Critical Thinking: Definition and Importance

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Critical thinking is defined by the use of reason and questioning to navigate problems, and biases and evaluate information. This type of thinking is a valuable skill for thriving in professional and personal spaces. 

Everything from resolving personal conflicts to reading the morning news requires critical thinking. Critical thinking is necessary for understanding the world and sorting through the situations and stimuli people encounter daily. 

Critical thinking requires you to question your assumptions, examine information, reflect on your findings, and clearly articulate your thoughts. Understanding the importance of critical thinking is vital for society as we move forward through a rapidly changing world.

The Components of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is not one skill, but a combination of several skills such as: 

  • Analysis: Breaking down a problem or situation into smaller pieces;
  • Evaluation: Assessing the information to determine what is relevant;
  • Inference: Coming to a logical conclusion based on the analysis and evaluation; of the evidence;
  • Explanation: Interpreting or explaining the meaning of the information.

Each of these skills builds and supports the others. Working on each skill individually can help you to feel stronger in your critical thinking skills overall.

Why Critical Thinking Matters

Critical thinking helps improve decision-making in a variety of contexts, such as: 

  • Professional spaces: Critical thinking helps you to learn and sort through new information and develop innovative solutions to the problems you are faced with. This skill is necessary for every role, but especially for leadership positions. When faced with challenges in your career, critical thinking can help you see situations clearly and make the best decision for you, your team, and your company. 
  • Political and community involvement: Part of living in a community is working with others to make improvements and build a bright future. This means thinking critically about the problems facing your local, national, or global region and addressing your own biases. Critical thinking helps individuals to work with their communities to make the best decisions for a brighter future.  
  • Media consumption: Journalists and fact-checkers work around the clock to provide up-to-date information for their news outlet’s viewers and readers. However, the rise of “fake news” requires that people utilize their critical thinking skills when viewing media online. Evaluating media and media sources is a vital skill in navigating the digital landscape. 

In every aspect of life, critical thinking brings increased clarity and depth to conversations and learning. Solving relationship conflicts, developing innovative solutions in the workplace, and addressing societal challenges within your community are challenging tasks that are all made possible by developing your critical thinking skills.

Critical Thinking in the Age of Information

The digital information landscape brings unique challenges and opportunities for modern civilization. Individuals have access to more information about world events and politics than ever before, but this information is shared by news outlets and content creators with their own biases. 

Every day, we consume unprecedented amounts of information from phones, televisions, and computers. Studies have shown that this near-constant flow of information impacts the reward centers of the brain in ways that are similar to recreational drugs and junk food. This causes social media users to be drawn online again and again to share information at a lightning pace. This activates the brain’s reward centers, but it also means that misinformation can spread quickly if you don’t practice critical thinking before reposting.

Those who turn to the internet to learn about the world should always make note of the following elements of any piece of content they see by examining the following:

  • Source: What is the source of this article/photo/video? What sources are mentioned in the article that support its claims? When thinking critically about a source, consider its academic reputation and organizational connections. 
  • Age: How old are the sources supporting this claim? Is the writer or creator linking to studies conducted decades ago, or a month ago? There is not a strict rule regarding the age of sources, so practice critical thinking by considering the impact of age on sources in the specific field you are working in. 
  • Evidence: Is the content creator presenting their opinions as facts, unsupported by evidence? Or is the claim supported by factual sources? Try to critically approach any media that presents opinions as objective facts. 

By making note of these basic elements, you can weed out content focused on spreading misinformation and bias. Not every article and social media post has been fact-checked. 

Critical Thinking and Technology

The information and misinformation available on the internet have increased the need for critical thinking skills. Every person on the planet with internet access and a device can share information with others—which is both beautiful and challenging. Technology creates opportunities for growth and community, but it also gives opportunities for unqualified individuals to mislead others and spread biased thinking. 

But technology has also provided new ways for educators to teach critical thinking in schools, such as: 

  • Discussion forums: Students can conduct vigorous debates with their peers, even in remote learning situations, through online discussion forums.  
  • Research projects: Learning research skills is vital for developing critical thinking. Research projects give students an opportunity to engage with different sources and find factual evidence for their claims. 

Learning critical thinking is one way to build resilience and adaptability in the face of the constantly transforming digital world. Adults can practice critical thinking each day, out of the classroom, by learning from the media they consume and their conversations with others.

How To Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking skills can be developed through dedicated time and practice. There are several strategies for enhancing critical thinking skills, including: 

  • Adopt a questioning mindset.
  • Continuously learn new ideas and explore new ways of life.
  • Practice logical reasoning when faced with a problem.
  • Explore diverse sources of information and learn how people of different backgrounds see the world.  

Taking the time to implement these strategies and develop your critical thinking skills can help you to become a better friend, partner, professional, and global citizen.

Challenges in Cultivating Critical Thinking

Those who are working to cultivate critical thinking are often faced with two serious challenges: 

  • Cognitive biases: Every person has biases. These biases can impact the way we interpret new information and events, so identifying these biases is an important step in developing strong critical thinking. 
  • Emotional reasoning: While logical reasoning relies on facts and evidence, emotional reasoning relies on feelings and intuition. Emotions bring such depth to the human experience, but when someone is facing a highly emotional situation, those emotions can get in the way of critical thinking and cloud a person’s judgment.  

The first step in overcoming these challenges is to recognize their existence. Biases and emotions have such a strong impact because many people are blind to their presence and power. 

Once you have acknowledged your bias and emotional habits, you can begin to address them directly through self-reflection, coaching, counseling, and continued practice with fact-checking sources of information you use in your daily life. By taking these steps, you can become stronger in your critical thinking and move through life with increased clarity and understanding. 

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