Applying cognitive science to critical thinking among higher education students

Jason Lodge, Erin O'Connor, Rhonda Shaw, Lorelle Burton

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


One of the main aims of higher education is for students to develop their analytical and critical thinking in order for graduates to function as competent professionals (e.g., Burton, Westen, and Kowalski 2012). The importance of this supposed generic skill is reflected in the ubiquitous inclusion of critical thinking as a graduate capability in universities (Moore 2011). While there exist many ways of defining and understanding critical thinking, at its core, critical thinking involves addressing our assumptions about how the world works. It is, therefore, essential for competent practice as a professional (Moon 2008). Without exposure to effective training in critical thinking, assumptions are more often than not based on the cognitive biases that are either inherent or conditioned through experience. The cognitive and emotional processes underpinning biases in thinking are often difficult to overcome. Our natural tendency to take mental shortcuts has allowed us to effectively navigate our environment and process only those stimuli that are of immediate value to us and to our survival. These shortcuts, however, often make it difficult for students to engage deeply with a complex concept, idea, or discipline in a higher education context. Ensuring that graduates are capable of thinking beyond their tendency to take mental shortcuts therefore poses a significant challenge for teaching critical thinking in higher education institutions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave handbook of critical thinking in higher education
EditorsMartin Davies, Ronald Barnett
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781137378057
ISBN (Print)9781137378033, 9781349478125
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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