Critical Thinking Dispositions
Working with students and educators to develop a new scale.
Posted Sep 11, 2020
Critical thinking (CT) skills and dispositions are increasingly valued in modern society, largely because these skills and dispositions support reasoning and problem-solving in real-world settings (Butler et al., 2012; Halpern, 2013). Historically, CT skills including analysis, evaluation and inference have been extensively researched, and there are a number of instruments available to measure these skills. However, CT dispositions have been somewhat neglected by researchers. Indeed, it’s not easy to find reliable and valid scales to measure CT dispositions.
In broad terms, CT dispositions refer to an inclination, tendency or willingness to perform specific thinking skills. Currently, the only measures of CT dispositions available are the California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory (CCTDI; Facione & Facione, 1992) and the Critical Thinking Disposition Scale (CTDS; Sosu, 2013). The authors of the CCTDI generated a set of items that were assumed to measure seven CT dispositions: Inquisitiveness, Maturity, Self-Confidence, Open-Mindedness, Truth-Seeking, Analyticity, and Systematicity. However, researchers have questioned the reliability and validity of the scale (Walsh, Seldomridge & Badros, 2007). The CCTDI is also a proprietary scale, and in addition to having to pay to use the scale, researchers are not provided with a scoring key indicating which items pertain to which factors.
This is deeply unfortunate, not only for researchers seeking transparency but also for educators who have limited or no funds to support intervention and evaluation work in the classroom. Responding to analytical problems associated with the use of CCTDI, Sosu (2013) developed the Critical Thinking Dispositions Scale (CTDS). This is a two-factor, 11-item instrument, measuring two core CT dispositions: critical openness and reflective scepticism. Initial evaluations suggest the scale has good internal consistency and convergent validity.
The limited availability of reliable and valid CT disposition measures is problematic. Notably, CT is an important outcome of education, with many universities now providing instructional CT courses, which have the potential to support the development of CT skills and CT dispositions. Having access to reliable and valid measures of CT dispositions is vital as it allows for the evaluation of curricula and can be used to inform the iterative design of CT training programmes.
Therefore, we recently set out to develop and evaluate a new measure of CT dispositions. Importantly, the Student-Educator Negotiated CT Dispositions Scale (SENCTDS) is grounded in intensive collective intelligence deliberations involving students and educators, who worked together to develop a consensus-based model of CT dispositions (Dwyer et al., 2016). We also followed the principles of scale design advocated by DeVellis (2012) – we generated CT disposition scale items derived from our collective intelligence work, made modifications to scale items based on expert feedback, performed both exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis to identify scale factors, and evaluated the validity of the scale. Part of the validity evaluation involved the analysis of predictive relationships between SENCTDS factors and paranormal and conspiracy beliefs, which were hypothesised based on previous research to be negatively related to CT dispositions. So what did we find?
First, collective intelligence work revealed 13 CT dispositions that students and educators considered important. The 13 CT dispositions are listed and defined below.
An inclination to reflect on one’s behaviour, attitudes, opinions, and motivations; distinguishing what is known and what is unknown, recognising limited knowledge or uncertainty; approaching decision-making with an awareness that some problems are ill-structured, some situations permit more than one plausible conclusion or solution, and good judgment is based on analysis and evaluation, and depends on feasibility, standards, contexts, and available evidence.
An inclination to be cognitively flexible and avoid rigidity in thinking; to tolerate divergent or conflicting views and consider all viewpoints; to detach from one’s own beliefs and consider points of view other to one’s own without bias or self-interest; to be open to feedback by accepting positive feedback and not rejecting criticism or constructive feedback without thoughtful consideration; to amend existing knowledge in light of new ideas and experiences.
The tendency to be confident and trust in one’s own reasoned judgments; to acknowledging one’s sense of self while considering problems and arguments (i.e. life experiences, knowledge, biases, culture, and environment); to be confident and believe in one’s ability to assimilate feedback positively and constructively; to be self-efficacious in leading others in the rational resolution of problems; and to recognise that good reasoning is the key to living a rational life and to creating a more just world.
To have a desire for knowledge; to seek and offer both reasons and objections in an effort to inform and be well-informed; a willingness to challenge popular beliefs and social norms by asking questions (of oneself and others); to be honest and objective about pursuing the truth even if findings do not support one’s self-interest or pre-conceived beliefs; and to change one’s mind about an idea as a result of the desire for truth.
An inclination to be orderly, systematic and diligent with information, resources, and time when working on a task or addressing a problem, with awareness of the broader context supporting the maintenance of organised activity.
The willingness to utilise existing internal resources to resolve problems; search for additional external resources in order to resolve problems; to switch between solution processes and/or knowledge to seek new ways/information to solve a problem; to make the best of the resources available; to adapt and/or improve if something goes wrong; and to think about how and why it went wrong.
Inclination to challenge ideas; to withhold judgment in advance of engaging all the evidence or when the evidence and reasons are insufficient; to take a position and be able to change position when the evidence and reasons are sufficient; and to look at findings from various perspectives.
To be resilient and motivated to persist at working through complex tasks and the associated frustration and difficulty inherent in such tasks, without giving up; motivation to get the job done correctly; a desire to progress.
An inclination to be curious; desire to fully understand something, discover the answer to a problem, and accept that an answer may not yet be known; a sustained curiosity to understand a task and its associated requirements.
Intrinsic Goal Orientation
Inclined to be positive and enthusiastic towards a task or topic and the process of learning new things; to search for answers as a result of internal motivation, rather than as a result of external, extrinsic rewards.
Willingness to focus and concentrate; to be aware of surroundings, context, consequences and potential obstacles.
A tendency to visualise, simulate and generate novel ideas; to "think outside the box" (i.e. thinking from different perspectives, with non-normative solutions and novel syntheses).
To seek intelligibility, transparency, lucidity and precision from others and to be clear with respect to the intended meaning of any communication.
Next, a total of 167 scale items designed to tap into these 13 dispositions were generated and were sent to independent experts for review, specifically, to evaluate both the relevance and clarity of statements as indicators of specific CT dispositions. Based on expert feedback, 101 items measuring the 13 CT dispositions were retained for factor analysis. Exploratory factor analysis first revealed an eight-factor CT disposition structure, and subsequent confirmatory factor analysis indicated a six-factor structure. As such, although we started with 13 CT dispositions derived from collective intelligence work, statistical analyses converged on a six-factor, 21-item SENCTDS measure with good reliability for the total scale (α=.773) and sub-scales (α=.594 - .823). The scale items and associated factors are presented below.
- When a theory, interpretation or conclusion is presented to me, I try to decide if there is good supporting evidence.
- When faced with a decision, I seek as much information as possible.
- I try to gather as much information about a topic before I draw a conclusion about it.
- I find that I'm easily distracted when thinking about a task.
- I find it hard to concentrate when thinking about problems.
- I often miss out on important information because I'm thinking of other things.
- I often daydream when learning a new topic.
- Thinking is not about "being flexible," it’s about "being right."
- Being open-minded about different worldviews is less important than people think.
- When attempting to solve complex problems, it’s better to give up fast if you cannot reach a solution.
- I know what I think and believe so it’s not important to dwell on it any further.
- I like to make lists of things I need to do and thoughts I may have.
- I take notes so I can organize my thoughts.
- I make simple charts, diagrams or tables to help me organize large amounts of information.
- I persevere with a task even when it is very difficult.
- Frustration does not stop me from finishing what needs to be done.
- I find it desirable to keep going even if it is sometimes hard.
Intrinsic goal motivation
- I enjoy information that challenges me to think.
- I look forward to learning challenging things.
- Completing difficult tasks is fun for me.
- Even if material is difficult to comprehend, I enjoy dealing with information that arouses my curiosity.
Although more work is needed to further evaluate the factor structure and scale reliability and validity of the SENCTDS, a range of convergent and predictive validity analyses are reported in the published paper.
For example, we used the Revised Paranormal Beliefs Scale (Tobacyk, 2004), and the Generic Conspiracist Beliefs questionnaire (GCB; Brotherton, French & Pickering, 2013) as part of predictive validity testing. Notably, higher scores on the SENCTDS factor perseverance were associated with lower paranormal belief scores. It is increasingly understood that judgments and decisions can be driven by biases and heuristics, which may increase vulnerability to superstitious and paranormal beliefs (Willard & Norenzayan, 2013). However, if one perseveres and works through challenging issues and problems, one may be less susceptible to accepting paranormal beliefs.
Consistent with the idea that persevering with challenging tasks entails a motivation to engage with knowledge, a negative relationship was also found between intrinsic goal motivation and paranormal belief scores. SENCTDS also predicted a number of GCB subscale scores. For example, higher levels of open-mindedness were associated with lower levels of endorsement for conspiracy-related control of information (CI) beliefs, a finding consistent with previous research (Swami, Voracek, Stieger, Tran, & Furnham, 2014).
Perseverance was also found to negatively predict government malfeasance (GM) and malevolent global (MG) conspiracy beliefs. Furthermore, attentiveness was found to negatively predict extra-terrestrial cover-up (ET) beliefs. Attentiveness has previously been linked with deep learning (Lau, Liem & Nie, 2009) and insight problem-solving (Byrne & Murray, 2005), and the findings from our study suggest that dispositional attentiveness to information and arguments may also influence personal beliefs.
In summary, our study provides researchers and educators with a unique conceptualisation of CT dispositions and a new scale that can be used to measure six dispositions. While research has highlighted the importance of thinking dispositions, limited work has focused on CT disposition scale development. The current research points to the SENCTDS as a reliable and valid measure of CT dispositions, which may prove useful in advancing basic and applied research in the area.
Brotherton, R., French, C. C., & Pickering, A. D. (2013). Measuring belief in conspiracy theories: The generic conspiracist beliefs scale. Frontiers in psychology, 4, 279. doi: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00279
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 application. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 7(2), 112-121.
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Halpern, D. F. (2013). Thought and knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking. New York: Psychology Press.
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Sosu, E. M. (2013). The development and psychometric validation of a Critical Thinking Disposition Scale. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 9, 107-119. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2012.09.002
Swami, V., Voracek, M., Stieger, S., Tran, U. S., & Furnham, A. (2014). Analytic thinking reduces belief in conspiracy theories. Cognition, 133(3), 572-585. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2014.08.006.
Tobacyk, J. J. (2004). A revised paranormal belief scale. The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 23(23), 94-98. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.24972/ijts.2004.23.1.94