Introducing Best Practices in Teaching Critical Thinking in Psychology

Critical thinking is consequential thinking. As teachers, we want our students to both appreciate and exemplify the sort of critical thinking displayed by Dr. John Snow, a mid19th-century London physician who searched for a pattern in cholera-plagued neighborhoods in the city’s center. Using a city map, Snow plotted the addresses of the known dead around 500 peopleas well as the location of all the local public water pumps (cholera is a water-borne bacterial infection).

Upon discovering that the majority of deaths occurred near one pump, he had it removed. The epidemic ended when his observation and analysis led to insight and action (Gilbert, 1958; Johnson, 2007; Tufte, 1983). As teachers of psychology, we want our students to understand that the analysis and evaluation of behavior thoughts, feelings, and actions is also complex.

We want to spark students’ insights and enthusiasm for tough topics, as we expect them to learn and to appreciate that clinical judgments can never be superficial for example, or that social behavior is usually more situational or contextual than personalitydriven.

We want our students to think deeply about the inferential puzzles posed by less dramatic, everyday, yet still fundamentally psychological problems. Why, for example, do people understand conjoint probabilities in statistics classes but ignore them when they are applied in realistic examples? Consider this classic example

Unless we are at our inferential best, the second choice seems obvious, even irrefutable. Pause and reflection, however, lead us to conclude that there are more bank tellers than bank tellers with a feminist bent; the probability of A and B cannot be greater than the probability of A or B alone. Examples here range from those developed through the study of decision-making heuristics and biases involved in intuition to persistent belief in sports-related phenomena, such as streak shooting and having hot hands in basketball Besides these clever, discipline-based examples, of course, psychology teachers hope their students will use critical thinking to plan for the future, to perform well in their careers, and to continue liberal learning throughout their lives.

To achieve these desired ends, however, critical thinking needs to be nurtured, and both teachers and students must be weaned from the sort of noncritical thinking that all too routinely appears in the psychology classroom


From infancy to adolescence, relationships between siblings are emotionally powerful [1]. Observational studies report that for some siblings, the majority of interactions between siblings are intensely negative, for others positive emotions are frequently expressed, for others the emotional quality is ambivalent. Continuities in the emotional quality of the relationship are evident from preschool years through middle childhood

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