It's Not Technology That's Causing A Decline In Critical Thinking…

from the not-this-again... dept

There’s a new study out that is leading to headlines claiming: Is Technology Producing a Decline in Critical Thinking and Analysis? Of course, the details don’t match up with that claim at all. Basically, the report seems to say that being distracted makes it harder to remember what you’re hearing/seeing. Well… duh. I don’t think anyone needs a study to prove that. But, there are some logical leaps taken from that to say that because technology allows for more distractions and because remembering what you’re hearing is important in critical thinking… technology harms critical thinking. That seems like quite a stretch. Also, some of the assumptions made by the professor seem a bit off. For example, she notes that reading for pleasure has declined in recent decades — but a recent report found exactly the opposite. She also repeats some of the claims about violent video games — concerning building up aggression and a desensitization to violence. But, again, the actual details on those studies show a “well… duh” recognition as well. Yes, those games make you more aggressive and desensitized to violence in the game, but there’s little evidence that this leads to any actual impact outside the game.

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Comments on “It's Not Technology That's Causing A Decline In Critical Thinking…”

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Anonymous Coward says:

i dont know about critical thinking, but im pretty sure that technology is making is use our memory less and rely on it to remember things.

then again there is much more to remember today than there was 20 years ago:
email address
more phone numbers
not counting all the passwords
and so on.

so it might balance out at the end.

chris (profile) says:

Re: just thought of this

surely if violent games and movies have such an effect on humans, adult movies should have a similar impact.

pron was a scare in the 80’s. the war on pornography was after the war on communism, but before the war on drugs. not to worry, porn has been eliminated now (just like drugs and communism) and we need to focus on violent video games.

Educated fool says:

My mind's not made up

I can’t really say much about either, sometimes when you see people playing wrestling games over and over, hypothetically inflicting pain on people, that can’t be good surely? With the adult industry, I imagine they do influence you quite a bit, I guess it’s completely random who get’s affected the worst.

Twinrova says:

So, you think critical thinking isn't affected?

Remember this the next time you go shopping and the cash register’s display goes out and you stand there wondering why the cashier isn’t counting out your change.

Ask any 8th grader two questions: Who was our 16th president and what does LOL mean?

Watch any driver who is talking on a cell phone, obviously having failed critical thinking of picking up the phone in the first place.

I’m sorry, but the report has merit. Either that, or the stupidity of many, many people seems to be genetic, of which I’ve yet to see a report.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: So, you think critical thinking isn't affected?

Do you know the 16th president off the top of your head? Do you know what LOL means?

Remembering facts isn’t critical thinking. Talking on the cell phone and driving isn’t even critical thinking. Having this debate is an example of critical thinking.

Reading this article, using your past experience and perception to decide that you believe it’s wrong, and then post your arguments shows that you practice critical thinking. I believe that your arguments are wrong but that is an extension of critical thinking.

From what I’ve seen, critical thinking has improved. Now remembering historical facts, that’s a different story.

Carp says:

Re: Re: Re: So, you think critical thinking isn't affected?

Really? Why? It isn’t a fact I need to know in my day to day life. It doesn’t affect my day to day life. Knowing which side of town that I can buy cheap gas, that affects my life. Knowing the basic history of human rights and what is going on right now can affect my life.

Knowing that Lincoln was the 16th president — as opposed to the 15th or 17th — doesn’t affect my life. Knowing what he did and how it turned out, that might affect my life.

Knowing about the civil rights struggles since 1959, what they mean and meant to African Americans, that almost certainly affects my life.

Almost every American past fifth grade will know who Lincoln was. That he was our 16th president? The number really doesn’t mean much.


Percy says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So, you think critical thinking isn't affected?

It certainly helps create a context for time and for the flow of history. Not every fact one learns is going to be useful, as such, in everyday life. Having learned them will useful though, because it sharpens the brain.

That aside, I would hate a life where I only knew about gas stations and what’s for supper. That Pierre Bezukhov is an awkward, childlike man who grows emotionally during the course of “War and Peace” hardly ever comes up in everyday conversation, nor do the Napoleonic wars. But I’m glad I read Tolstoy’s masterpiece, and yes, I think knowing about Pierre does affect my life…everyday. It adds a little richness to how I view the world. Tolstoy was a master of character development, of spotting traits and giving us ways to describe them. Every great novel I’ve read affects my everyday life.

I find it a disturbing when I hear the claim that only what one uses daily is all one needs to know. You use everything you learn in one way or another.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re: Re:3 So, you think critical thinking isn't affected?

But now your talking about facts that you know but the guy next to you may not. I never read War and Peace but I did read (and comprehend) J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books. Did you? If you didn’t, that doesn’t make you any less intelligent or make your critical thinking skills any less powerful. It just means that I know something that you don’t.

Off the top of my head I may not know for sure that Lincoln was the 16th president, but I do have the reasoning skills to find out, even if I have to go to the library.

Percy says:

Re: Re: Re:4 So, you think critical thinking isn't affected?

I did read Lord of the Rings, but…

I don’t think you’re hearing my point. I’ll rephrase it; it was, perhaps, a little convoluted.

It is the act of reading and comprehending what’s read that enhances the mind’s ability to process information, which is the crucial element in critical thinking. Great novels will also add to our understanding of the world, thereby enhancing our ability to think. Great authors bring us new ways of looking at things.

Memorizing enhances our minds in a another way because it engages the brain differently than grasping something conceptually does. That’s the point the Professor is making; we need to do all these things. Students are best served if they are required to use their brains in several ways.

Football players don’t generally deny the significance of doing push ups despite the fact they’ll never be called upon to perform one in a game.

Xiera says:

Re: Re: Re:5 So, you think critical thinking isn't affected?

Good analogy at the end there.

So I’ll admit that I didn’t read the article; I merely read the commentary and responded to it.

Regardless, it makes perfect sense that the brain should be “exercised” in different ways as part of learning. This really falls on teachers though, does it not?

Also, and again acknowledging that I have no desire to read the actual article, technology can be used to stimulate the mind in a variety of ways, can it not? Perhaps more research into this area will help to make people a little less frightened by it.

Percy says:

Re: Re: Re:6 So, you think critical thinking isn't affected?

Well…the study, and thus, the report… was about teaching and the classroom. That was, in a nutshell, the only thing it addressed. So, yes, it is a matter for teachers.

The professor, I might add, sang the praises of technology, and did so wholeheartedly. She didn’t seem at all frightened by technology, but far more frightened by our singlehanded approach to..well, just about everything. America has been an either/or people for far too long to excuse the blindness of such an approach, I think.

She maintained that it’s our tendency to go overboard with a single methodology that’s the problem…rather than the methodology in itself.

It’s a foolhardy venture for us if we fail to incorporate past greatness with current greatness.

I mean, Is Shakespeare less brilliant now than he was in the seventeenth century? Is the quill insignificant as compared to the keyboard? Are the Bard’s works irrelevant because we’ve achieved better methods of broadcast?

Xiera says:

Re: Re: Re:3 So, you think critical thinking isn't affected?

No, *you* use everything *you* learn in one way or another. That does not apply for everyone.

Using your own example, I’ve read many novels, and a good many of them are considered “great”. But very, very few of those affect my life ever, let alone my everyday life.

In another example, I can’t remember the last time I’ve used quantum physics in my day-to-day life.

I don’t think anyone was arguing that the only things one needs to know are what one uses daily. Using the example in context, knowing what Lincoln did for this country is important to know, though it’s not used daily. Knowing that he was the president during the Civil War (and what that war was about) is important to know, though it’s not used daily. Knowing that Lincoln was the 16th president is rather unimportant.

Dave says:

Good looking people are causing a decline in critical thinking!

I find myself much more distracted when good looking women are in close proximity. Therefore good looking people are causing a decline in critical thinking.

We must closely regulate where and when good looking people are allowed to be seen so that the ability of people to critically think isn’t negatively impacted.

I think we should start by sending a lot of good looking women to my bedroom.

And yes, my solution is better than yours, as they end up in my bedroom, not yours.

Percy says:

The report doesn't say what it's purported to say

I think this study and its subsequent report is being grossly misrepresented, both here and in CNN’s Headline.

Professor Greenfield did NOT claim technology is bad for our brains; in fact, she listed several examples of how it is enhancing them.

Her point is that students, especially, require balance. Using Internet only and bypassing other forms of non-real time media is affecting the learning process. I agree wholly with that.

Xiera says:

Re: The report doesn't say what it's purported to say

Affecting the learning process? Sure. Affecting learning? No.

In the last decade or so, there has been a huge push for the involvement of technology (including the internet) and forum-like discussion in teaching. The claim is that students actually develop better critical thinking skills when they have to consider large amounts of information, reach a conclusion, and argue a point (such as what we’re all doing here).

LadyGrey says:

From a professional in the field...

So, I’m a HUGE technophile, but I’m also a faculty who instructs critical thinking. One of the points that needs to be examined is – exactly what qualities are being used as the standard to define “critical thinking”?

People, as a whole, seem to be more inclined with the rise of television, computer games, the internet, cell phones, etc. to interact with the world in a more shallow fashion. They skim the surface of a wealth of information, but rarely pursue any one topic in any depth. When it comes to writing a solid argument for or against a given position, this approach is problematic, as it does not fully uncover potential pitfalls that can be used against the position forwarded. This, to my definitions, shows a lack of development of critical thinking habits that allows for ignorance and an, essentially, uninformed populace. For example, I have seen many people post in the TechDirt forums who give “knee-jerk” replies without ever reading the entire article (having only read a summary) and get very heated in trying to support their uninformed opinion.

Those who have learned strong critical thinking skills often don’t even realize that that is the case – they dismiss these others as “stupid” or “ignorant” or one of many other pejoratives. Instead, perhaps it is time to recognize a lack of specific skills (and desire to obtain those skills) as the issue as opposed to an innate quality of the person. Critical thinking becomes so ingrained that we don’t realize the hallmarks of it, which is why defining it (as I mentioned in the beginning) is so important. It’s not about listening or reading – it’s about questioning and persistence; it’s about skepticism and a desire to be well informed. These are more difficult to measure and are more problematic to encourage people to learn. I teach composition in college and am an academic librarian who is very closely involved in the field of Information Literacy which is strongly founded on critical thinking skills. I offer this so that you understand that I see evidence (and have been for at least a decade – this is not a new occurrence)regularly as more and more of my students need prompting to continue past the surface of any given meaningful issue (outside of entertainment or sports scores).

Just hoping to offer more information and other thoughts/perspectives for consideration.
Lady Grey

trollificus says:


The “lol vs. 16th President” question is a false dichotomy having nothing to do with “critical thinking”.

It does have a little to do with memory, and it’s understandable that people with access to all knowledge (or a reasonable, wikified version thereof) spend less time MEMORIZING things, like Presidents of the United States.

So I KNOW (heuristic learning, or, improved retrieval of frequently-used information) what lol means, and use a little bit of logic or something to posit (without googling!) the 16th Pres was Lincoln, from…

a) the nature of the question implies the 16th pres was a “big one”
b) the number of presidential terms from the founding @ 4 years/each (minus multiple terms).

Missing from TFA is information about how much the authors of this lame-ass, “What result will get us more funding?” study played video games.

Coz SOMETHING has affected ability to exercise analytical thinking.

trollificus says:

"those people"

I no longer put much effort into remembering anything. Having my computer and the internet as a kind of auxiliary brain is change I can believe in. And if someone fears and fights against change, it is important to analyze their motives.

It has historically been the case that MOST people are uneducated and largely uninterested in intellectual accomplishment. This has not changed, and we continue to see the elitist, class-based and historically common lament that “those people” are not as intelligent or well-informed as “we” are.

These current complaints have less to do with violent video games or technology than resentment (among the educated class) that anyone can, in seconds, retrieve information they they went to school and worked so hard to obtain.

A badge of superiority has been diminished, and such studies aim to reinforce that learning (for instance, problem-solving skills) from video games is inferior to getting such from school. That googling is inferior to swotting away trying to memorize things in college. And most importantly, to reassure that “those people” are inferior to “us”. IOW, elitist crap.

Though the concerns about critical thinking are difficult to ignore when one watches our best and brightest on college campuses nodding like sheep to the vague and vacuous pie-in-the-sky promises of (the right kind of*) politicians.

*-and by “right”, of course, I mean “left”.

trollificus says:

College students

Now, if the thesis of the lead researcher on that study is that COLLEGE STUDENTS are less acquainted with history, science, and the basic precepts of Western thinking (including critical analysis), she may be personally observing a troubling (to her) trend.

Meta-analysis might point her towards more likely culprits contributing to this, such as shallow, sensationalistic media geared towards short attention spans or the possibility that the wrong people are in college for the wrong reasons learning the wrong stuff.

LOT of possible causal phenomenon, and it might be wise to start by sorting out those which caused similar complaints in Rome, Greece and other ancient civilizations. THOSE, we can attribute to intergenerational curmudgeonry.

Xiera says:

Re: College students

“that the wrong people are in college for the wrong reasons learning the wrong stuff”

Quoted for truth.

Having just graduated college, I can say, without a doubt, that some people wanted to be there because they enjoyed learning — economics, physics, literary analysis, you name it — while others were there solely for the document they received upon graduation.

And it was disheartening, to be honest, when I had to go to class alongside people who really couldn’t have cared less but had to take the courses to fulfill requirements. For some of us, each class provided the opportunity to look at the world a different way. Whether we ended up incorporating aspects of the class into our world views or refuting aspects of the class as part of our world views (or both), we ended up gaining a better understand about the world, and, more importantly, about the way we think and view the world. For many college students, however, these opportunities for personal growth are lost.

So, ultimately, it comes down to the fact that you will only get out of college what you want to get out of it. If all you want is a piece of paper, that’s all you’ll get.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Technology and Critical Thinking

The real problem is the extremist attitudes. Increasingly it seems that society is interested only in “digital” solutions to “analog” problems.
Einstein pointed out that the only way to true critical thinking is to excite the imagination – do that, and the school, methodology, etc., fade into background noise. Violence in video games most decidedly can have negative effects – AND positive effects (learning about the real world).
As long as everyone takes one extreme or the other, with no middle ground, no progress – and that, we are seeing!

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