicating and representing the findings of that inquiry are the epistemic forms. Put simply, for students to understand their discipline’s games and forms they are asked ‘what do you do in your discipline?’ And ‘What does that action produce ?’.

Mastering these games and forms grants the learner access to the discipline’s 'community of practice’ ( Markauskaite & Goodyear, 2017 , p. 5). It is this membership that tempts disciplines to develop tribalism ( Lyall et al., 2011 ). The more disciplines evolve, the more complex and more constrained the games and forms become ( Collins & Ferguson, 1993 , p. 40). In systems theory, a discipline’s culture is the domain ( Csikszentmihalyi, 1996 ). To be creative in a domain you need to understand and appreciate its limits. By understanding their domain as a way of knowing, students develop domain meta-knowledge which forms part of understanding how to be creative. In the systems approach, the domain is guarded by the field – a community of gatekeepers that regulates the rules and acceptable ‘moves’ and acceptable forms or products. Thus, understanding the epistemic games and products will help students be more creative in their own discipline and domain.

A deep understanding of their discipline as a series of games and forms will supplement students’ understanding of being ‘within’ their knowledge culture with an understanding positioned ‘above’ or from outside the culture. Recognising that knowledge is constructed by a set of constraining rules generates an awareness of the strengths and limits of their way of knowing. Metacognition, thinking about what we know and how we know it, is an essential skill for interdisciplinary integration ( Keestra, 2017 ). Cultivating this awareness is especially important for disciplinary experts, as their assumptions and ‘representations’ are often so well integrated into their thinking that they perceive their way of knowing as the way rather than a way. Making known the processes and assumptions in students’ ways of knowing is a positive factor for countering intellectual fixedness or rigidity. Epistemic fixedness prevents students from working together especially when any change of position is framed as a compromise, a small loss. Metacognition is needed to counter the disadvantages of expertise (Keestra, 2017, p. 124). Keestra (2017) suggests that disciplinary experts develop complex knowledge structures that can lead to inflexibility in interdisciplinary contexts. Disciplinary expertise and over confidence can hinder students from recognising the ‘insights that other members bring to the table’ (p. 124). Interdisciplinary integration challenges intellectual rigidity, showing that to hold on to your position without understanding the benefits of humility or recognising the strengths of other disciplines is a disadvantage.

However, this does not devalue domain knowledge, skills or understanding. Interdisciplinary integration needs rigour and substance, but within scaffolded processes to enable the ideas to mix and generate novelty and using a common language for effective communication. Epistemic awareness means a strong understanding of the games, moves and forms of their discipline and occurs from within a strong understanding of the domain.

Epistemic awareness begins for members of a collaborative diverse research team when they first understand their own games and forms and when they reflect on their approach to knowledge and problem solving. This will focus them on seeing both strengths and limits. Asking ‘What ideas are foregrounded and what ideas are ignored by my way of knowing? An interdisciplinary team needs to be aware their individual disciplines are important, but incomplete. Our discipline games, moves and forms create certain types of knowledge and other games, moves and forms create different equally relevant knowledge. This underlines the need for epistemic humility.

2.2. Epistemic humility

Epistemic humility is the understanding that what you know and how you know it, your way of thinking, is not the whole story. Epistemic humility is the awareness that while your discipline has insights that others do not, solving complex problems necessitates that these insights be complemented by the perspectives of others. Collaboration between disciplines allows insights to emerge that are greater than the sum of the individual disciplinary parts. Humility encourages students’ acceptance of multiple ways of knowing. It stresses that we don’t and can’t know everything, thus preparing students for the reality of complex problems in our volatile, ambiguous, chaotic world. This teaches students that a level of uncertainty is unavoidable and should be acknowledged and not to be railed against.

Epistemic humility based on epistemic meta-knowledge encourages students to recognise that their perspective is a peculiar lens for looking at the world. As this lens obscures some ideas by focussing on others, students, rather than fearing or diminishing alternate ideas, will be positioned to pursue other perspectives. Epistemic humility opens students to the frames of reference of others and the need to work together, encouraging an understanding that addressing complex problems means completing an epistemic jigsaw. Creative collaboration needs a polyvocal dialogue, not a monologue.

Creative climates ( Isaksen & Ekvall, 2010 ) are supported by epistemic humility. The willingness to pursue and embrace multiple perspectives gives the space for ideas to circulate freely before they are evaluated or dismissed. This dynamic will support risk taking and divergent novel combinations. It will also encourage an acceptance that ideas that are generated, but not accepted, still contribute to the problem-solving process as they illuminate aspects of the complex problem ( Tahirsylaj, 2012 ). By encouraging risk and embracing mistakes as information, epistemic humility keeps the collaboration focused on the complex problem and not on disciplinary tribalism.

But understanding the limits of our own discipline is not enough. Students need to value and seek out the input from other disciplines to solve the problem they are working on. For many students, this will not require a great shift in perspective. For Arts students, for example, epistemic shifting is already part of their academic identity, as they navigate and reconcile approaches to knowledge under the broad umbrella of their faculty. To be able to value the contributions and validity of other ways of knowing, students must also choose to understand the games and forms of other disciplines. This process is epistemic empathy.

2.3. Epistemic empathy

Understanding the perspectives of their own discipline increases student’s ability to see what their discipline brings to the table - and what it doesn’t. Understanding what their discipline highlights and ignores will encourage them to understand that other ways of knowing complement their own and will increase their awareness of other possible perspectives. For this, students need to develop epistemic empathy.

As a relatively new concept ( Horsthemke, 2015 ), epistemic empathy can be understood as the opposite of epistemic closure, i.e. a choice or inability to understand others (p. 64). Further, unlike some approaches to empathy, the empathetic shift is prompted not be imagining ‘What would I do in this situation?’, but by actively trying to understand ‘What do they do?’. Epistemic empathy recognises that to understand others we need to know how they think ( Jaber, Southerland, & Dake, 2018 ). Jaber et al. define epistemic empathy as ‘the act of understanding and appreciating someone's cognitive and emotional experience within an epistemic activity—i.e., activity aimed at the construction, communication, and critique of knowledge’ (2018, p. 14). Focussing on epistemic empathy in pre-service teachers’ and its benefits to the teacher-student dynamic, they explored the benefits of understanding their students’ ‘sense making experience’ and actively tried to see the merits of their reasoning and emotions ( Jaber et al., 2018 , p. 14). Applying this concept to collaborative creativity with diverse groups will illuminate how to encourage students to understand the perspectives of others and to identify the merits of their reasoning from their perspective ( Jaber et al., 2018 , p. 14).

Epistemic empathy highlights the need to understand how others make meaning – both in how they understand and how the communicate that understanding. The strength of epistemic empathy is that it predisposes students to value other group members and equates to a ‘decentering’ from our own way of knowing, encouraging a collaboration of equals, rather than an adversarial compromise of ideas. Epistemic empathy requires more than understanding how it would feel to be that person (an excellent goal in itself) and even more than how I would feel in that situation. The real benefit of epistemic empathy is understanding how another thinks in that situation, how they arrive at their knowledge and appreciate that their approach as valid. Epistemic empathy is about actively seeing the merits of the games and forms of other disciplines, the knowledge that is created and the ways it is communicated. It requires students to understand and value how others think and work, and to make space for those perspectives in the process.

It goes beyond mutual recognition. To be effective, epistemic empathy will need to come from knowledge of other ways of knowing, both to provide insights into how they can complement their own way of knowing, and to empower the mix of perspectives to generate emergent creative ideas and processes. Epistemic empathy will lead to a sharing of games and processes, finding what is common and what is unique. It will enable the group to access benefits of complementarity and the generating of new concepts from mixing divergent and disparate ideas. Without knowledge of each other’s way of knowing, the ideas and processes will co-exist in parallel but will not integrate. In this way, a diversity of games will be more likely to lead to a diversity of products and forms.

Jaber et al. (2018) encourage educators to consider the importance of balancing epistemic agency and epistemic safety. Epistemic agency requires students to ‘work through frustration and to struggle’ (p.16). Epistemic empathy engages with epistemic conflict. It is about facing the challenges to our understanding posed by other perspectives and changing our minds when that is required. Jaber et al. argue that concerns with student emotional wellbeing and the desire to avoid the discomfort of epistemic challenges can adversely affect student epistemic agency. Intellectual struggle and the ‘burdens of uncertainty and frustration’ (Jaber et al., p. 16) are to be understood as part of the intellectual landscape and not to be avoided or denied by clinging to misguided discipline certainty. Epistemic empathy asks students not to unlearn their domain knowledge, but to unlearn their fixed position. Students are to be willing and eager to face uncertainty and persevere. Educators must also be prepared to allow students to sit in discomfort and ambiguity. However, educators also need to maintain a safe learning environment - where students are free to make mistakes and have their perspective valued and incorporated. Educators manage student collaboration to ensure the discomfort is intellectual rather than personal and/or social. While the scaffold structures collaboration, educators still need to create an environment where the risks associated with integrating and possibly changing perspectives occur within an environment of ‘trust, openness’ and minimal ‘emotional, relational or affective conflict’ ( Isaksen & Ekvall, 2010 , p. 74).

In a collaborative creative situation, the ability to understand and appreciate the cognitive experience of others will facilitate group cohesion, allowing the benefits of diversity to emerge. The group will be able to work as equals in a creative process, rather than adversaries in a critical rivalry, and will therefore generate creative responses based on unusual and new combinations of thoughts and thought processes.

As they encounter new ideas for the first time, students bring an ‘outsider mindset’ ( Syed, 2019 , p. 141) to practices within another’s discipline or way of knowing. Epistemic empathy offers students the benefits of a traveller. Cultural mixing improves creativity ( Sawyer, 2012 ) and exposure to another culture increases the creativity of an individual in the way that increased experience offers more for the creative mind to reconstitute ( Vygotsky, 2004 ). Epistemic empathy is epistemic holidaying. Students are relative experts in their nominated domain. They are not experts in others. But exposure both to the concepts (content) of other fields and to other ways of knowing (processes) will increase students’ creativity by broadening their experience and understanding of what is possible. Naive first responses, products of fresh divergent thinking, will then be evaluated by the convergent thinking of a domain expert. The places of creativity are places where diverse ideas can mingle.

Further, when explaining their ‘way of knowing’ to outsiders, students can anticipate ideas that may need further context or explanation so as to be understood and valued by others ( Keestra, 2017 ). By adopting an outsider mindset for our own way of knowing we can understand that not only are our games and forms specific, some may need a rethink. By adopting an outsider mentality, a critical stance, for our own discipline, we can further develop our meta-knowledge of our own position. Epistemic empathy allows us to balance the tension between domain knowledge ( Csikszentmihalyi, 1996 ) and mental flexibility ( Syed, 2019 , p. 142). Epistemic empathy encourages ‘conceptual distance’, so important for reimagining the known:

In a world where recombination is becoming the principal engine of growth…[t]he growth of the future will be catalysed by those who can transcend the categories we impose on the world: who have the mental flexibility to bridge between disciplines and thought silos and regard them not as immutable but movable, even breakable. ( Syed, 2019 , p. 142)

At this point the three previous stages begin to converge. Epistemic awareness, epistemic humility and epistemic empathy allow us to value our knowledge and understanding, but be ready to accept that others can offer insights that complement or surpass our thinking, and that certain aspects within our deep knowledge may be flawed, anachronistic or even a liability in the context of complex problems.

This awareness develops into epistemic control, the final stage of the framework.

2.4. Epistemic control

The final stage develops the humility and empathy to a state of epistemic control - where students in group (and individual) research contexts can mobilise and adopt a range of ways of knowing to address complex problems. It represents a synthesising and creative application of ideas and processes, games and forms. In an educational context it represents attainment of the highest level of Blooms taxonomy.

The metaphors associated with interdisciplinarity are relevant here. Repko et al. (2016) describes the process of integrating disciplines as being able to cross boundaries, build bridges and speak many languages (pp. 80–86). While not without their limitations, these metaphors capture the need to think metaphorically across disciplines to allow communication between and across different ways of knowing. The metaphor of boundary crossing, for instance, reminds us of the outsider mindset, that group creativity places students in the role of travellers, moving from country (discipline) to country (discipline) ‘in search of knowledge relevant to the problem’ ( Repko et al., 2016 , p. 81) and that each traveller must learn some of the language of each culture but will rely on the knowledge of the native experts.

Using the metaphor of language, epistemic control involves the ability to speak many languages:

Working on real world problems usually requires the combination of different kinds of specialised and content-dependent knowledge, as well as different ways of knowing. People who are adept with respect to different ways of knowing about the world can be said to possess epistemic fluency. ( Markauskaite & Goodyear, 2017 , p. 1)

The idea of fluency also suggests a flexibility and lack of rigidity that makes collaborative creativity successful. The metaphor of control takes these ideas further, emphasising that this is a deliberate capacity, generating agency for groups and individuals.

Epistemic control means that students will be flexible and creative in their thinking and mobilisation of knowledge. Understanding what knowledge and perspectives are privileged in and across a range of perspectives will help groups and individuals employ the epistemic games and forms, the ways of knowing, most appropriate to addressing the particulars of the complex problem and will bring a broad perspective to their imagined strategies and responses. They will employ different kinds of ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’ to answer different kinds of problems within larger complex challenges. This control allows students to identify which discipline perspectives are more suited to aspects of the problem. It also allows for the possibility that sometimes the most appropriate disciplines are not made clear until the problem is defined, and that groups can trust emergent creativity and not be too quick to limit which ways of knowing are relevant or appropriate.

Epistemic control allows initial collaborative discussion to begin from an open position that embraces diversity and positions the group to resist initial limiting assumptions about what the problem is, and what forms of knowledge will be needed to address it. This avoids what Syed (2019) calls perspective blindness. Diversity of perspectives is significant as it broadens what key questions are asked at the outset , who is involved and whose opinions and data are sought etc. Epistemic control prevents the group from locking into an epistemic track too early that may exclude a range of understandings that could possibly benefit the group's processes and outcomes. Epistemic control provides students with a process of ‘knowing what to do when they don’t know what to do’ ( McWilliam, 2009 ). The students’ understanding of the worth of a range of perspectives is supported by an ability to employ them. Recognising and integrating ‘other’ expert knowledge, will reap the benefits of disciplinary strength and diversity of contribution thus improving the likelihood that collaboration will be effective.

Epistemic control can be conceptualised through the phrase ‘think like a …’. There will be phases of the problem-solving process when the group will need to think like an economist, for instance, and integrate other ways of knowing to respond to and mitigate the impact of these ideas. Other times they will need to think like an artist, to find the metaphors that will make the problem clearer across disciplines and ways of knowing. Educators are adept at this process, having to move from thinking like a lawyer (What legal problems would we face? What are the policies that impact this decision?) to thinking like an accountant (What will it cost and how can we pay for it?) to thinking like a student (What mischief can students get up to?) to thinking like a parent (What benefits to their child’s education will parents recognise? Or can they afford it?). These perspectives demonstrate that the limits of a perspective are the strengths of collaboration. Further, students can be encouraged to adopt different perspectives. Thinking like an expert, thinking like a novice, or thinking like a competitor, will focus on aspects of a problem other than their default domain of problem-solving perspective. Kelley and Kelley (2015) describe a human centred approach to design thinking, which calls for creators to shift their perspectives and understand the needs of the end users of the product and adopt an anthropological or ethnographic position in their design process.

The affordances of hybridity are underlined here as new and innovative ideas and processes will be generated through collaboration of individuals, ideas and epistemic games and forms. Sawyer (2015) discusses the importance of the ‘emergent idea’ in creativity. He argues that complex interactions create something novel and unpredictable: ‘you could not have known empirically beforehand that a discussion of x would lead to y’ (2015, p.19). Complexity and diversity increase the possibility and probability of this happening; emergent ideas are observed in many complex systems – systems with many components that interact in complex system configurations’ (2015, p.16) ( Fig. 1 ).

3. Discussion of future research opportunities

In our 21st century interdependent world, knowledge needs not to be acquired, but to be navigated. Dinham (2011, p. 12) argues that knowledge is so prolific that the future will involve students ‘seeking out and assembling information around a particular need’(. Knowledge needs to be understood in terms of its nuances, its limitations and benefits. Further research into how groups collaborate to problem-find and problem-solve around complex problems will need to understand the dynamics around perspective taking, epistemic negotiation and creative processes in a range of contexts. Examining the benefits of this framework for individual openness to perspective taking and position shifting will reap benefits for all educational settings, for both disciplinary and interdisciplinary learning.

Research into real world applications of collaborative problem solving will illuminate the processes that are currently being employed and their level of effectiveness and efficiency. With the focus on collaborative creativity, measures that evaluate the creativity of processes, experiences and responses provided by groups, diverse and otherwise, could explore the extent to which the conceptual shifts outlined in the framework are occurring and to what extent engaging (or not) in epistemic empathy and/or developing epistemic control impacts a groups creativity and cohesion. Further, research that examines the experience of students employing the frameworks as they approach complex problems, both inquiry learning and real-world case studies, will allow the framework to be explored to determine its impact on collaboration, creativity and epistemic control.

In a higher education context, with significant variety and definitions of interdisciplinary research, there are rich opportunities to apply the framework to gather data on its impact on creative collaboration across the faculties, in a range of contexts, including research, professional education and teaching and learning for innovation.

The framework scaffolds thinking to allow true collaboration and to develop epistemic control. Research that explores a group’s ability to adopt and employ the perspectives of other disciplines in collaborative research situations and its impact both on the creativity of the processes and responses, as well as the emergent ideas and innovative interdisciplinary knowledge created, would also develop greater understanding of how to change the culture of critical thought from an adversarial compromise to one of equality and integration of ways of knowing. The possibility of developing these ideas beyond the specific context and developing epistemic control as a truly transferable skill offers an exciting research potential.

4. Conclusion

The world our students will graduate into will be one of normalised change. There is a need to attend to the vast amounts of information confronting our students and the attendant impact on their well-being. As such the education they receive must incorporate, account for and generate the skills of flexibility, resilience and creativity.

By asking students to develop an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their discipline, they can address epistemic rigidity in their own thinking and way of knowing. Focussing on the knowledge and processes that their perspective highlights or obscures, students recognise the need for epistemic humility, that their ideas are (more than likely) incomplete and that there is more than ‘what they know’. This awareness will develop students’ willingness to exercise epistemic empathy, an ability to understand how others make meaning, and a readiness to listen and look for how others can add to their understanding of a complex problem. This reorienting of the knowledge discussion, from adversarial to collaborative, will develop the skills necessary for a world full of complex, intractable problems. As students develop this empathy, understanding becomes control and students are able to employ a range of ways of knowing, either in group situations or facing problems as individuals. The ability to think in a range of ways, to understand the importance of a diversity of thinking, will provide them with the awareness and skills to be able to mobilise their specific disciplinary understanding when appropriate and to seek out and employ other ways of knowing when it is not. They will activate a fundamentally interdisciplinary perspective, based on strong disciplinary skill, with a willingness to ‘travel’.

As Goodyear and Markauskaite (2019) suggest,

…educational design aimed at helping students to learn to tackle wicked problems needs to consider how students will come to recognise the range of potentially useful instruments and what is involved in jointly configuring those instruments to create a productive working environment. (p. 50)

This framework is a move in that direction.

If the global crisis has any silver lining, it will be that we do not return to the negative and adversarial ways of our past. The bipartisan interdisciplinary response to the global pandemic should not be the last resort but the default position. The need to understand others must trump the need to be right and the need for dominance. Measures and processes that normalise collaborative decision making and collaborative meaning making should become part of all upper secondary, undergraduate and postgraduate learning across the globe. This will mean our students are prepared as creative agents willing to work together and address the inevitable complex problems that they will encounter in their world.

Author statement

Dr Paul Gardiner: Conceptualisation, investigation, writing – original draft, writing – review and editing.

1 For a description of the differences between inter-, multi-, and transdisciplinary groups see Lyall, C., Bruce, A., Tait, J., & Meagher, L. (2011). Departure point: Our approach to interdisciplinarity. In C. Lyall, A. Bruce, J. Tait, & L. Meagher (Eds.), Interdisciplinary research journeys: Practical strategies for capturing creativity (pp. 7−24). Bloomsbury Academic.

2 The concept of interdisciplinarity differs with context. In certain disciplines, interdisciplinary groups consist of sub-categories within their way of knowing – such as the sciences. In other contexts, interdisciplinary collaboration might occur across faculties, such as across subjects within the faculty of Arts or Social sciences. In other contexts, it could refer to collaborations across the whole institution. In this way, diversity is not a fixed variable. Further, many undergraduate and postgraduate courses of study are, by design, interdisciplinary. This is a strength, as many (most?) students are already juggling multiple ways of knowing and recalibrating how the approach their studies in each context. For a discussion of interdisciplinarity in the sciences see Smith-Doerr et al. (2017) . Epistemic cultures of collaboration: Coherence and ambiguity. In S. Frickel, M. Albert, & B. Prainsack (Eds.), Investigating interdisciplinary collaboration: Theory and practice across disciplines (pp. 65−83). Rutgers University Press.

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Why Creative Thinking Is Important

By: Author Paul Jenkins

Posted on August 1, 2023

Categories Creativity

Ever wonder why your mind wanders to the most unexpected places? That’s creative thinking, and it’s more important than you might realize.

This vital skill is the powerhouse behind innovation, problem-solving, and impactful change in every field—from education to entrepreneurship.

Join us as we delve into the world of creativity and how harnessing this imaginative power can shape our future.

Key Takeaways

  • Creative thinking plays a crucial role in problem-solving by allowing individuals to come up with innovative solutions and overcome challenges.
  • Creativity is essential in education as it helps in developing critical thinking skills and fostering a culture of innovation among students.
  • Creative thinking has a positive influence on mental health and wellbeing, providing therapeutic benefits and promoting self-expression and personal growth.
  • In leadership, creativity is vital as it inspires others and encourages innovative thinking, leading to better outcomes and success.

Definition of Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is essentially about looking at things from a new perspective or coming up with original, often out-of-the-box ideas. It’s an indispensable quality that allows you to break free from conventional thinking and explore realms of imagination utilization.

Now, how does this work? Picture your mind as a hub of thoughts where creative divergence takes place. This is the process whereby numerous potential solutions are generated for a single problem. You’d have heard of the saying ‘Think outside the box’. Well, there isn’t any box in creative thinking! Instead, it encourages you to think beyond boundaries, question norms and generate innovative solutions.

So remember, by harnessing your creativity and encouraging imaginative thought processes, not only do you solve problems more effectively but also envision possibilities untouched by routine logic.

The Role of Creativity in Problem-Solving

Imagine yourself facing a seemingly insurmountable problem.

Here’s where your creative thinking kicks in, providing innovative solutions that can bridge the chasm between challenge and resolution.

It’s through this imaginative process that you’re able to overcome even the most formidable obstacles, transforming barriers into stepping stones towards success.

Innovative Solutions

You’ll find that innovative solutions often stem from unconventional thinking, challenging the status quo and pushing boundaries. This is where creative thinking takes center stage, transforming seemingly impossible tasks into attainable goals. It’s here that brainstorming techniques come to light as powerful tools in generating new ideas.

Creative constraints can paradoxically free your mind to explore otherwise overlooked aspects of a problem. By setting limits, you focus your creativity on specific areas, promoting deeper analysis and more nuanced understanding. These constraints might restrict some options but open up avenues for originality and innovation.

In essence, creative thinking allows you to perceive things differently, break rules when necessary, and boldly venture out of comfort zones. The importance of this skill lies in its ability to produce innovative solutions – the game-changers in any field or endeavor.

Overcoming Challenges

Facing challenges head-on isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort. In a world that’s constantly changing, creative thinking is key to overcoming hurdles and transforming them into stepping stones. It propels you towards adaptive thinking—embracing change rather than resisting it.

Challenges resilience becomes more than just a buzzword when fueled by creative thought; it turns into your superpower. It inspires an attitude of exploration and experimentation, enabling you to see possibilities where others only see obstacles. You begin to approach problems from different angles, seeking innovative solutions instead of relying on tried-and-true methods.

In essence, fostering creativity doesn’t just help you survive in the face of adversity—it empowers you to thrive amidst uncertainty and come out stronger on the other side.

The Impact of Creativity on Innovation

Creativity’s impact on innovation can’t be overstated, as it serves as the driving force behind groundbreaking advancements and unique solutions. It’s through unleashing your imagination that you push past creativity constraints, prompting fresh ideas to emerge.

Consider the following critical points:

  • Creativity fuels Innovation by challenging conventional wisdom and breaking free from established patterns.
  • It inspires alternative perspectives to traditional thought processes.
  • It breeds curiosity and encourages a never-ending pursuit for improvement.

Remember, creativity is not limited to artists or writers; it’s an essential ingredient in every field. Whether you’re a scientist crafting novel hypotheses or an entrepreneur devising new business strategies, creative thinking shapes the path towards progress.

So don’t stifle your imaginative prowess; let it steer you towards transformative innovations.

The Importance of Creativity in Education

Imagine the power you hold in your hands when you incorporate creativity into your education system. It’s not just about making learning more engaging, it’s about fostering an environment that enhances learning and nurtures the development of critical thinking skills.

You’re crafting a future where students not only absorb information but also analyze, interpret, and apply it innovatively.

Enhancing Learning

By engaging in creative thinking, you’re not only expanding your mind but also enhancing your learning capabilities. Creativity infuses a sense of curiosity and exploration into your studies, making the process more enjoyable and less rigid.

Here are four ways creative play and artistic exploration can enhance your learning:

Boosts Memory Retention : When you actively participate in creative processes, it helps to cement new information into your long-term memory.

Encourages Critical Thinking : Artistic exploration develops the ability to analyze situations from different perspectives.

Improves Problem-Solving Skills : Creative play encourages innovative solutions to problems.

Enhances Communication Skills : Expressing ideas through creativity promotes effective communication skills.

Remember, harnessing your creativity isn’t just about being an artist; it’s about enriching every aspect of your life and learning journey.

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Developing your ability to critically assess situations can significantly enhance your decision-making skills and overall intellectual growth. Creative thinking encourages you to scrutinize problems, formulate hypotheses, and consider the implications of potential solutions. This process nurtures a more profound understanding of issues and promotes logical reasoning.

Creative thinking impacts two major aspects: Thinking Styles and Decision Making. Let’s delve into these:

Remember, creativity isn’t merely about painting a masterpiece or writing a novel; it’s also about embracing an analytical approach in cognizance of the world around you.

The Role of Creativity in the Workplace

Creativity’s role in the workplace can’t be underestimated as it fuels innovation and problem-solving. It’s a game-changer that empowers teams, fosters workplace diversity, and enhances team dynamics.

Think about this:

Creativity encourages different perspectives. A diverse workforce brings an array of unique experiences and skills – a perfect set-up for generating innovative ideas.

Creative thinking also strengthens team dynamics by promoting collaboration. When everyone contributes their creative input, it cultivates a sense of unity and mutual respect.

Lastly, creativity leads to better problem-solving. Instead of resorting to the same old solutions, it pushes you to think outside the box.

So don’t neglect your creative side—it might just be your secret weapon for success in the workplace!

The Influence of Creative Thinking on Mental Health

Embracing one’s imaginative side can significantly impact mental health in positive ways. It’s no secret that the mind is a complex, intricate system. Creative thinking can act as a form of self-care, helping to nurture this delicate system through exercises that stimulate your brain and relieve stress.

Diving into creativity helps forge emotional resilience, enabling you to better handle life’s ups and downs. You’re essentially flexing your mental muscles, preparing them for any challenges that may surface. The therapeutic benefits are tangible too – engaging in creative activities has been linked to lower levels of anxiety and depression.

In essence, creative thinking isn’t just about producing art or coming up with unique ideas – it’s also about maintaining and improving your mental wellbeing.

The Role of Creativity in Social Interactions

Just as creative thinking can influence your mental health, it also plays a vital role in social interactions. Consider how creativity boosts emotional intelligence and enhances nonverbal communication.

Emotional intelligence is about understanding others’ emotions and responding appropriately, while nonverbal communication involves expressing yourself without words. Creativity facilitates both these aspects immensely. Let’s delve deeper into this connection with the help of a table:

So remember – fostering creativity isn’t just for art; it’s for life! It allows you to navigate social situations more smoothly by enhancing your emotional understanding and nonverbal expression abilities.

The Influence of Creative Thinking on Personal Development

Imagine yourself harnessing the power of creativity and using it as a tool for self-expression and personal growth.

When you channel your creative thinking, you’re not only able to articulate your unique perspective on life but also unlock untapped potential within you.

This process isn’t just about creating something beautiful or innovative; it’s about delving into the depths of who you are, sparking inner transformations that can lead to significant personal development.


You’ll find that creative thinking allows for a unique form of self-expression, helping you to communicate your thoughts and feelings in ways beyond simple words. It becomes the bridge between your emotions and the outside world.

This process isn’t just about producing something new; it’s an opportunity for artistic exploration.

Delving into different mediums—be it painting, writing, dancing or even coding—you’re able to articulate what’s within you in an innovative way. Creative thinking fosters emotional articulation, giving life to abstract concepts swirling around inside your mind.

By exercising creativity, you eventually understand yourself better. You discover fresh perspectives about your personal experiences and emotions.

So go ahead, let those creative juices flow! Remember: Your mind is an endless canvas—paint it with all the colors of your imagination.

Personal Growth

Embracing new experiences and stepping outside your comfort zone can significantly contribute to your personal growth. Engaging in creative thinking encourages you to explore unfamiliar territories, which can stimulate both intellectual and emotional development. It’s not just about artistic exploration; it’s also a journey towards enhancing your emotional intelligence.

Consider this:

  • When you immerse yourself in creating art, you learn to express complex emotions.
  • This might involve painting vibrant landscapes to channel joy or writing melancholic poetry to cope with sadness.
  • Each creation is a step towards understanding yourself better.
  • You may discover dormant passions or previously unknown fears.
  • The process of creative thinking itself teaches patience and perseverance.
  • The journey from conception to completion can be as rewarding as the final product.

By nurturing creativity, you’re investing in more than just skillsets—you’re fostering personal growth.

The Importance of Creativity in Leadership

As a leader, your creativity isn’t just an asset, it’s a necessity. It allows you to think strategically, finding unique solutions and developing innovative approaches that keep your team or business one step ahead.

Moreover, your creative spirit can inspire others, pushing them to think outside the box and fostering an environment of innovation and growth.

Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking, a crucial aspect of creative thought, often determines an individual’s capacity to navigate complex situations and achieve desired outcomes. It’s about seeing the bigger picture, being forward-thinking, and making decisions that will positively impact your future.

Risk Analysis : Strategic thinking involves evaluating potential risks before taking action. This foresight allows you to anticipate challenges and devise strategies to mitigate them.

Decision Making : With strategic thinking, you improve your decision-making skills. You become adept at assessing options and choosing the most suitable course of action.

Innovation : Strategic thinking fosters innovation because it pushes you out of conventional boundaries and encourages original thoughts.

So, get creative with your thinking! The more you practice strategic thought processes, the better equipped you’ll be for success in any endeavor.

Inspiring Others

You’ve got the power to inspire others, and here’s how you can use that influence effectively. Creative thinking is your key tool in this process. It enables you to approach situations from new perspectives and find unique solutions, a skill we’ll call motivational artistry.

By using motivational artistry, you paint visions of possibilities, sparking curiosity and engagement. Nurturing emotional resilience allows your team to bounce back from setbacks stronger than before, fostering trust and empowerment. When you communicate creatively, it ignites passion and determination within them. These elements combined create an inspirational masterpiece that moves people towards action.

The Role of Creative Thinking in Arts and Culture

In arts and culture, creative thinking isn’t just important, it’s essential for pushing boundaries and sparking new ideas. This unique mind frame allows you to look at things from a different perspective, making artistic expression more profound and impactful.

Enhanced Perception : Creative thinking can help you see the world in vibrant colors rather than black and white. It helps to perceive art as not just an object but a narrative.

Cultural Preservation : Your creativity can play a crucial role in preserving cultural heritage, interpreting traditions in novel ways that resonate with contemporary audiences.

Innovation : Being creative means being innovative, bringing fresh interpretations to classic themes or creating entirely new concepts.

Emotional Expression : Through your creativity, you can convey complex emotions that words often fall short of expressing.

Remember, without creative thinking, arts and culture would lose their magic!

The Impact of Creativity on Economic Growth

Harnessing the power of innovation and originality can significantly boost economic growth. Why? Because creative thinking isn’t just about producing breathtaking art or groundbreaking novels. It’s also about devising innovative solutions to complex problems, driving technological advancements, and creating new industries.

Your creative ideas can lead to novel products or services that stir demand in local or global markets, strengthening economic resilience. In today’s fast-paced world where change is constant, economies that encourage creativity are often more adaptable to disruptions.

Moreover, nations that foster creativity tend to have greater global competitiveness. They’re able to create unique value propositions that set them apart from their rivals on the international stage. Therefore, your ability to think creatively isn’t just beneficial—it’s crucial for fostering economic prosperity and sustainability.

The Role of Creative Thinking in Science and Technology

Consider how your original ideas could revolutionize the realm of science and technology. Creative thinking is not just vital for artists or writers, it’s equally crucial in fields of scientific discoveries and technological innovations. Your imaginative approach can bring forth unique solutions to complex problems, potentially leading to groundbreaking advancements.

Just ponder on this:

Each one of these revolutionary breakthroughs stemmed from a creative thought process. So, don’t underestimate your creativity. It might be the key that unlocks the next pivotal development in science and technology!

The Importance of Creativity in Entrepreneurship

As an entrepreneur, your unique ideas and innovative approaches can truly set you apart in the competitive business world. Risk-taking creativity isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a vital component of your entrepreneurial mindset, shaping the way you perceive opportunities and challenges.

Think about it: every successful enterprise starts with a creative idea that disrupts conventional thinking. Your inventive solutions to common problems are what make your venture stand out from the crowd. They enable you to offer something fresh and exciting to consumers, which is crucial for establishing yourself in the market.

In essence, creativity fuels entrepreneurship by encouraging risk-taking and fostering innovation. So don’t underestimate its power. Cultivate it, let it thrive, and watch as it transforms your business journey into a remarkable success story.

The Role of Creative Thinking in Social Change

We can’t ignore the fact that innovative ideas play a major role in driving social change. Your creative thinking, combined with actionable steps, can lead to significant social transformation.

Creativity isn’t just about how you express yourself artistically; it’s also about how you approach problems, initiate conversations, and instigate changes in society. Harnessing your creative thinking for activism can create waves of impact that ripple outwards, touching lives and transforming communities. Remember, every societal shift started with an idea – why not yours?

The Future of Creative Thinking

Looking ahead, it’s clear that imagination and innovation will be critical drivers in shaping the world of tomorrow. Your ability to think creatively won’t just be a bonus, but a necessity for progress.

In the realm of Artificial Intelligence Creativity, your out-of-the-box ideas could revolutionize how AI operates or interacts with humans.

Imagine this: you’re devising an algorithm that enables AI to create art or compose music autonomously. You’re not just enhancing technology; you’re redefining what creativity means for our species.

Likewise, consider space exploration. Creative thinking might lead to breakthroughs like sustainable life-support systems on Mars or effective asteroid mining techniques.

The future demands bold ideas and fresh perspectives—so cultivate your creative thinking now—it’s essential for navigating what comes next.

The Peak Performance Center

The Peak Performance Center

The pursuit of performance excellence, critical thinking vs. creative thinking, critical thinking vs. creative thinking.

Creative thinking is a way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective to conceive of something new or original.

critical thinking is the logical, sequential disciplined process of rationalizing, analyzing, evaluating, and interpreting information to make informed judgments and/or decisions.

Critical Thinking vs. Creative Thinking – Key Differences

  • Creative thinking tries to create something new, while critical thinking seeks to assess worth or validity of something that already exists.
  • Creative thinking is generative, while critical thinking is analytical .
  • Creative thinking is divergent, while critical thinking is convergent.
  • Creative thinking is focused on possibilities, while critical thinking is focused on probability.
  • Creative thinking is accomplished by disregarding accepted principles, while critical thinking is accomplished by applying accepted principles.


About Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is a process utilized to generate lists of new, varied and unique ideas or possibilities. Creative thinking brings a fresh perspective and sometimes unconventional solution to solve a problem or address a challenge.  When you are thinking creatively, you are focused on exploring ideas, generating possibilities, and/or developing various theories.

Creative thinking can be performed both by an unstructured process such as brainstorming , or by a structured process such as lateral thinking .

Brainstorming is the process for generating unique ideas and solutions through spontaneous and freewheeling group discussion. Participants are encouraged to think aloud and suggest as many ideas as they can, no matter how outlandish it may seem.

Lateral thinking uses a systematic process that leads to logical conclusions. However, it involves changing a standard thinking sequence and arriving at a solution from completely different angles.

No matter what process you chose, the ultimate goal is to generate ideas that are unique, useful and worthy of further elaboration. Often times, critical thinking is performed after creative thinking has generated various possibilities. Critical thinking is used to vet those ideas to determine if they are practical.

Creative Thinking Skills

  • Open-mindedness
  • flexibility
  • Imagination
  • Adaptability
  • Risk-taking
  • Originality
  • Elaboration
  • Brainstorming

Critical Thinking header

About Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the process of actively analyzing, interpreting, synthesizing, evaluating information gathered from observation, experience, or communication. It is thinking in a clear, logical, reasoned, and reflective manner to make informed judgments and/or decisions.

Critical thinking involves the ability to:

  • remain objective

In general, critical thinking is used to make logical well-formed decisions after analyzing and evaluating information and/or an array of ideas.

On a daily basis, it can be used for a variety of reasons including:

  • to form an argument
  • to articulate and justify a position or point of view
  • to reduce possibilities to convergent toward a single answer
  • to vet creative ideas to determine if they are practical
  • to judge an assumption
  • to solve a problem
  • to reach a conclusion

Critical Thinking Skills

  • Interpreting
  • Integrating
  • Contrasting
  • Classifying
  • Forecasting
  • Hypothesizing

is critical thinking necessary for creativity

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Critical and Creative Thinking: What is Which and What are the Advantages

Russell Heisler · March 8, 2018 · Leave a Comment

The two contrasting hemispheres of the brain illustrated by two people

When dealing with problems, there are two ways to approach them. One might find solutions by applying critical thinking, while someone might find it more suitable to use creative thinking. Critical and creative thinking are essential during the learning process, which requires students to resort to different methods. They can use reason and logic when acquiring their knowledge, or be innovative and use imagination when finding solutions.

What is creative thinking?

Creative thinking is a form of innovation which seeks to find new answers and allow new perspectives on a problem. The outcome of this process should be original and unique. Through it, people might find unexpected solutions and increase productivity.

Through creative thinking, one starts by putting up lists of possibilities on a quest for ideas. Any unconventional proposition is welcome as, in the end, the product consists of various theories on the same issue. To come up with ideas, people can use both structured and unstructured methods.

Brain colored in rainbow shades

Brainstorming vs. lateral thinking

Brainstorming is the unstructured type of process. It consists of a free discussion, where everyone contributes with ideas and suggestions. Those who are part of a brainstorming process are encouraged to voice all their ideas. Sometimes, they might have some unorthodox propositions, but this is all for the better.

Lateral thinking is the structured alternative to achieving creative thinking. It might seem a little too critical as, in the end, it reaches logical conclusions. However, the thinking process does not follow the classic line, and the ideas produced are attained from many points of view. In fact, the purpose of creative thinking is to supply some ideas which are then filtered through critical thinking.

Skills related to creative thinking

People who use this process have to be open-minded and flexible to outlandish ideas. Also, they need the imagination to produce the original ideas, and the creativity to make them unique. To produce alternatives and make them possible, it’s necessary to elaborate on a basis and even take some risks.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking makes use of logic, reason, and analyzing to reach a conclusion. The subjects first have to observe and have a certain experience with the elements of the problem. Then, they closely ponder all possibilities and analyze the reality. The final judgment is empirical and educated.

In critical thinking, people learn how to question everything. They do this by using logic to filter through all the alternatives. For the results to be the best, they also have to remain objective and thoroughly analyze everything that’s given to them.

Two heads constructed of gears

What to use critical thinking for?

This process is best in debates, when people are trying to build up arguments to support their convictions. Also, some questions require a single answer, but more alternatives are offered. This is the best method of sorting the real one out. As mentioned above, critical and creative thinking are related as the former is used to sift through the variety given by the latter. Cortactors CRM. Best crm for construction companies .

Critical and creative thinking – main differences

Critical and creative thinking both seek to find answers and promote learning, but they use opposing principles and techniques. First of all, creative thinking is all about innovation. It wants to come up with new theories, while critical thinking explores the already existing options and the truth present in them.

Also, creative thinking seeks to generate. The main purpose of critical thinking is to be purely analytical and explore everything that is given. This is offered by the widely accepted principles which are closely followed in critical thinking. In the other variant, they are disregarded and challenged.

In the end, the main purpose of critical thinking is to reach one single answer. Therefore, all the methods are convergent, and carefully remove the options one by one, until the best is left. Creative thinking is clashing, divergent, and encourages diversity.

How do critical and creative thinking work together?

When solving problems, one may opt for one alternative or the other. However, in the context of learning, the two processes are not mutually exclusive. Both are essential for the development of thinking abilities. If students develop both their logic and imagination skills, they will later be able to choose their preferred strategy. Also, they will spontaneously use whatever suits the situation.

Critical and creative thinking in learning

To make kids develop critical and creative thinking, they first have to learn a few investigation techniques. Working in teams teaches them to listen to others’ opinions and thus develop a set of theories. On the other hand, working individually enhances their logical skills, and encourages them to ponder each result.

Critical and creative thinking are good for developing the inquiry skills of the kids. Both of them make the students ask more questions and be more curious about the options they have. Also, they get to compare all the information and be more attentive to where it comes from.

The analytical and the creative hemisphere of the brain

The two processes increase both the creativity and pragmatism of a child

Of course, these techniques increase the creativity of a child. By knowing how to come up with ideas and then judge them, students can then identify common points and find out how they are related. By connecting them, they might even find new solutions, or establish on the best strategy to apply.

These processes are essential for the development of a child into an adult endowed with reason. They teach them how to apply reason and logical concepts, and then reach conclusions. These skills are what it takes to help kids take decisions on their own, as they become capable of analyzing the consequences of their actions.

Drawing to a Close

Critical and creative thinking are two opposed methods to rationalize, which can often complete each other. Although one seeks to generate ideas and the other wants to sort out the existent options, they can both train the brain to be more creative and find solutions quickly. It also develops one’s logical skills, thus improving decision making and the analysis of consequences.

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