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2.2 The cognitive psychology approach

Unlike the philosophers, most psychologists who write about this area of work argue from a developmental and/or cognitive theory perspective. For example, Halpern (1996; 1998; 2007) argues that the main components of critical thinking are an individual’s ability to consciously reflect on and evaluate their own thought process. Halpern explains that critical thinking requires analytical skills and an appreciation of rules and criteria for making reasonable judgements as well as a disposition to use those skills.

Sternberg (1996) defines critical thinking as ‘the mental processes, strategies, and representations people use to solve problems, make decisions, and learn new concepts’ (p. 3). This particular perspective of critical thinking has often been questioned by philosophers who argue that this reductionist view doesn’t recognise the complexity of critical thought. But the cognitive psychology perspective broadly suggests that through reflection and evaluation of evidence associated with a claim, it is possible to make logical and reasoned judgements about the merits of that claim.

A number of educational reformers have also contributed to the debate. While many draw on the works of Dewey and Bloom and their particular focus on communication and reflection in the process of critical thinking, critical pedagogues such as Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, Peter McLaren and Ira Shor have also helped to shape the debate and have influenced the field over the past three to four decades.