It is easy to feel isolated and the world can often seem confusing at the moment. Here are five strategies to boost your critical thinking skills.
1. Beware of Confirmation Bias
In repeated experiments, psychologists have shown we’re much more likely to accept something as evidence if it confirms what we already think. Conversely, we are much more likely to discount information if it contradicts our views. It’s what’s known as “confirmation bias.” It operates at an unconscious level – affecting our ability to process information, especially for issues which are emotionally charged or where our views are deeply held.
2. Embrace Nuance and Complexity
So many discussions take place on social media, where algorithms reward our desire for acknowledgement. But in life, most situations are nuanced and complicated. Even something that seems totally obvious can be more nuanced than you think. For example, what colour is the sky? The obvious answer is blue. But at sunrise or sunset, it can be red. On a cold misty morning, white or grey; at night, midnight blue or black.
3. Practice Intellectual Humility
When disagreeing with someone one approach is to let go of the idea of being “right”, or at least be open to the idea that you might be wrong. Putting yourself in another person’s shoes can lead to more productive outcomes. Try to practise “intellectual empathy” - but remember it can be challenging and can only work when both parties engage in good faith.
4. Check Your Sources
It’s important to know where your information is coming from. Be aware of ulterior motives and vested interests. Being literate in the basics of scientific methodology, the use of data and the way information is presented are all weapons in your arsenal when it comes to critical thinking.
5. Avoid Fallacies
Whether engaging in debates online or in person, it’s very easy to resort to fallacies. A common tactic is the “ad hominem” fallacy, where you discount an idea because of your opinion of the person making it, which can lead to name-calling.
Engaging in critical thinking might not be as satisfying as feeling like you’re right, but in the long run, it leads to a more educated and harmonious society – which is the biggest win of all.