Critical thinking has not endured the kind of empirical inspection typically bestowed upon constructs developed by psychologists. Its relationship to other, well-established psychological constructs such as intelligence, working memory, and reasoning, for example, has rarely been studied. It is the authors’ admittedly subjective opinion that the lack of empirical study of critical thinking and its relationship to other individual difference dimensions has produced a fractionated view of the construct. Without the grounding of data, theorists have been free to postulate divergent concepts. An effort in philosophy to reach a consensus definition in 1990 had little effect on unifying the field.

To fill this gap, Fischer and Spiker (2004) developed a model that is sufficiently specific to permit empirical testing. The model identifies the role of critical thinking within the related fields of reasoning and judgment, which have been empirically studied since the 1950s and are better understood theoretically. It incorporates many ideas offered by leading thinkers (e.g., Paul & Elder, 2001) in philosophy and education. It also embodies many of the variables discussed in the relevant literature (e.g., predisposing attitudes, experience, knowledge, and skills) and specifies the relationships among them.

The model can, and has been, used to make testable predictions about the factors that influence critical thinking and about the associated psychological consequences. It also offers practical guidance to the development of systems and training. An overview of the model’s main features is provided here following a brief review of current thinking about reasoning and judgment, on which the model is based.


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