5 Barriers to Critical Thinking


Quite often, discussion of Critical Thinking (CT) revolves around tips for what you or your students should be doing to enhance CT ability. However, it seems that there’s substantially less discussion of what you ‘shouldn’t be doing’; that is, barriers to CT. About a year ago, I posted 5 Tips for Critical Thinking to this blog and after thinking about it in terms of what not to do, along with more modern conceptualisations of CT (see Dwyer, 2017), I’ve compiled a list of five major barriers to CT. Of course, these are not the only barriers to CT; rather, they are five that may have the most impact on how one applies CT.

1. Trusting Your Gut

Trust your gut is a piece of advice often thrown around in the context of being in doubt. The concept of using intuitive judgment is actually the last thing you want to be doing if critical thinking is your goal. In the past, intuitive judgment has been described as ‘the absence of analysis’ (Hamm, 1988); and automatic cognitive processing which generally lacks effort, intention, awareness or voluntary control—usually experienced as perceptions or feelings (Kahneman, 2011; Lieberman, 2003). Given that intuitive judgment operates automatically and cannot be voluntarily ‘turned off’, associated errors and unsupported biases are difficult to prevent, largely because reflective judgment has not been consulted. Even when errors appear obvious in hindsight, they can only be prevented through the careful, self-regulated monitoring and control afforded by reflective judgment. Such errors and flawed reasoning include cognitive biases and logical fallacies. Going with your gut—experienced as perceptions or feelings, generally leads the thinker to favour perspectives consistent with their own personal biases and experiences or those of their group.