As noted above, the opportunities for judgment are set in motion by the contextual factors-the situation and the purpose. While the automatic System 1 will engage in all conditions, two characteristics of the situation must be present to elicit critical thinking: the stimulus material must contain substantive information and there must be sufficient time available to engage System 2. Other characteristics of the situation that make it more likely that System 2 will be engaged include the presence of conflicting information, disordered or unorganized material, uncertain information, and complex material.

Critical thinking is not an end in itself, but serves objectives specified by purpose (metatasks). The purpose also dictates the specific response that will be required to successfully end the process. For example, the situation may include a meta-task to understand, make an evaluation, make a decision, or solve a complex problem. Even if the final result is based on System 1 processing, System 2 determines when the requirements of the purpose have been met. Hence, successful completion of the meta-tasks as determined by System 2 can also provide input that terminates an episode.

Predisposing factors influence the likelihood of a person using, or persisting in using, a critical thinking skill. Like features of the situation, they serve as input conditions, and as a filter through which the situation and purpose are evaluated. Some may be key factors that strongly affect an individual’s use of a critical thinking skill. Other factors may have a weaker relationship to critical thinking, perhaps increasing the likelihood of engaging in a skill by a marginal amount. In summary, predispositions are measurable ways in which people differ, whether fixed or modifiable, that influence the use or persistence of use of critical thinking.

Moderating variables influence how, and how well, critical thinking skills are performed. For example, domain expertise, recent experience, and education influence the quality of the reasoning produced by the process. They do not, however, influence whether one executes a particular skill, as do predisposing factors.


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