12 Important Dispositions for Critical Thinking
A student-educator negotiated model facilitated through interactive management.
Posted April 5, 2019
Critical thinking (CT) consists of a number of skills and dispositions that, when used appropriately, increases the chances of producing a logical solution to a problem or a valid conclusion to an argument (Dwyer, Hogan, & Stewart, 2012, 2014, 2015). Though the skill aspect of CT is well researched, there is significantly less research focused on the dispositional aspect, which refers to an inclination, tendency or willingness to perform a given thinking skill (Dwyer, 2017; Facione, Facione & Giancarlo, 1997; Ku, 2009; Norris, 1992; Siegel, 1999; Valenzuela, Nieto & Saiz, 2011). Different types of CT dispositions (CTDs) are essential for understanding how we think and how we can make our thinking better, in both academic settings and everyday situations (Siegel, 1999).
In research by my colleagues and I (Dwyer et al., 2016), we investigated how students and educators conceptualize CT using interactive management (Warfield, 1994). The study highlighted the value of consulting with both students and educators in the development of consensus-based models regarding CTDs. While it may be useful for educators to begin with expert definitions of CT, these definitions may be perceived by educators as overly diverse and/or complex, and they may not align with what students or a broader array of educators consider important. Our research identified and structured a range of dispositions, which fit into the following 12 categories, with results revealing that the most influential of CTDs were inquisitiveness, open-mindedness and self-efficacy, whereas the CTDs most enhanced by other dispositions were reflection and resourcefulness.
1. Inquisitiveness refers to an inclination to be curious; desire to fully understand something, discover the answer to a problem and accept that the full answer may not yet be known; and make sure to understand a task and its associated requirements, available options and limits.
2. Open-mindedness refers to an inclination to be cognitively flexible and avoid rigidity in thinking; to tolerate divergent or conflicting views and treat all viewpoints alike, prior to subsequent analysis and evaluation; to detach from one’s own beliefs and consider, seriously, points of view other to one’s own without bias or self-interest; to be open to feedback by accepting positive feedback and to not reject criticism or constructive feedback without thoughtful consideration; to amend existing knowledge in light of new ideas and experiences; and to explore such new, alternative or ‘unusual’ ideas.
3. Self-efficacy refers to the tendency to be confident and trust in one’s own reasoned judgments; to acknowledge one’s sense of self while considering problems and arguments (i.e., knowledge, heuristics, biases, culture and environment); to be confident and believe in one’s ability to receive and internalize resulting feedback positively and constructively; to be self-efficacious in leading others in the rational resolution of problems; and recognize that good reasoning is the key to living a rational life.
4. Attentiveness refers to a willingness to focus and concentrate; to be aware of surroundings, context, consequences and potential obstacles; to have the ‘full picture.'
5. Intrinsic goal orientation refers to being positive, competitive and enthusiastic towards a goal, task, topic of focus and, if not the topic itself, the process of learning new things; to search for answers as a result of internal motivation, rather than an external, extrinsic reward system.
6. Perseverance refers to being resilient and motivated to persist at working through complex tasks and the associated frustration and difficulty inherent in such tasks, without giving up; the motivation to get the job done correctly; the desire to progress.
7. Organization refers to an inclination to be orderly, systematic and diligent with information, resources and time when determining and maintaining focus on the task, conclusion, problem or question, while simultaneously considering the total situation and being able to present the resulting information in a fashion likewise, for purposes of achieving some desired end.
8. Truth-seeking refers to having a desire for knowledge; to seek and offer both reasons and objections in an effort to inform and to 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 the findings do not support one’s self-interest or preconceived beliefs or opinions; and to change one’s mind about an idea as a result of the desire for truth.
9. Creativity refers to a tendency to visualize and generate ideas; and to think differently than usual. Notably, the inclusion of creativity may reflect the importance of inference as a CT skill (i.e., the drawing of a reasonable conclusion) with respect to idea generation, as well as ‘divergence’ (see Dwyer et al.  for more detail), which may more accurately refer to traits associated with open-mindedness (e.g., to amend existing knowledge in light of new ideas and experiences and explore such new, alternative or ‘unusual’ ideas) than to what may be implied as ‘thinking outside the box’ here. These potential caveats are included given that, though creative and critical thinking often get ‘lumped together’ as buzzwords, the two processes have just as many differences as similarities (see Strange Bedfellows: Creativity & Critical Thinking). CT and creative thinking are very different entities if you treat the latter as something similar to lateral thinking or ‘thinking outside the box’; however, if we conceptualize creative thinking as synthesizing information for the purpose of inferring a logical and feasible conclusion or solution, then it becomes complementary and useful to CT.
10. Skepticism refers to an inclination to challenge ideas; to withhold judgment before 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.
11. Reflection refers to an inclination to reflect on one’s behaviour, attitudes and opinions, as well as the motivations behind these; to distinguish what is known and what is not, as well as limited knowledge or uncertainty; to approach decision-making with a sense that some problems are necessarily ill-structured, some situations permit more than one plausible conclusion or solution and judgments must often be made based on analysis and evaluation, as well as feasibility, standards, contexts and evidence that preclude certainty.
12. Resourcefulness refers to the willingness to utilize existing internal resources to resolve problems; to search for additional external resources in order to apply analogies and 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.
Dwyer, C.P. (2017). Critical thinking: Conceptual perspectives and practical guidelines. UK: Cambridge University Press.
Dwyer, C. P., Hogan, M. J., & Stewart, I. (2012). An evaluation of argument mapping as a method of enhancing critical thinking performance in e-learning environments. Metacognition and Learning, 7, 219–244.
Dwyer, C. P., Hogan, M. J., & Stewart, I. (2014). An integrated critical thinking framework for the 21st century. Thinking Skills & Creativity, 12, 43–52.
Dwyer, C. P., Hogan, M. J., & Stewart, I. (2015). The evaluation of argument mapping-infused critical thinking instruction as a method of enhancing reflective judgment performance. Thinking Skills & Creativity, 16, 11–26.
Dwyer, C. P., Harney, O., Hogan, M. J., & Kavanagh, C. (2016). Facilitating a Student-Educator Conceptual Model of Dispositions towards Critical Thinking through Interactive Management. Educational Technology & Research, doi: 10.1007/s11423-016-9460-7.
Facione, P. A., Facione, N. C., & Giancarlo, C. A. (1997). Setting expectations for student learning: New directions for higher education. Millbrae: California Academic Press.
Ku, K. Y. L. (2009). Assessing students’ critical thinking performance: Urging for measurements using multi-response format. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 4(1), 70–76.
Norris, S. P. (Ed.). (1992). The generalizability of critical thinking: Multiple perspectives on an educational ideal. New York: Teachers College Press.
Siegel, H. (1999). What (good) are thinking dispositions? Educational Theory, 49(2), 207–221.
Valenzuela, J., Nieto, A. M., & Saiz, C. (2011). Critical thinking motivational scale: A contribution to the study of relationship between critical thinking and motivation. Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 9(2), 823–848.
Warfield, J. N. (1994). A science of generic design: Managing complexity through systems design (2nd ed.). Salinas: Intersystems.