Introduction to Critical Thinking

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YThe concept of critical thinking has been defined in many complex ways, but for young students new to the concept, it can best be summed up as thinking and judging for yourself.

When you develop critical thinking skills, you will learn to evaluate information that you hear and process information that you collect while recognizing your implicit biases. You will analyze the evidence that is presented to you in order to make sure it is sound.

Recognize Common Fallacies

Fallacies are tricks of logic, and understanding them is the best way to avoid falling for them. There are many types of fallacies, and the more you think about them, the more readily you will recognize them all around you, especially in advertisements, arguments, and political discussions.

  • Bandwagon Appeals: Bandwagon appeals argue that you should follow along with something because everyone else believes it
  • Scare Tactics: A scare tactic is the use of a scary story as an example to make you more likely to believe some underlying assumption. 
  • Appeal to Emotion: An appeal to emotion uses a fiery speech or a tragic story to convince someone to side with you.
  • False Dichotomy: Often there are many sides to an argument, but a "false dichotomy" presents an issue as one side versus the other. 

Characteristics of Critical Thinking

To become a critical thinker, you must develop a few skills.

  • Recognize assumptions you carry with you. Have you ever wondered why you believe the things that you believe? Do you believe things because you’ve been told to believe them? Step outside your own beliefs to observe from a neutral viewpoint. Be aware of assumptions and learn to self-reflect.
  • Process information honestly. People sometimes pass along information that is not really true (i.e. the "fake news" crisis.) 
  • Recognize a generalization. Girls don’t like bugs. Old people are wise. Cats make better pets. These are generalizations. They’re not always true, are they?
  • Evaluate old information and new ideas. There was a time when doctors thought leeches could cure us. Recognize that just because something is commonly accepted, doesn't mean it is true. 
  • Produce new ideas based on sound evidence. Detectives solve crimes by collecting bits of truths and putting them all together like a puzzle. One small deceit can jeopardize an investigation. The entire truth-seeking process is destabilized by one piece of bad evidence, leading to a wrong conclusion. 
  • Analyze a problem and recognize the complex parts. A mechanic must understand how an entire engine works before s/he can diagnose a problem. Sometimes it is necessary to deconstruct an engine to figure out which part isn’t working. You should approach big problems like this: break them down into smaller parts and observe carefully and deliberately.
  • Use precise vocabulary and communicate with clarity. The truth can be blurred by fuzzy language. It is important to develop your vocabulary so you can communicate truths accurately.
  • Manage emotions in response to a situation or problem. Don’t be fooled by stirred up, emotional plea or angry speech. Stay rational and keep your emotions in check as you encounter new information.
  • Judge your sources. Learn to recognize hidden agendas and bias when you collect information.

As students progress from high school into college and graduate school they must develop critical thinking skills in order to carry out research. Students will learn to identify good sources and bad sources, make logical conclusions, and develop new theories.

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Fleming, Grace. "Introduction to Critical Thinking." ThoughtCo, Feb. 26, 2018, thoughtco.com/introduction-to-critical-thinking-1857079. Fleming, Grace. (2018, February 26). Introduction to Critical Thinking. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-to-critical-thinking-1857079 Fleming, Grace. "Introduction to Critical Thinking." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-to-critical-thinking-1857079 (accessed April 26, 2018).