Understand the importance of critical thinking.
Life today is characterized by a constant flow of information, instantaneous methods of communication, stress, and multiple sources of distraction. Concentrating, being productive, and distilling the information we consume in an environment dominated by fake news and a lack of media literacy is difficult. Given these circumstances, critical thinking is now more important than ever.
Equally important is a good sense of how to teach critical thinking. Understanding the urgency and gravity of this issue, the Reboot Foundation, one of the Learning Agency’s partners, aims to elevate critical thinking by examining more reflective forms of thought and contributing to research on methods and strategies for teaching critical thinking.
The human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference, are exercised only in making a choice. He who does anything because it is the custom, makes no choice.
Being able to reason, make objective judgments, and problem-solve are all essential characteristics of critical thinking. While we are all autonomous individuals with personal goals, aspirations, and objectives we are also constrained, influenced, and sustained by the groups we belong to. As we spend more time connected online we may fall prey to advertisers, groupthink, interest groups, or fake news.
Being able to reflect not only on the information we are consuming, but also asking why, and thinking about our own thoughts is the first step towards achieving critical thinking. Metacognition is the process of observing our own thoughts, noticing our own faults and irrational thinking, and evaluating our thinking habits. Research on the “misinformation effect” illustrates that in order to combat misinformation we must acknowledge the importance of metacognition and our own psychological susceptibility to fake news, false memories, and entrenched cognitive biases.
Critical thinking requires objective thinking, soliciting different viewpoints, and thinking independently of group or social pressures. Thus, we should strive for more control over our emotional reasoning. Ads and misinformation prey on our attention’s natural inclination to gravitate towards our feelings rather than our logical thinking.
For example, social media platforms are built on manipulative and psychologically addictive reward systems and there is evidence that they may negatively damage our attention, memory, mental health and emotions. Recognizing the risks of echo chambers, overstimulation on social media, and our own internal biases is instrumental to the thinking critically. Furthermore, we must learn to manage our emotional responses to information and opinion online, and not let them skew our reasoning.
As humans we have a desire to belong. Joining groups satisfies that need, helps us gain and share information, and through social comparison guides us in creating our sense of self and social identity. Group influence on individual behavior has both positive and negative implications. Positively group influence is useful in promoting unity, efficiency, and cohesiveness as highlighted in cases of successful work settings or teamwork. However, the influence of groups on individual behavior can also generate negative behaviors.
Being able to think for ourselves, evaluate information and arguments, and manage our raw emotions are essential to critical thinking. Moreover, the solution to the question of how to combat fake news rests on our ability to educate ourselves to think and judge information better, tolerate dissenting views, and make the active choice to think about our thinking.
Being able to reflect not only on the information we are consuming, but also asking why, and thinking about our own thoughts is the first step towards achieving critical thinking.