In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Critical Thinking

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Importance of Thinking Critically
  • Defining Critical Thinking
  • Critical Thinking Dispositions
  • Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking

Psychology Critical Thinking
Heather Butler, Diane Halpern
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0019


Critical thinking has been described in many ways, but researchers generally agree that critical thinking involves rational, purposeful, and goal-directed thinking (see Defining Critical Thinking). Diane F. Halpern defined critical thinking as an attempt to increase the probability of a desired outcome (e.g., making a sound decision, successfully solving a problem) by using certain cognitive skills and strategies. Critical thinking is more than just a collection of skills and strategies: it is a disposition toward engaging with problems. Critical thinkers are flexible, open-minded, persistent, and willing to exert mental energy working on tough problems. Unlike poor thinkers, critical thinkers are willing to admit they have made an error in judgment if confronted with contradictory evidence, and they operate on autopilot much less than poor thinkers (see Critical Thinking Dispositions). There is good evidence that critical thinking skills and dispositions can be taught (see Teaching Critical Thinking). This guide includes (a) sources that extol the importance of critical thinking, (b) research that identifies specific critical thinking skills and conceptualizations of critical thinking dispositions, (c) a list of the best practices for teaching critical thinking skills and dispositions, and (d) a review of research into ways of assessing critical thinking skills and dispositions (see Assessments).

General Overviews

The sources highlighted here include textbooks, literature reviews, and meta-analyses related to critical thinking. These contributions come from both psychological (Halpern 2003; Nisbett 1993; Sternberg, et al. 2007) and philosophical (Ennis 1962, Facione 1990) perspectives. Many of these general overviews are textbooks (Facione 2011b; Halpern 2003; Nisbett 1993; Sternberg, et al. 2007), while the other sources are review articles or commentaries. Most resources were intended for a general audience, but Sternberg, et al. 2007 was written specifically to address critical thinking in psychology. Those interested in a historical reference are referred to Ennis 1962, which is credited by some as renewing contemporary interest in critical thinking. Those interested in a more recent conceptualization of critical thinking are referred to Facione 2011a, which is a short introduction to the field of critical thinking that would be appropriate for those new to the field, or Facione 1990, which summarizes a collaborative definition of critical thinking among philosophers using the Delphi method. Facione 2011b would be a valuable resource for philosophers teaching critical thinking or logic courses to general audiences. For psychologists teaching critical thinking courses to a general audience, Halpern 2003, an empirically based textbook, covers a wide range of topics; a new edition is expected soon. Fisher 2001 is also intended for general audiences and teaches a wide variety of critical thinking skills. Nisbett 1993 tackles the question of whether critical thinking skills can be taught and provides ample empirical evidence to that end. Sternberg, et al. 2007 is a good resource for psychology students interested in learning how to improve their scientific reasoning skills, a specific set of thinking skills needed by psychology and other science students.

  • Ennis, Robert H. 1962. A concept of critical thinking: A proposed basis of research in the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking. Harvard Educational Review 32:81–111.

    A discussion of how critical thinking is conceptualized from a philosopher’s perspective. Critical of psychology’s definition of critical thinking at the time. Emphasizes twelve aspects of critical thinking.

  • Facione, Peter A. 1990. Critical thinking: A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction; Executive Summary of The Delphi Report. Millbrae, CA: California Academic Press.

    Describes the critical thinking movement, definitions of critical thinking agreed upon by philosophers using the Delphi method, the assessment of critical thinking, and how critical thinking can be taught.

  • Facione, Peter A. 2011a. Critical thinking: What it is and why it counts. Millbrae, CA: Insight Assessment.

    This accessible paper defines critical thinking, elaborates on specific critical thinking skills, and discusses what it means to have (or not have) a critical thinking disposition. A distinction is made between system 1 (shallow processing) and system 2 (deeper processing) thinking. Good resource for students new to the field.

  • Facione, Peter A. 2011b. THINK critically. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Written from a philosophical perspective this critical thinking textbook emphasizes the application of critical thinking to the real world and offers positive examples of critical thinking. Chapters cover inductive, deductive, comparative, ideological, and empirical reasoning

  • Fisher, Alec. 2001. Critical thinking: An introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Textbook intended for college students discusses various types of reasoning, causality, argument analysis, and decision making. Includes exercises for students and teachers.

  • Halpern, Diane F. 2003. Thought & knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking. 4th ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    This textbook, written by a cognitive psychologist, is grounded in theory and research from the learning sciences and offers practical examples. Chapters include an introduction to the topic and the correlates of critical thinking, memory, thought and language, reasoning, analyzing arguments, thinking as hypothesis testing, likelihood and uncertainty, decision making, development of problem-solving skills, and creative thinking.

  • Nisbett, Richard E. 1993. Rules for reasoning. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    This text is rich with empirical evidence that critical thinking skills can be taught to undergraduate and graduate students. Each chapter discusses research on an aspect of reasoning (e.g., statistical reasoning, heuristics, inductive reasoning) with special emphasis on teaching the application of these skills to everyday problems.

  • Sternberg, Robert J., Henry L. Roediger III, and Diane F. Halpern, eds. 2007. Critical thinking in psychology. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This edited book explores several aspects of critical thinking that are needed to fully understand key topics in psychology such as experiment research, statistical inference, case studies, logical fallacies, and ethical judgments. Experts discuss the critical thinking strategies they engage in. Interesting discussion of historical breakthroughs due to critical thinking.

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