Qualities and Benefits of Critical Thinkers

Critical thinking requires additional cognitive effort on our part instead of blindly following the beliefs of others or the first thoughts that come to our minds.

What benefits do we get in return for our cognitive efforts?

  • We become more open-minded and tolerant of people with viewpoints that are different from our own. We welcome the ideas of others and view them as an opportunity to learn something new. Life can be boring if there are no challenges to our thinking and we are content to just maintain the status quo. Critical thinking encourages us to undergo these challenges and relish a good debate.
  • We will see events through a more analytical lens. We won’t be willing to accept things at face value. Our interest will be in finding good arguments supported by strong evidence and reason.
  • We will become confident enough to challenge even conventional views if significant evidence suggests that they may be outdated and no longer useful, or not based on relevant evidence.
  • We become curious people who have an insatiable desire to find better answers. We’ll become willing to follow facts wherever they may lead us, even if it means we need to adapt or abandon our beliefs when we are presented with new quality information.
  • We’ll be able to read between the lines and dig deeper to find the hidden or implied meaning behind the words. Critical thinking requires a lifelong dedication to learn.
  • We’ll be able to examine written text with a sharp eye, looking for the biases of the author, or the publishing company. We’ll also become more proficient in critical writing, the usage of our words will become more accurate, focused, and descriptive of the point we want to make.

We have the ability to think and act rationally – Aristotle called us ‘rational animals’ – but we don’t always take advantage of this gift. Too often we are willing to cling to our beliefs, even when they aren’t based on anything else but our emotions, gut feelings, or worse – the emotions and gut feelings of others. Logic, reasoning, and evidence don’t play any role in these beliefs. Many of our beliefs are rooted in faulty information that could easily be disproved if we were willing to question it. Once the faulty information is found to be false, the belief would naturally change.

We are adept at coming up with explanations why we hold the beliefs or make the choices we do. Often we come up with those reasons to convince ourselves as much as others. For example, when we decide to upgrade to the latest smartphone, we may say we are doing it for the improved camera or faster processing speed that allows us to get more done for our job when we are on the go. When in reality, we want to upgrade to keep up with everyone else and we may even see having the latest technology at our fingertips as a status symbol. You and I both know that social media and emails don’t require the type of technology available on the latest smartphones and for shooting good photos, a traditional camera is still better.

We have a natural tendency to allow our irrational sides to take control. Unless we make a conscious decision to overcome it, we’ll be hijacked by the illogical side of our brain and be exposed to the mercy of the odds when we choose to do (or not do) something based on irrational reasoning. We will examine this in depth later in the book.

Critical thinkers can understand how ideas are connected and evaluate whether information and arguments are relevant and important to addressing the issues at hand. They can build arguments to defend their own beliefs as well as recognize and examine the arguments of others. They can spot gaps in information and errors in the reasoning that lead to conclusions, approaching things calmly and objectively knowing that they are prepared to take things one step at a time until they find the knowledge they seek.

The American Psychology Association Expert Consensus on Critical Thinking has identified the following characteristics as being present in strong critical thinkers:

  • curiosity toward a variety of issues
  • desire to be well-informed and a lifelong learner
  • awareness of situations when critical thinking may be beneficial
  • confidence in their own reasoning skills
  • receptive to learning from people with viewpoints that differ from their own
  • openness to a variety of beliefs and opinions
  • objective and fair when analyzing arguments and reasoning
  • recognition of their own biases and prejudices that may cloud their judgment
  • reservation of judgment until they have examined all of the facts
  • willingness to reevaluate their beliefs and adjust or abandon them if they are presented with evidence that justifies it.