How and Why to Practice Critical Thinking

how to improve critical thinking

Never before has information been so easy to access. And never before has critical thinking been so important.

The internet has changed the way we consume and produce information. Whatever question you have on your mind, in most cases, the answer is only a few clicks away. When it comes to searching for information, we have it really easy these days.

What harm can it do to have so much information at our disposal? As it turns out, quite a lot. In a blink of an eye, information accessibility turns into information overload. The latter brings a handful of problems to the table with a decline in critical thinking being one of the biggest.

Everyone can create and spread content these days, and there is no single authority in place to verify it. With tons of misleading information out there, it becomes increasingly difficult  to tell the truth from a lie. On top of that, today’s crazy pace of life serves as a perfect excuse to not double-check the facts and news we so actively share on social media.

The combination of these three factors is what creates the perfect storm for a critical thinking crisis.

What Is Critical Thinking and Why Is It So…Critical?

There are many ways to define critical thinking. Here at StopAd, we prefer this one:

Critical thinking is the ability to think rationally and logically, without allowing opinions, feelings, or emotions to affect one’s judgement.

With that being said, it becomes clear why critical thinking matters so much in today’s digital world. With so much false information circulating around the web, the ability to think critically is the only way to filter the good from the ocean of bad.

If you fail to think critically, you’ll be manipulated–by pseudo-scientists, journalists, politicians, marketers, and even by your friends. If you fail to question what you read, you will find yourself overwhelmed by tons of controversial, mutually exclusive theories and ideas. And this is just a tiny portion of what a lack of critical thinking can possibly do.

Decline In Critical Thinking: How Big Is The Problem?

In brief, the problem is huge. As one Stanford University study revealed, as many as 82% of teens cannot distinguish a piece of labeled, sponsored content from a real news post.

Adults keep up. Nearly 62 percent of Americans say they usually get news from social media—an ecosystem where fake news was born and still flourishes.

There was another study that showed similar results. More than 1,000 young adults failed to detect fake news. What’s even more alarming is that 55% of millennials rely on social media when searching for the latest news and 37% of them said that at least once they had shared online something that turned out to be incorrect later.

Can you spot the knock-on effect? Not only does a lack of critical thinking make people trust news that are not trustworthy, but it can also cause that incorrect news to spread.

What Are The Dangers Of Critical Thinking Crises?

Possible threats are numerous and diverse. It is worth noting that a gradual decline in critical thinking can affect both individual lives and our future on a more global scale.

Individual threats:

  • Incorrect assumptions and impaired decision-making
  • Difficulty processing large volumes of information
  • Inability to confront multiple perspectives on controversial issues
  • Problems in communication
  • Slower comprehension of new concepts

Global threats:

  • Perfect climate for fake news to flourish
  • Further growth of online scams and fraud
  • Increased risk of global political crises

How To Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills  

Although some people are naturally better at thinking critically than others, the capacity can be enhanced through education and effort.

Critical thinking is a skill, which means it can be taught and cultivated. Much like any other skill, it requires some theory and practice to be mastered. First, one needs to understand the fundamental principles of critical thinking then to develop the skill through practice.

Let’s see what you can do right now to improve your critical thinking.

They say a critical mind is a questioning mind. Critical thinking is as simple as asking a few questions often. Whenever in doubt, ask yourself this:

  • Does the information source look trustworthy?
  • Who is saying this? Do I know this person? Can I trust him/her?
  • Does the information sound more like a fact or an opinion?
  • If it’s an opinion, are there enough arguments?
  • Does the content appeal to my emotions or logic?
  • Do other sources say the same or similar about the topic?
  • What does the quality of writing say? Are there errors, typos, or crazy punctuation?

Critical Thinking Crisis Summarized

The process of searching and publishing information used to be much harder before the internet age. In the past, people would have to be certified journalist or scientist or expert in certain field to get their works published. There were editors and publishers in place to monitor the quality of information before it could see the light of day. Information was more expensive and harder to get.

Today, information is cheap and easy. Where used to be journalists, now are content creators and, unlike the first, those content creators don’t follow a professional code of ethics as strictly as old-school journalists did. Today, one can understand literally anything on a topic and still publish an “expert” article about it.  Scarily, sometimes such “experts” dare to cover the topics of health, nutrition, or parenting.

We should be insane to not think critically in such a world. Take time to determine the true value of information. Not everything you read is true.