What’s Your Problem?

Critical thinking requires us to carefully examine three things: the claim being made, the source of the information, and ourselves.

We like to think of ourselves as rational and fair-minded; it is other people who have biases. This is a problem. The fact is we all have biases, stereotypes and prejudices that can influence our thinking without our realizing it (for more on this, check out the Harvard Implicit Association Test to find some of your very own cognitive biases).

Before we get down to analyzing arguments, we need to do some self-examination first and locate the possible sources of bias that may be negatively influencing or constricting our thinking. The questions below can help raise our awareness of thinking habits that may be getting in our way.


Possible Sources of Cognitive Bias

1. AGE: How old are you? How might your age affect both what you know and your attitude toward gaining knowledge?

2. CULTURE/NATIVE LANGUAGE/ETHNICITY: What is your native language? What other languages do you speak? How might your particular languages affect your knowledge? How does the worldview of your culture influence your thinking?

3. SEX: What sex are you? Does your gender role affect the way you see the world and the expectations you have about your knowledge? Does your gender role have an inhibiting effect on what you know?

4. GEOGRAPHY: Are you urban or rural? How might living in a city or living in the country affect how you have learned and what you know? Do you live in a cold climate or a warm one? How might that affect your thinking?

5. RELIGION: What is your spiritual worldview? How does following a particular religion, or not doing so, affect your knowledge?

6. ANYTHING ELSE? What other aspects of your background belong here? Are there other ways in which your thinking is being framed by other influences and assumptions? These questions are intended to be starters, opening ideas, to which you can easily add more.

Author: Craig Butcher

Craig Butcher is an award-winning educator who has taught critical thinking skills for more than two decades. In addition, he has worked on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer and has been a top-rated broadcaster.