Over the last several decades, educators, employers, and organizations around the world have expressed concern about student preparedness for a 21st century world (e.g., Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2010; Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011; Galagan, 2010; Halpern, 2010b; Hunt, 1995). In response to these concerns an increased emphasis on the training of critical thinking skills has been incorporated into international education standards (European Higher Education Area, 2011; Redden, 2010; U.S. Department of Education, 2006).
Critical thinking has been defined in many differt ways (e.g., Halpern, 2003; Moseley et al. 2005; Sternberg, Roediger, & Halpern, 2007), but experts generally agree that critical thinking involves an attempt to achieve a desired outcome by thinking rationally and in a goal-oriented fashion. Recently, Stanovich argued that critical thinking is what intelligence tests fail to adequately measure (Stanovich, 2009; Stanovich & West, 2008). This idea echoes the general consensus among researchers that intelligence and critical thinking are separate constructs, but share at least one common attribute – they are difficult to adequately assess.
One relatively new test of critical thinking ability, the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment (HCTA) moves beyond the limitations of previous multiple-choice tests by combining both open-ended and multiple-choice questions, and by assessing thinking in relation to daily, easy-to-relate-to situations (Ku, 2009). It is a standardized instrument that consists of 25 everyday scenarios that respondents analyze and critique. The scenarios involve thinking in various life domains including health, education, work, and social policy. The test is also coded for a variety of thinking skills, including (a) verbal reasoning skills, (b) argument analysis skills, (c) hypothesis testing skills, (d) likelihood and uncertainty judgment skills, and (e) decision making and problem solving skills.
A number of studies have established the reliability and validity of the HCTA (c.f. Halpern, 2010a) using a variety of methodologies (e.g., correlational, pretest-posttest experimental designs), with respondents that vary widely in education level (e.g., high school students, community college students, state university students, private liberal arts students, graduate students, community adults) and with participants from numerous countries (e.g., China, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, United States, Viet Nam, etc.). Consistent with other assessments of critical thinking, much of validity evidence for the HCTA is based on the prediction of academic achievement scores (e.g., grades, standardized test scores). However, critical thinking skills should predict more than academic outcomes. We make 100s of decisions each day that are likely to be influenced by our critical thinking ability. At the very least, we would expect critical thinkers to avoid certain negative life outcomes.
A series of recent studies have examined the relationship between critical thinking and real-world outcomes of critical thinking (Butler, in press; Butler et al., 2012) using an adapted version of an inventory of life events created by de Bruin, Parker, and Fischhoff (2007). This self-report inventory measures negative life outcomes from many domains (e.g., interpersonal, business, financial, interpersonal) that vary in severity from mildly negative (e.g., paying late fees for a movie rental) to severely negative (e.g., foreclosure on a home). The recent studies by Butler and colleagues sought to expand the validity of the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment (HCTA) cross-nationally and to determine whether HCTA scores predicted real-world outcomes of critical thinking.
The findings were clear: In both the United States and the Republic of Ireland, those with higher critical thinking scores reported fewer negative life events than those with lower critical thinking scores. While this is bad news for people with lower critical thinking scores, the good news is that that critical thinking can be improved through instruction (see Chance, 1986; Halpern, 2003; Moseley et al., 2005; Nisbett, 1992). Future research could explore the causal link between critical thinking and real-world outcomes of critical thinking, with special emphasis on the role of education and behavioral outcomes.
In a world that is more complex and technical with each passing day, thinking critically about the information we consume is of the utmost importance. The evidence suggests that critical thinking scores can predict real-world outcomes and thus we need to appreciate that critical thinking is more than simply the new buzz word in education. Critical thinking is critical for life success. The good news is that there is a plethora of evidence that critical thinking skills can be taught and learned – critically important news coming at a critical time in history.
Find Michael Hogan on Twitter
Association of American Colleges & Universities. (2010). Raising the bar: Employers’ views on college learning in the wake of the economic downturn. Retrieved from the AAC&U website: http://www.aacu.org/leap
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010-2011). Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos021.htm
Butler, H. A. (2012). Halpern critical thinking assessment predicts real-world outcomes of critical thinking. Applied Cognitive Psychology. doi: 10.1002/acp.2851
Butler, H. A., Dwyer, C. P., Hogan, M. J., Franco, A., Rivas, S. F., Saiz, C., & Almeida, L. F. (2012). Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment and real-world outcomes: Cross-national applications. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 7, 112-121. doi: 10.1016/j.tsc.2012.04.001
Chance, P. (1986). Thinking in the classroom: A survey of programs. New York, NY: Teachers College, Columbia University.
de Bruin, W. B., Parker, A. M., & Fischhoff, B. (2007). Individual differences in adult decision-making competence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 938-956. doi: 10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1998
European Higher Education Area (2011). The official Bologna Process website 2010-2012. Retrieved from the European Higher Education Area website: http://www.ehea.info/
Galagan, P. (2010, February). Bridging the skills gap: New factors compound the growing skills shortage. Retrieved from the American Society for Training and Development website: http://www.astd.org/TD/Archives/2010/Feb/Free/1002_BridgingSkills...
Halpern, D. F. (2003). Thought and knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking (4th ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence.
Halpern, D. F. (2010a). Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment. Publisher: SCHUHFRIED (Vienna Test System). http://www.schuhfried.com/vienna-test-system-vts/all-tests-from-a...
Halpern, D. F. (Ed). (2010b). Undergraduate education in psychology: A blueprint for the future of the discipline. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Hunt, E. (1995). Will we be smart enough? A cognitive analysis of the coming workforce. New York, NY, Russell Sage Foundation.
Ku, K. Y. L. (2009). Assessing students’ critical thinking performance: Urging for measurements using multi-response format. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 2, 70-76. doi:10.1016/j.tsc.2009.02.001
Moseley, D., Baumfield, V., Elliott, J., Gregson, M., Higgins, S., Miller, J., & Newton, D. P. (2005). Frameworks for thinking: A handbook for teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Nisbett, R. E. (1992). Rules for reasoning. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Porcari, J., Greany, J., Tepper, S., Edmonson, B., Foster, C., & Anders, M. (2011). Will toning shoes really give you a better body? Retrieved from the American Council on Exercise website: http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/720/
Redden, E. (2010, June 7). Bologna beyond Europe. Retrieved from the Higher Education News website: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/06/07/bologna
Stanovich, K. E. (2009, November/December). Rational and irrational thought: The thinking that IQ tests miss. Scientific American Mind, 34-39. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/sciammind/
Stanovich, K. E., & West, R. F. (2008). On the relative independence of thinking biases and cognitive abilities. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 672-695. doi: 10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.522
Sternberg, R. J., Roediger, H. L., III., & Halpern, D. F. (Eds.). (2007). Critical thinking in psychology. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
U. S. Department of Education (2006). A test of leadership: Charting the future of U.S. Higher education (DOE Publication No. ED-06-C0-0013). Retrieved from http://ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/hiedfuture/reports/final-report.pdf