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How Can Critical Thinking Be Useful In Everyday Life

Each of us makes judgments which affect ourselves, our families, our country and our world. In all of these cases, when the stakes are high, critical thinking is vital. Learning demands strength in critical thinking because learning requires the interpretation and integration of new knowledge and its practical and appropriate application when encountering novel situations, problem conditions and innovative opportunities.

Many believe it is obvious who the best thinkers are in a given agency or institution. But these impressions are often based on fortunate happenstance, expressions of self-confidence, and hierarchical position in the group, and hindsight. We can no longer afforded to be mistaken about best thinking, when error rates are already in question, when difficult problems and decisions must be addressed, and where poor judgments can lead to irreparable damage and even cost lives. To read more

Critical thinking is one of the key skills valued by employers, according to recent research.  A 2013 survey of 300 CEO’s reported that C-suite executives in private sector for-profit and non-profit organizations saw a candidate’s capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems as more important than their undergraduate major (Hart Research group, Washington, DC).  In Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s July 2009 Jobs to Careers, Randall Wilson wrote: “Early assessment of critical thinking maximizes workforce efficiency and increases the potential for learning and educational effectiveness at all levels.” The truth of this claim is even more apparent today. World culture and an information-intensive everyday life invite us to apply critical thinking to interpret, analyze, evaluate, explain, and draw warranted inferences about what to believe and what to do in a stream of novel and too often time-limited or high-stakes, uncertain situations. For the thinking process to be successful, it must be done with the habits of mind that have been identified as supporting strength in critical thinking. Studies, some of which are listed in the research section of the Insight Assessment website , have consistently shown that strength in critical thinking correlates with workplace and academic success, certification and licensure in the most valued professions, and survival of some of life’s most difficult challenges.

We are learning more about how humans actually engage and try to understand problems and how they actually make judgments. Perhaps more importantly, we are learning more about how they make bad judgments, often without realizing it. When objective measures reveal weaknesses in reasoning skills and habits of mind, there are effective training and teaching techniques that can be used to strengthen those skills and to foster more positive dispositions toward thinking and reasoning.  An honest and concerned appraisal of the variances in critical thinking skills and dispositions manifested in working adults and students in all programs of study, and focused response to any demonstrated strengths and weakness in critical thinking is a pathway to future growth and achievement for individuals and for society as a whole.

Weak critical thinking skills and mindset show themselves in many ways: dangerous and costly errors, repeated mistakes, bad decisions, failed systems, inaction when action is needed, the giving of bad advice, inaccurate assumptions, the poor design of training programs, the poor evaluation of educational curricula, the lack of anticipated action… the list is long.

Students and workers who enter with weak critical thinking skills and mindset are not prepared to benefit from the educational training program that will be offered to them. Their presence in the classroom or laboratory causes instructors to slow or alter the training of other students and trainees. Their presence in clinics, internships, or field exercises risks increases injuries and liabilities related to likely errors of both inaction and wrong action.  Unaddressed weakness in critical thinking skill results in loss of opportunities, of financial resources, of relationships, and even loss of life. There is probably no other attribute more worthy of measure than critical thinking.

Human reasoning and problem solving are highly complex processes, but not impossible to analyze, measure and improve. A measure of critical thinking that describes an individual's comparative strength in critical thinking is a valuable aid in determining a person's capacity to benefit from training or to succeed in their job.

Today, educational programs and workplace training programs are being required to demonstrate that they are effectively improving critical thinking skills and mindset. Individual measures of critical thinking ability (analysis, inference, evaluation, inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning) and mindset (Truth-seeking, open-mindedness, Analyticity, Systematicity, Confidence in Reasoning, Inquisitiveness, and Maturity of Judgment) provide valuable information about potential hires and guidance as to where to dedicate programs of improvement in workers and students.

Insight Assessment’s premiere array of test instruments are used globally to provide metrics for a full range of professional and academic needs. Contact our client support team to learn more about our comprehensive solutions.  

Last year Reebok was forced to refund $25 million to customers who purchased their EasyTone toning shoes after research published by the American Council on Exercise found that the toning shoes were no better than regular sneakers at toning muscles or burning calories (Porcari, Greany, Tepper, Edmonson, Foster, & Anders, 2011). The incredible popularity of the toning shoes (even with no evidence of their effectiveness) illustrates the need for critical thinking among consumers who face an onslaught of marketing campaigns that seek to persuade them to purchase things that are ‘good’ for them. Consumers who can think critically about sensational product claims may have saved themselves the $100-$245 expense of purchasing these faux-fitness shoes. Critical thinkers should also make better decisions about other aspects of life, for example, in the context of important financial, legal, medical, and interpersonal decisions.

Over the last several decades, educators, employers, and organizations around the world have expressed concern about student preparedness for a 21st century world (e.g., Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2010; Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011; Galagan, 2010; Halpern, 2010b; Hunt, 1995). In response to these concerns an increased emphasis on the training of critical thinking skills has been incorporated into international education standards (European Higher Education Area, 2011; Redden, 2010; U.S. Department of Education, 2006).

Critical thinking has been defined in many differt ways (e.g., Halpern, 2003; Moseley et al. 2005; Sternberg, Roediger, & Halpern, 2007), but experts generally agree that critical thinking involves an attempt to achieve a desired outcome by thinking rationally and in a goal-oriented fashion. Recently, Stanovich argued that critical thinking is what intelligence tests fail to adequately measure (Stanovich, 2009; Stanovich & West, 2008). This idea echoes the general consensus among researchers that intelligence and critical thinking are separate constructs, but share at least one common attribute – they are difficult to adequately assess.

One relatively new test of critical thinking ability, the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment (HCTA) moves beyond the limitations of previous multiple-choice tests by combining both open-ended and multiple-choice questions, and by assessing thinking in relation to daily, easy-to-relate-to situations (Ku, 2009). It is a standardized instrument that consists of 25 everyday scenarios that respondents analyze and critique. The scenarios involve thinking in various life domains including health, education, work, and social policy. The test is also coded for a variety of thinking skills, including (a) verbal reasoning skills, (b) argument analysis skills, (c) hypothesis testing skills, (d) likelihood and uncertainty judgment skills, and (e) decision making and problem solving skills.

A number of studies have established the reliability and validity of the HCTA (c.f. Halpern, 2010a) using a variety of methodologies (e.g., correlational, pretest-posttest experimental designs), with respondents that vary widely in education level (e.g., high school students, community college students, state university students, private liberal arts students, graduate students, community adults) and with participants from numerous countries (e.g., China, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, United States, Viet Nam, etc.). Consistent with other assessments of critical thinking, much of validity evidence for the HCTA is based on the prediction of academic achievement scores (e.g., grades, standardized test scores). However, critical thinking skills should predict more than academic outcomes. We make 100s of decisions each day that are likely to be influenced by our critical thinking ability. At the very least, we would expect critical thinkers to avoid certain negative life outcomes.

A series of recent studies have examined the relationship between critical thinking and real-world outcomes of critical thinking (Butler, in press; Butler et al., 2012) using an adapted version of an inventory of life events created by de Bruin, Parker, and Fischhoff (2007). This self-report inventory measures negative life outcomes from many domains (e.g., interpersonal, business, financial, interpersonal) that vary in severity from mildly negative (e.g., paying late fees for a movie rental) to severely negative (e.g., foreclosure on a home). The recent studies by Butler and colleagues sought to expand the validity of the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment (HCTA) cross-nationally and to determine whether HCTA scores predicted real-world outcomes of critical thinking.

The findings were clear: In both the United States and the Republic of Ireland, those with higher critical thinking scores reported fewer negative life events than those with lower critical thinking scores. While this is bad news for people with lower critical thinking scores, the good news is that that critical thinking can be improved through instruction (see Chance, 1986; Halpern, 2003; Moseley et al., 2005; Nisbett, 1992). Future research could explore the causal link between critical thinking and real-world outcomes of critical thinking, with special emphasis on the role of education and behavioral outcomes.

In a world that is more complex and technical with each passing day, thinking critically about the information we consume is of the utmost importance. The evidence suggests that critical thinking scores can predict real-world outcomes and thus we need to appreciate that critical thinking is more than simply the new buzz word in education. Critical thinking is critical for life success. The good news is that there is a plethora of evidence that critical thinking skills can be taught and learned – critically important news coming at a critical time in history.

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