Diane Halpern is a professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College; she is the former president of the American Psychological Association and former president of the Western Psychological Association. Halpern has won many awards for her teaching and research, including the 2002 Outstanding Professor Award from the Western Psychological Association, the 1999 American Psychological Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching, and the Silver Medal Award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. She has also authored a variety of books.
Here are some of Halpern’s views on the thinking process.
What is the goal of critical thinking? Is critical thinking rational thinking?
Critical thinking is good thinking or clear thinking—it involves analyzing the thinking process as well as the outcome. People who think well (use the skills of critical thinking) make better decisions across all areas of their lives. It is reasoned thinking—supporting beliefs and actions with good reasons.
Do you think critical thinking is more malleable than intelligence?
There is a large body of evidence showing that people can learn to think better. Of course, education makes us all more intelligent, but critical thinking is more focused. Everyone can learn to recognize and use the skills of critical thinking, and we can always get better.
Is there a big difference between the cognitive abilities of males and females?
I discuss this at great length in the fourth edition of my book, Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities. Short answers to complicated questions are always a bad idea. There are many areas where there are few or no differences on average between females and males and other areas where there are large differences (on average). Of course the more important question is why. We can all improve in our thinking with appropriate instruction—that is why we have schools.
At what age should children begin to learn to think critically?
Children can learn to think well at very young ages. Specific instruction can start very early in life.
Recently you answered the Edge.org question, posed by Steven Pinker: “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” Could you provide our readers with an abbreviated version of your answer?
I wrote about understanding the term “statistically significant difference.” I think that it is often misunderstood. Even if a difference is statistically significant, it may be too small to be meaningful, and there is always a chance that the conclusion is wrong.
What are your current research interests? Are there any future projects you would like to mention?
I am working with two terrific colleagues—Keith Millis at Northern Illinois University and Art Graesser at University of Memphis—on a computerized game that teaches scientific reasoning/critical thinking. For more information, check out my website, www.DianeHalpern.com
Photo by Jacob Botter, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.