Critical Thinking Correlation Studies

Critical thinking isn't just an academic skill, it's a skill used by highly successful business leaders every day to solve problems, ask questions, and make decisions. The research behind critical thinking is rock solid.

Real-World Outcomes

Negative Life Events

1. Researchers found that adults who scored higher on an assessment of critical thinking reported fewer negative life outcomes associated with poor decision making (deBruin, Parker, & Fischhoff, 2007). Negative life outcomes studied included, for example, quitting a job after a week, having a driver’s license revoked, having utilities shut off due to late payment, and paying more than $500 to fix a car owned for less than half a year. Study results, reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, were based on responses from 360 adults living in the greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area.

Creativity and Critical Thinking

Creative Ideas

2. A study in the journal Intelligence found that people higher in fluid reasoning, a concept closely linked to critical thinking, outperform others in producing creative ideas, and are better able to benefit from strategies that promote creative thinking (Nusbaum & Silvia, 2011). The study evaluated responses to various questionnaires and creativity tasks for 414 students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Based on the findings, the authors believe that creative idea generation may be heavily influenced by various factors related to fluid reasoning and critical thinking, such as working memory, the ability to focus on relevant aspects of the problem, and abstract thinking ability.

Number of Patents

3. Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that cognitive ability predicted creativity, including number of patents produced, for employees with STEM (science, engineering, technology, and mathematics) degrees tracked over more than two decades (Park, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2008). The study, reported in Psychological Science, tracked 1,586 students with STEM degrees. Results showed that odds were between 4 to 5 times greater that students who scored among the highest 25% in cognitive ability, would go on to produce patents, relative to students scoring among the lowest 25% in cognitive ability. The authors interpret the findings as evidence that cognitive ability plays an essential role in innovation, and emphasize its importance for solving the scientific and technological problems that the world faces in the 21st century.

Teacher Beliefs About Creativity

4. Teacher beliefs about the nature of creativity may sometimes neglect the important role of critical thinking, according a study published by Penn State researchers in Educational Research Review (Andiliou & Murphy, 2010). The study's author note that researchers generally agree that creativity involves both the ability to generate original or novel ideas and the ability to use critical thinking and knowledge to judge appropriateness of ideas in terms of task requirements. The K-12 teachers studied on the other hand, tended to emphasize the original or novel component of creativity, and were seemingly unaware of the creativity component involving judging the appropriateness of creative outcomes. Teachers also tended to limit creative thinking to literary and artistic tasks rather than other domains (e.g., thinking of alternative causes or consequences, in the field of history). The authors suggest that altering teachers' beliefs about the meaning of creativity may help them better see that fostering creativity is compatible with core educational objectives and that creativity is not limited to gifted students or artistic domains.

Job Performance and Critical Thinking/Cognitive Ability

Role of Critical Thinking in Evidence-Based Practice

5. Nurse educators with high scores on an assessment of critical thinking dispositions were the most likely to implement research knowledge into their daily practice, as reported in the journal Nurse Education in Practice (Profetto-McGrath, Bulmer Smith, Hugo, Patel, & Dussault, 2009). The study focused on 287 Nurse Educators across a western Canadian province. Nurse educators are registered nurses in leadership roles with a specific and formal role educating nursing students, clients, patients, or employees. Critical thinking dispositions such as inquisitiveness (eagerness to acquire new knowledge) and confidence (trusting one's reasoning skills) were among those with the strongest link to implementing research findings into practice. As the authors note, having nurses with the critical thinking dispositions necessary to integrate research into practice will help meet the desired standard in healthcare today, evidence-based practice (EBP), and ultimately make a significant contribution to overall patient and systems outcomes.

Performance and Leadership Effectiveness

6. As reported in a recent review article in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, the vast body of accumulated knowledge about cognitive ability tests is clear: "They are among the strongest and most consistent predictors of performance across academic and work settings (Kuncel & Hezlett, 2010)." For example, as noted by the authors, scores on cognitive ability tests, which include critical thinking tests, are strongly related to success in both civilian and military jobs, and predict outcomes in all jobs including overall job performance, leadership effectiveness, and assessments of creativity. The power of these tests, the authors conclude, is that they predict both what an individual can do right now, as well the extent to which an individual is likely to learn and develop in the future.

Problem Behaviors

7. Cognitive ability predicts negative on-the-job actions and outcomes for police officers, such as excessive use of force, racially offensive conduct, number of citizen complaints, and at-fault car accidents, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Dilbert, Ones, Davis, & Rostow, 2007). The authors propose that cognitive ability, which is highly related to critical thinking, has its effects by leading a person to think about possible consequences and outcomes before engaging in problem behaviors. The research focused on 1,799 police officers who were hired and studied for approximately 2 years.

Biased Decision Making

8. People with high scores on a critical thinking assessment are less likely to show biases in thinking common to many people, based on a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology (West, Toplak, & Stanovich, 2008). The study of 793 undergraduate students at a state university, found that students who scored high on a critical thinking assessment, made fewer errors associated with biased thinking in areas such as probabilistic and causal reasoning. The authors note that these biases "relate to important real-world decisions in domains such as personal finance, employment, health, and public policy," further highlighting the importance of critical thinking and its potential impact on decision quality in multiple areas.

Critical Thinking and the Work Environment

A Better Practice Environment

9. According to a recent study in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship, encouraging and supporting the development and use of critical thinking dispositions among nurse managers can create a practice environment that's conducive to staff RNs' job satisfaction and retention (Zori, Nosek, & Musil, 2010). The study found that staff RNs' perceptions of their work environment were consistently more favorable when their managers' critical thinking was high. The study investigated work environments for 132 RNs, across 12 teams within a 490-bed, non-profit, tertiary care hospital located in the northeastern United States. Staff RNs' perceptions of the work environment were based on five dimensions, including participation in hospital affairs, staffing and resource adequacy, nursing foundations for quality care, nurse manager ability and support, and collegial nurse-physician collaborations. Perceptions of the work environment for staff RNs were consistently more favorable when the nurse managers showed higher critical thinking scores on four critical thinking dispositions, including analyticity (demanding application of reasoning and evidence), systematicity (having an organized approach to problem-solving), open-mindedness (tolerance to divergent views), and confidence (trusting one's reasoning skills). The authors believed that these dispositions enable managers to effectively perform a range of behaviors related to positive staff perceptions, such as providing staff with guidance, support, and respect, and implementing fair processes.

Critical Thinking Across the Globe

A Worldwide Need

10. A recent study of 72 high school teachers in Hong Kong found that they believe critical thinking is an essential skill that should be part of the curriculum, but that more training is needed on how to teach critical thinking (Stapleton, 2011). The study, published in Thinking Skills and Creativity, also found that many teachers were confused about the meaning of critical thinking, for example whether it was composed of skills (e.g., providing logical support) and/or dispositions (e.g., having diverse perspectives), and suggested that more concrete definitions of critical thinking were needed. The article also cited government polices from a range of countries showing that the concern about deficient critical thinking skills "is not confined to any one country or region, but appears to span education systems around the world."

Development of Critical Thinking

Training for Improvement

11. Critical thinking instruction is feasible and effective, and can help “bridge the considerable divide that separates those who are more advantaged from those whose life histories compromise their exposure to…critical thought” concludes new research reported in Thinking Skills and Creativity (Marin & Halpern, 2011). Researchers found that among high school students, large gains in critical thinking could be achieved by teaching specific critical thinking concepts, and using practice with varied examples of the concepts to facilitate application of learning to new situations. This approach, which the researchers called “explicit instruction,” produced substantial and better gains in critical thinking than an alternative approach called “imbedded instruction,” where students were led to think critically about specific course content. The research tracked the progress of 178 high school students in low income schools in Southern California.

Fostering Critical Thinking Among Middle Eastern Nurses

12. Research supports the success of a program designed to foster use of critical thinking strategies among Middle Eastern nurses (Simpson & Courtney, 2008). The research reported in the International Journal of Nursing Practice, found that strategies such as use of critical thinking questions designed to induce critical thought (What would happen if?; Why is…important?), debate, and roleplays, helped transform learners from being passive or rote to having inquiring minds. Both nurse educators and students provided very positive feedback on the program. For example, one nurse educator reported that as a consequence of learning to develop critical thinking questions, the nurses “are more diligent in asking questions and more confident in their practice.” The study’s authors called for the development and integration of additional critical thinking programs nationwide.

Improving Critical Thinking Among Nurses Through Simulation

13. Researchers found that providing nursing students with more practice scenarios using a human patient simulator increased their critical thinking skills (Sullivan-Mann, Perron, & Fellner, 2009, reported in Newborn and Infant Nursing Reviews). The experiment, focused on 53 nursing students at a Midwestern US College, showed a greater increase in critical thinking scores for students assigned to receive 5 human patient scenarios, versus a group assigned to receive only 2. The authors conclude that the impact of human patient simulation on critical thinking demonstrates “the importance of continuing to offer simulation as an active learning strategy in nursing curricula.”

Impact of Nurse Education on Critical Thinking

14. Master's in Nursing programs positively impact students' critical thinking skills, according to a study reported in the Journal of Advanced Nursing focused on 332 nursing students in Ireland (Drennan, 2009). The study found higher scores on the Watson-Glaser, a measure of critical thinking, for nursing students who had graduated from, as compared to students just beginning, a Master's in Nursing program. The author concludes that "development of the critical thinking skills essential for managing the complexities of the healthcare environment" is "best served by programs that allow time for discussion, debate, reflection, and engagement."

Critical Thinking for Teams

Online Problem Solving

15. Teams that "tag" their ideas before sharing them online have deeper, more focused online discussions characterized by high levels of critical thinking, according to a study published in Interactive Learning Environment (Schellens, Van Keer, de Wever, & Valcke, 2009). In the study, teams where members tagged their ideas by briefly labeling how the ideas contributed to the discussion (e.g., defining the problem; identifying solutions) surpassed a control group that didn't tag ideas, in achieved depth of critical thinking. The authors of the study, which focused on 35 third-year university students, believed that the tagging required students to step back and reflect upon the ongoing discussion and how to contribute, optimizing their contributions and the discussion's overall quality.