Category: Critical thinking
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Unlike Biomedical problems or medical conditions, there is no laboratory tests such as blood or urine neither is there a simple x-rays to assist psychologists to diagnose accurately the mental illnesses. Instead, psychologists generally rely on listening carefully to patients' complaints; administer diagnostic instruments and observing the individuals behavior to assess their moods, motivations, and thinking (Diagnosing Disease, 2012). Sometimes mental health disorders may be accompanied by other medical or behavioral conditions such as chronic pain or addiction. The presence of more than one disease or disorder is termed comorbidity. Employing critical thinking skills is the practice of assessing claims and making objective judgments on the basis of well supported reasons and evidence, rather than emotion and more anecdotes
The concept of optimal mental health has historically been debated from various positions in relationship to personality traits and characteristics. However, it has been somewhat easier to define and identify a mental illness by the deviations from, or the absence of mental health. Within the broad definition of mental illness, there is appears to be more agreement amongst psychologists as to the origins, nature, and symptoms of the more serious, and long- term conditions where changes in brain functioning or cognition, behavior, or mood impair the patients global functioning. In relationship to shorter term, less intense conditions that often resolve spontaneously, without treatment (Diagnosing Disease, 2012).
The World Health Organization developed educational materials and guidelines specifically designed for him and general practitioners, family practitioners, internists and pediatricians, who are currently diagnosing mental health disorders as opposed to psychiatric or other mental health settings. The guidelines describe an assessment interview as a series of screening questions for which predominantly positive answers suggest the patient has an "identified mental disorder," or a "sub threshold disorder". A Sub threshold disorder with when the patient responds positively to many questions but not enough to fulfill the diagnostic criteria for a disorder as defined by the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Practitioners are encouraged to ask open-ended questions that encourage patients to freely express their emotions, assure confidentiality, to acknowledge patients' responses, and to closely observe their body language and tones of voice thus giving the clinician an opportunity to use critical thinking in formulating the direction of the conversation.
Mental health diagnosis is complicated and often strewn with debate in regards to the definitions and classification of the malady. Additionally, referencing past versions
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Chapter 1: Thinking Critically With Psychological Science
Directions: As you read over the chapter, add information to the basic outline provided below. Use both your textbook and the class lecture to answer the questions highlighted in yellow.
The scientific attitude reflects an eagerness to sceptically scrutinize competing ideas with an open-minded humility before nature. This attitude, coupled with scientific principles for sifting reality from illusion, prepares us to think critically. Two reliable phenomena – hindsight bias and judgmental overconfidence – illustrate the limits of everyday intuition and our need for scientific inquiry and critical thinking.
Psychologists construct theories that organize observations and imply testable hypotheses. In their research, they use case studies, surveys and naturalistic observation to describe behavior; correlation to assess the relationship between variables; and experimentation to uncover cause-effect relationships. Researchers use statistics to describe their data, to assess relationships between variables, and to determine whether differences are significant.
This chapter concludes by briefly answering several questions that students commonly ask about psychology. These include concern over the simplification of reality in laboratory experiments, the generalizability of research in terms of culture and gender, the purpose of animal studies, the adequacy of research ethics, and the potential misuse of psychology’s knowledge.
Our everyday thinking is limited by our tendency to think we know more than we do. Asked how sure we are of our answers to factual questions, we tend to be more confident than correct. College students’ predictions of their future behaviors and experts’ predictions of political, economic and military outcomes are similarly overconfident. Despite lacklustre predictions, the overconfidence of experts is hard to dislodge.
A useful theory effectively organizes a wide range of observations and implies testable predictions, called hypotheses. By enabling us to test and reject or revise a particular theory, such predictions give direction to research. They specify in advance what results would support the theory and what results would disconfirm it. As an additional check on their own biases, psychologists report their results precisely with clear operational definitions of concepts. Such statements of the procedures used to define research variables allow others to replicate . or repeat, their observations. Often, research leads to a revised theory that better organizes and predicts observable behaviors or events.
The survey looks at many cases in less depth and asks people to report their behavior or opinions. Asking questions is tricky because even subtle changes in the order or wording of questions can dramatically affect responses. In everyday experience, we are exposed to a biased sample of people who mostly share our attitudes and habits. As a result, we are vulnerable to the false consensus effect . whereby we overestimate others’ agreement with us. The survey ascertains the self-reported attitudes or behaviors of a population by questioning a representative, random sample.
Naturalistic observation consists of observing and recording the behavior of organisms in their natural environment. Like the case study and survey methods, this research strategy describes behavior but does not explain it.
When surveys and naturalistic observations reveal that one trait or behavior accompanies another, we say the two correlate. A correlation coefficient is a statistical measure of a relationship. A positive correlation indicates a direct relationship, meaning that two things increase together or decrease together. A negative correlation indicates an inverse relationship: as one thing increases, the other decreases. Researchers depict scores on graphs called scatterplots ; each point plots the value of two variables. The correlation coefficient helps us to see the world more clearly by revealing the extent to which two things relate.
Illusory correlation . the perception of a relationship where none exists, often occurs because our belief that a relationship exists leads us to notice and recall confirming instances of that belief. Because we are sensitive to unusual events, we are especially likely to notice and remember the occurrence of two such events in sequence, for example, a premonition of an unlikely phone call followed by the call.
Illusory correlation is also a result of our natural eagerness to make sense of our world. Given even random data, we look for meaningful patterns. We usually find order because random sequences often don’t look random. Apparent patterns and streaks (such as repeating digits) occur more often than people expect. Failing to see random occurrences for what they are can lead us to seek extraordinary explanations for ordinary events.
The experiment is a research method in which the investigator manipulates one or more variables to observer their effect on some behavior or mental process while controlling other relevant factors. If a behavior changes when we vary an experimental factor, then we know the factor is having a causal effect.
The independent variable is the experimental factor that is being manipulated. It is the variable whose effect is being studied. The dependent variable is the variable that may change in response to the manipulations of the independent variable. It is the outcome factor.
Statistics help us to organize, summarize and make inferences from data. They enable us to evaluate big, round, undocumented numbers that often misread reality and mislead the public.
Bar graphs provide one way to organize and present distributions of data. The visual display permits comparisons between different groups on the same quantitative dimension. Reducing or expanding the range of that measure can make differences between groups appear smaller or larger. It is always important to read the scale labels and note the range.
Important principles to remember in making generalizations include the following:
The experimenter intends the laboratory experiment to be a simplified reality, one in which important features can be simulated and controlled. The experiment’s purpose is not to re-create the exact behaviors of everyday life but to test theoretical principles. It is the resulting principles – not the specific findings – that help explain everyday behavior.
Some psychologists study animals out of an interest in animal behaviors. Others do so because knowledge of the physiological and psychological processes of animals enables them to better understand the similar processes that operate in humans.
Psychologists’ values can influence their choice of research topic, their theories and observations, their labels for behavior and their professional advice.
Knowledge is power that can be used for good or evil. Applications of psychology’s principles have so far been mostly for the good, and psychology addresses some of humanity’s greatest problems and deepest longings.
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Many researchers suggest that a key characteristic of critical thinking is the ability to recognize one’s own fallibility when evaluating and generating evidence — recognizing the danger of weighing evidence according to one’s own beliefs. The expanding literature on informal reasoning emphasizes the importance of detaching one’s own beliefs from the process of argument evaluation (Kuhn, 2007; Stanovich & Stanovich, 2010).
The emphasis placed on unbiased reasoning processes has led researchers to highlight the importance of decontextualized reasoning. For example (Stanovich & Stanovich, 2010, p. 196):
Kelley (1990) argues that “the ability to step back from our train of thought. is a virtue because it is the only way to check the results of our thinking, the only way to avoid jumping to conclusions, the only way to stay in touch with the facts” (p. 6). Neimark (1987) lumps the concepts of decentering and decontextualizing under the umbrella term detachment. She terms one component of detachment depersonalizing: being able to adopt perspectives other than one’s own. This aspect of detachment is closely analogous to Piaget’s (1926) concept of decentration.”
Various tasks in the heuristics and biases branch of the reasoning literature involve some type of decontextualized reasoning (Kahneman, 2003; Stanovich, 2003). These tasks are designed to see whether reasoning processes can function without interference from the context (prior opinions, beliefs, vividness effects).
In a series of studies, Klaczynski and colleagues (Klaczynski & Lavallee, 2005; Klaczynski & Robinson, 2000; Stanovich & Stanovich, 2010) presented individuals with flawed hypothetical experiments leading to conclusions that were either consistent or inconsistent with their prior positions and opinions. The study participants then critiqued the flaws in the experiments. More flaws were found when the experiment’s conclusions were inconsistent with the participants’ prior opinions than when the experiment’s conclusions were consistent with their prior opinions and beliefs.
In the education field, educators often pay lip service to the idea of teaching “critical thinking.” But, when asked to define “critical thinking,” answers are often weak and sometimes so ambiguous they are virtually worthless. Common responses to the critical thinking questions includes, “teaching them how to think,” “teaching them formal logic,” or “teaching them how to solve problems.” They already know how to think, logic is only a portion of what is needed to increase critical thinking, and teaching them how to solve problems is an ambiguous answer that is context specific.
Stanovich argues, “that the superordinate goal we are actually trying to foster is that of rationality” (Stanovich, 2010, p.198). Ultimately, educators are concerned with rational thought in both the epistemic sense and the practical sense. Certain thinking dispositions are valued because they help us base our beliefs on available evidence and assist us in achieving our goals.Understanding Rationality
Rationality is concerned with two key things: what is true and what to do (Manktelow, 2004). In order for our beliefs to be rational they must be in agreement with evidence. In order for our actions to be rational they must be conducive to obtaining our goals.
Cognitive scientists generally identify two types of rationality: instrumental and epistemic (Stanovich, 2009). Instrumental rationality can be defined as adopting appropriate goals, and behaving in a manner that optimizes one’s ability to achieve goals. Epistemic rationality can be defined as holding beliefs that are commensurate with available evidence. This type of rationality is concerned with how well our beliefs map onto the structure of the world. Epistemic rationality is sometimes called evidential rationality or theoretical rationality. Instrumental and epistemic rationality are related. In order to optimize rationality one needs adequate knowledge in the domains of logic, scientific thinking, and probabilistic thinking. A wide variety of cognitive skills fall within these broad domains of knowledge.
In order for educators to successfully teach critical thinking/rational thinking it is imperative that they understand what critical thinking actually is and why it matters. What are the goals of critical thinking? How can critical thinking be assessed? Does my curriculum contain information regarding scientific and probabilistic thinking?
Critical thinking is about what is true and what to do.
Kahneman, D. (2003). A perspective on judgment and choice: Mapping bounded rationality. American Psychologist. 58, 697–720.
Klaczynski, P. A. & Robinson, B. (2000). Personal theories, intellectual ability, and epistemological beliefs: Adult age differences in everyday reasoning tasks. Psychology and Aging. 15, 400 – 416.
Klaczynski, P. A. & Lavallee, K. L. (2005). Domain-specific c identity, epistemic regulation, and intellectual ability as predictors of belief-based reasoning: A dual-process perspective. Journal of Experimental ChildPsychology. 92, 1–24.
Kuhn, D. & Udell, W. (2007). Coordinating own and other perspectives in argument. Thinking & Reasoning. 13, 90–104.
Manktelow, K. I. (2004). Reasoning and rationality: The pure and the practical. In K. I. Manktelow & M. C. Chung (Eds.), Psychology of reasoning: Theoretical and historical perspectives (pp. 157-177). Hove, England: Psychology Press.
Stanovich, K. E. (2003). The fundamental computational biases of human cognition: Heuristics that (sometimes) impair decision making and problem solving. In J. E. Davidson & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The psychology of problem solving (pp. 291–342). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Stanovich, K. E. (2009). What intelligence tests miss: The psychology of rational thought. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Stanovich, K. E. & Stanovich, P. J. (2010). A framework for critical thinking, rational thinking, and intelligence. In D. Preiss & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Innovations in educational psychology: Perspectives on learning, teaching and human development (pp. 195-237). New York: Springer.
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Several years ago some teaching colleagues were talking about the real value of teaching psychology students to think critically. After some heated discussion, the last word was had by a colleague from North Carolina. “The real value of being a good critical thinker in psychology is so you won’t be a jerk,” he said with a smile. That observation remains one of my favorites in justifying why teaching critical thinking skills should be an important goal in psychology. However, I believe it captures only a fraction of the real value of teaching students to think critically about behavior.
Although there is little agreement about what it means to think critically in psychology, I like the following broad definition: Thepropensity and skillstoengage in activity withreflective skepticism focused on decidingwhat to believe or do
Students often arrive at their first introductory course with what they believe is a thorough grasp of how life works. After all, they have been alive for at least 18 years, have witnessed their fair shares of crisis, joy, and tragedy, and have successfully navigated their way in to your classroom.
These students have had a lot of time to develop their own personal theories about how the world works and most are quite satisfied with the results. They often pride themselves on how good they are with people as well as how astute they are in understanding and explaining the motives of others. And they think they know what psychology is. Many are surprised- and sometimes disappointed- to discover that psychology is a science, and the rigor of psychological research is a shock. The breadth and depth of psychology feel daunting. Regardless of their sophistication in the discipline, students often are armed with a single strategy to survive the experience: Memorize the book and hope it works out on the exam. In many cases, this strategy will serve them well. Unfortunately, student exposure to critical thinking skill development may be more accidental than planful on the part of most teachers. Collaboration in my department and with other colleagues over the years has persuaded me that we need to approach critical thinking skills in a purposeful, systematic, and developmental manner from the introductory course through the capstone experience, propose that we need to teach critical thinking skills in three domains of psychology: practical (the “jerk avoidance” function), theoretical (developing scientific explanations for behavior), and methodological (testing scientific ideas). I will explore each of these areas and then offer some general suggestions about how psychology teachers can improve their purposeful pursuit of critical thinking objectives.
Practical critical thinking is often expressed as a long-term, implicit goal of teachers of psychology, even though they may not spend much academic time teaching how to transfer critical thinking skills to make students wise consumers, more careful judges of character, or more cautious interpreters of behavior. Accurate appraisal of behavior is essential, yet few teachers invest time in helping students understand how vulnerable their own interpretations are to error.
Encourage practice in accurate description and interpretation of behavior by presenting students with ambiguous behavior samples. Ask them to distinguish what they observe (What is the behavior?) from the inferences they draw from the behavior (What is the meaning of the behavior?). I have found that cartoons, such as Simon Bond’s Unspeakable Acts, can be a good resource for refining observation skills. Students quickly recognize that crisp behavioral descriptions are typically consistent from observer to observer, but inferences vary wildly. They recognize that their interpretations are highly personal and sometimes biased by their own values and preferences. As a result of experiencing such strong individual differences in interpretation, students may learn to be appropriately less confident of their immediate conclusions, more tolerant of ambiguity, and more likely to propose alternative explanations. As they acquire a good understanding of scientific procedures, effective control techniques, and legitimate forms of evidence, they may be less likely to fall victim to the multitude of off-base claims about behavior that confront us all. (How many Elvis sightings can be valid in one year?)
Theoretical critical thinking involves helping the student develop an appreciation for scientific explanations of behavior. This means learning not just the content of psychology but how and why psychology is organized into concepts, principles, laws, and theories. Developing theoretical skills begins in the introductory course where the primary critical thinking objective is understanding and applying concepts appropriately. For example, when you introduce students to the principles of reinforcement, you can ask them to find examples of the principles in the news or to make up stories that illustrate the principles.
Mid-level courses in the major require more sophistication, moving students beyond application of concepts and principles to learning and applying theories. For instance, you can provide a rich case study in abnormal psychology and ask students to make sense of the case from different perspectives, emphasizing theoretical flexibility or accurate use of existing and accepted frameworks in psychology to explain patterns of behavior. In advanced courses we can justifiably ask students to evaluatetheory, selecting the most useful or rejecting the least helpful. For example, students can contrast different models to explain drug addiction in physiological psychology. By examining the strengths and weaknesses of existing frameworks, they can select which theories serve best as they learn to justify their criticisms based on evidence and reason.
Capstone, honors, and graduate courses go beyond theory evaluation to encourage students to create theory. Students select a complex question about behavior (for example, identifying mechanisms that underlie autism or language acquisition) and develop their own theory-based explanations for the behavior. This challenge requires them to synthesize and integrate existing theory as well as devise new insights into the behavior.
Most departments offer many opportunities for students to develop their methodological critical thinking abilities by applying different research methods in psychology. Beginning students must first learn what the scientific method entails. The next step is to apply their understanding of scientific method by identifying design elements in existing research. For example, any detailed description of an experimental design can help students practice distinguishing the independent from the dependent variable and identifying how researchers controlled for alternative explanations. The next methodological critical thinking goals include evaluating the quality of existing research design and challenging the conclusions of research findings. Students may need to feel empowered by the teacher to overcome the reverence they sometimes demonstrate for anything in print, including their textbooks. Asking students to do a critical analysis on a fairly sophisticated design may simply be too big a leap for them to make. They are likely to fare better if given examples of bad design so they can build their critical abilities and confidence in order to tackle more sophisticated designs. (Examples of bad design can be found in The Critical Thinking Companion for Introductory Psychology or they can be easily constructed with a little time and imagination). Students will develop and execute their own research designs in their capstone methodology courses. Asking students to conduct their own independent research, whether a comprehensive survey on parental attitudes, a naturalistic study of museum patrons’ behavior, or a well-designed experiment on paired associate learning, prompts students to integrate their critical thinking skills and gives them practice with conventional writing forms in psychology. In evaluating their work I have found it helpful to ask students to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their own work- as an additional opportunity to think critically-before giving them my feedback.
Adopting explicit critical thinking objectives, regardless of the domain of critical thinking, may entail some strategy changes on the part of the teacher.
• Introducepsychologyasan open-ended,growing enterprise. Students often think that their entry into the discipline represents an end-point where everything good and true has already been discovered. That conclusion encourages passivity rather than criticality. Point out that research is psychology’ s way of growing and developing. Each new discovery in psychology represents a potentially elegant act of critical thinking. A lot of room for discovery remains. New ideas will be developed and old conceptions discarded.
• Requirestudentperformance that goes beyond memorization. Group work, essays, debates, themes, letters to famous psychologists, journals, current event examples- all of these and more can be used as a means of developing the higher skills involved in critical thinking in psychology. Find faulty cause-effect conclusions in the tabloids (e.g. “Eating broccoli increases your IQ!”) and have students design studies to confirm or discredit the headline’s claims. Ask students to identify what kinds of evidence would warrant belief in commercial claims. Although it is difficult, even well designed objective test items can capture critical thinking skills so that students are challenged beyond mere repetition and recall.
•Clarify your expectations about performance with explicit, public criteria. Devising clear performance criteria for psychology projects will enhance student success. Students often complain that they don’t understand “what you want” when you assign work. Performance criteria specify the standards that you will use to evaluate their work. For example, perfonnance criteria for the observation exercise described earlier might include the following: The student describes behavior accurately;offers inference that isreasonableforthecontext; and identifies personalfactorsthat might influence inference. Perfonnance criteria facilitate giving detailed feedback easily and can also promote student self-assessment.
•Label good examples of critical thinkingwhen these occur spontaneously. Students may not recognize when they are thinking critically. When you identify examples of good thinking or exploit examples that could be improved, it enhances students’ ability to understand. One of my students made this vivid for me when she commented on the good connection she had made between a course concept and an insight from her literature class, “That is what you mean by critical thinking?” There after I have been careful to label a good critical thinking insight.
•Endorse a questioning attitude. Students often assume that if they have questions about their reading, then they are somehow being dishonorable, rude, or stupid. Having discussions early in the course about the role of good questions in enhancing the quality of the subject and expanding the sharpness of the mind may set a more critical stage on which students can play. Model critical thinking from some insights you have had about behavior or from some research you have conducted in the past. Congratulate students who offer good examples of the principles under study. Thank students who ask concept-related questions and describe why you think their questions are good. Leave time and space for more. Your own excitement about critical thinking can be a great incentive for students to seek that excitement.
• Brace yourself . When you include more opportunity for student critical thinking in class, there is much more opportunity for the class to go astray. Stepping away from the podium and engaging the students to perform what they know necessitates some loss of control, or at least some enhanced risk. However, the advantage is that no class will ever feel completely predictable, and this can be a source of stimulation for students and the professor as well.References and Further Reading:
Halonen, J.S. (1995). The critical thinking companion for Introductory psychology. NY: Worth Publishers.
Halpern, D.F. (1989). Thought and knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ:
Mayer, R. & Goodchild, F. (1990). The critical thinker: Thinking and learning strategies for psychology students.
Meyers, C. (1986). Teaching students to think critically. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Smith, R.A. (1995).