drawing by Saskia Kennedy

I taught college psychology for over 40 years and one of my primary goals was to have my students become better consumers of information – to develop what is called critical thinking from the Greek word kritikos, which means to question, make sense of, and be able to analyze (Huffman, 2004). Given the common misconception and negative connotations of the word critical, I have chosen to rename it as evaluative thinking, which is based on the core belief that we all need to get all the established facts pertaining to a topic or issue before deciding if it is true or false.

The problem we have today is that there is so much false and so-called “fake news” out there claiming to be the truth. How do we identify the established facts vs. dangerous conspiracy theories and personal opinions? One way is to look at the source such as one radio talk show host, Alex Jones, who repeatedly claimed that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 26 people was a hoax to force gun control and no children were killed. Where was the evidence? How can someone morally live with themselves spewing such heartless information that they know is false and further increase the pain, especially for the parents who lost their beloved children in the massacre.

Psychological studies have shown that first impressions are usually lasting, but what is stated first is not necessarily true. And what about when someone repeats the same statement over and over? This good for incorporating information into your long-term memory, but repetition does not mean accuracy. Think about how many times politicians use this technique to degrade their opponent in an election.

To explore the advantages of evaluative thinking I will lean on my friend, Karen Huffman and her book, Psychology in Action, 12th Edition. It is with her permission that I will adapt her list of the three components of Critical Thinking/Active Learning and apply it to what I call Evaluative Thinking.

The first one consists of the Affective Components or the emotional foundation, which can either enable or limit active learning.

1) “Valuing truth above self-interest.” Evaluative thinkers recognize that the truth is sometimes in our self-interest, a self-serving bias, where we ignore contradictory facts to our opinion.

2) “Accepting change.” Life is about adaptation and change and sometimes we need to re-evaluate our values and beliefs.

3) “Empathizing.” Thoughtful thinkers have an awareness of one’s own thoughts and other people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Understanding people requires listening to other and hearing their side.

The second major components of evaluative thinking are the Cognitive Components, the thought processes:

1) “Thinking independently.” Do not just accept the beliefs of others or be easily manipulated. Do your research using trusted sources, verify the information with multiple sources, and then make up your own mind.

2) “Defining problems accurately.” Identify the issues in clear terms or words to research a topic and gather relevant information.

3) “Analyzing data for value and content.” Evaluating the information and the creditability of the source. Are there supported claims and accurate information?

4) “Resisting overgeneralization.” This is where the temptation is to apply a fact or experience to situations that are only superficially similar.

5) “Employing metacognition.” Think about your own thinking, where one reviews and analyzes their own thinking.

The third major components of thoughtful thinking are the Behavioral Components:

1) “Delaying judgment until adequate data is available.” One does not make snap judgments, and waits until much of the information is in, called “keeping an open mind.”

2) “Employing precise terms.” Clarification and objectively defining terms is important to be on the same page of interesting.

3) “Gathering data.” Get as much information on all sides so you can evaluate the issue before making a conclusion.

4) “Distinguishing fact from opinion.” Facts are statements that can be proven true. Opinions are statements that express how a person feels about an issue or what someone thinks is true and may not have empirical evident to support it. Know the difference.

5) “Modifying judgments in light of new information.” Be willing to abandon or modify your judgments if contradictory evidence or experience later contradicts your idea. Even “facts” can change based on contradictory new evidence.

6) “Encouraging critical dialogue.” Be active questioners who challenge existing facts and opinions and welcome questioning of facts, ideas, and opinions.


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5 replies »

  1. Great article:we all need to get all the established facts pertaining to a topic or issue before deciding if it is true or false. How true it is today, especially during this election cycle

  2. Great article: get all the established facts pertaining to a topic or issue before deciding if it is true or false.
    We struggle trying to understand the chaos around us. Particularly now during the election of candidates that who twist facts to fit their narrative. thank you.