Do Students from Different Cultures Think Differently about Critical and Other Thinking Skills?

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cultural barriers to critical thinking

  • Emmanuel Manalo ,
  • Takashi Kusumi ,
  • Masuo Koyasu ,
  • Yasushi Michita &
  • Yuko Tanaka  

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In this chapter, we explore what students from different cultural backgrounds think “good” thinking skills are, including the skills they perceive as being necessary in their studies. We report on findings from focus group interviews we conducted with undergraduate university students from Kyoto and Okinawa in Japan, and from Auckland in New Zealand. What the students said during the interviews shows important similarities in views about what “good thinkers” possess, including many qualities associated with critical thinking such as consideration of different or alternative perspectives. However, when we specifically asked about the meaning of “critical thinking,” many of the students from Okinawa indicated uncertainty in their responses, and the students from Auckland and Okinawa also referred to thinking approaches that are not commonly associated with critical thinking such as intuition and positive thinking. The findings from our investigation suggest that students need more explicit instruction to promote critical thinking skills development, and that they should be provided clearer, more transparent explanations of the thinking skills they are expected to demonstrate in their courses of study.

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Manalo, E., Kusumi, T., Koyasu, M., Michita, Y., Tanaka, Y. (2015). Do Students from Different Cultures Think Differently about Critical and Other Thinking Skills?. In: Davies, M., Barnett, R. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

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Christopher Dwyer Ph.D.

5 Barriers to Critical Thinking

What holds us back from thinking critically in day-to-day situations.

Posted January 18, 2019 | Reviewed by Davia Sills

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Quite often, discussions of Critical Thinking (CT) revolve around tips for what you or your students should be doing to enhance CT ability. However, it seems that there’s substantially less discussion of what you shouldn’t be doing—that is, barriers to CT.

About a year ago, I posted "5 Tips for Critical Thinking" to this blog, and after thinking about it in terms of what not to do , along with more modern conceptualizations of CT (see Dwyer, 2017), I’ve compiled a list of five major barriers to CT. Of course, these are not the only barriers to CT; rather, they are five that may have the most impact on how one applies CT.

1. Trusting Your Gut

Trust your gut is a piece of advice often thrown around in the context of being in doubt. The concept of using intuitive judgment is actually the last thing you want to be doing if critical thinking is your goal. In the past, intuitive judgment has been described as "the absence of analysis" (Hamm, 1988); and automatic cognitive processing—which generally lacks effort, intention, awareness, or voluntary control—is usually experienced as perceptions or feelings (Kahneman, 2011; Lieberman, 2003).

Given that intuitive judgment operates automatically and cannot be voluntarily "turned off," associated errors and unsupported biases are difficult to prevent, largely because reflective judgment has not been consulted. Even when errors appear obvious in hindsight, they can only be prevented through the careful, self-regulated monitoring and control afforded by reflective judgment. Such errors and flawed reasoning include cognitive biases and logical fallacies .

Going with your gut—experienced as perceptions or feelings—generally leads the thinker to favor perspectives consistent with their own personal biases and experiences or those of their group.

2. Lack of Knowledge

CT skills are key components of what CT is, and in order to conduct it, one must know how to use these skills. Not knowing the skills of CT—analysis, evaluation, and inference (i.e., what they are or how to use them)—is, of course, a major barrier to its application. However, consideration of a lack of knowledge does not end with the knowledge of CT skills.

Let’s say you know what analysis, evaluation, and inference are, as well as how to apply them. The question then becomes: Are you knowledgeable in the topic area you have been asked to apply the CT? If not, intellectual honesty and reflective judgment should be engaged to allow you to consider the nature, limits, and certainty of what knowledge you do have, so that you can evaluate what is required of you to gain the knowledge necessary to make a critically thought-out judgment.

However, the barrier here may not necessarily be a lack of topic knowledge, but perhaps rather believing that you have the requisite knowledge to make a critically thought-out judgment when this is not the case or lacking the willingness to gain additional, relevant topic knowledge.

3. Lack of Willingness

In addition to skills, disposition towards thinking is also key to CT. Disposition towards thinking refers to the extent to which an individual is willing or inclined to perform a given thinking skill, and is essential for understanding how we think and how we can make our thinking better, in both academic settings and everyday circumstances (Norris, 1992; Siegel, 1999; Valenzuela, Nieto, & Saiz, 2011; Dwyer, Hogan & Stewart, 2014).

Dispositions can’t be taught, per se, but they do play a large role in determining whether or not CT will be performed. Simply, it doesn’t matter how skilled one is at analysis, evaluation, and inference—if they’re not willing to think critically, CT is not likely to occur.

4. Misunderstanding of Truth

Truth-seeking is one such disposition towards thinking, which refers to a desire for knowledge; to seek and offer both reasons and objections in an effort to inform and to be well-informed; a willingness to challenge popular beliefs and social norms by asking questions (of oneself and others); to be honest and objective about pursuing the truth, even if the findings do not support one’s self-interest or pre-conceived beliefs or opinions; and to change one’s mind about an idea as a result of the desire for truth (Dwyer, 2017).

cultural barriers to critical thinking

Though this is something for which many of us strive or even just assume we do, the truth is that we all succumb to unwarranted assumptions from time to time: that is, beliefs presumed to be true without adequate justification. For example, we might make a judgment based on an unsubstantiated stereotype or a commonsense/belief statement that has no empirical evidence to justify it. When using CT, it’s important to distinguish facts from beliefs and, also, to dig a little deeper by evaluating "facts" with respect to how much empirical support they have to validate them as fact (see " The Dirtiest Word in Critical Thinking: 'Proof' and its Burden ").

Furthermore, sometimes the truth doesn’t suit people, and so, they might choose to ignore it or try and manipulate knowledge or understanding to accommodate their bias . For example, some people may engage in wishful thinking , in which they believe something is true because they wish it to be; some might engage in relativistic thinking , in which, for them, the truth is subjective or just a matter of opinion.

5. Closed-mindedness

In one of my previous posts, I lay out " 5 Tips for Critical Thinking "—one of which is to play Devil’s Advocate , which refers to the "consideration of alternatives." There’s always more than one way to do or think about something—why not engage such consideration?

The willingness to play Devil’s Advocate implies a sensibility consistent with open-mindedness (i.e., an inclination to be cognitively flexible and avoid rigidity in thinking; to tolerate divergent or conflicting views and treat all viewpoints alike, prior to subsequent analysis and evaluation; to detach from one’s own beliefs and consider, seriously, points of view other than one’s own without bias or self-interest; to be open to feedback by accepting positive feedback, and to not reject criticism or constructive feedback without thoughtful consideration; to amend existing knowledge in light of new ideas and experiences; and to explore such new, alternative, or "unusual" ideas).

At the opposite end of the spectrum, closed-mindedness is a significant barrier to CT. By this stage, you have probably identified the inherent nature of bias in our thinking. The first step of CT is always going to be to evaluate this bias. However, one’s bias may be so strong that it leads them to become closed-minded and renders them unwilling to consider any other perspectives.

Another way in which someone might be closed-minded is through having properly researched and critically thought about a topic and then deciding that this perspective will never change, as if their knowledge will never need to adapt. However, critical thinkers know that knowledge can change and adapt. An example I’ve used in the past is quite relevant here—growing up, I was taught that there were nine planets in our solar system; however, based on further research, our knowledge of planets has been amended to now only consider eight of those as planets.

Being open-minded is a valuable disposition, but so is skepticism (i.e., the inclination to challenge ideas; to withhold judgment before engaging all the evidence or when the evidence and reasons are insufficient; to take a position and be able to change position when the evidence and reasons are sufficient; and to look at findings from various perspectives).

However, one can be both open-minded and skeptical. It is closed-mindedness that is the barrier to CT, so please note that closed-mindedness and skepticism are distinct dispositions.

Dwyer, C.P. (2017). Critical thinking: Conceptual perspectives and practical guidelines. UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dwyer, C.P., Hogan, M.J. & Stewart, I. (2014). An integrated critical thinking framework for the 21st century. Thinking Skills & Creativity, 12, 43-52.

Hamm, R. M. (1988). Clinical intuition and clinical analysis: expertise and the cognitive continuum. In J. Dowie & A. Elstein (Eds.), Professional judgment: A reader in clinical decision making, 78–105. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking fast and slow. Penguin: Great Britain.

Lieberman, M. D. (2003). Reflexive and reflective judgment processes: A social cognitive neuroscience approach. Social Judgments: Implicit and Explicit Processes, 5, 44–67.

Norris, S. P. (Ed.). (1992). The generalizability of critical thinking: Multiple perspectives on an educational ideal. New York: Teachers College Press.

Siegel, H. (1999). What (good) are thinking dispositions? Educational Theory, 49, 2, 207–221.

Valenzuela, J., Nieto, A. M., & Saiz, C. (2011). Critical thinking motivational scale: A contribution to the study of relationship between critical thinking and motivation. Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 9, 2, 823–848.

Christopher Dwyer Ph.D.

Christopher Dwyer, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the Technological University of the Shannon in Athlone, Ireland.

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Cultural Conditioning: Influences on Critical Thinking

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To determine whether cultural conditioning influences critical thinking, we utilized qualitative data from a literature review by comparing critical thinking focusing on but not limited to Europeans and Asians. The research questions were the following: How does cultural heritage impinge or assist critical thinking skills and abilities? How does cultural influence determine the way individuals critically think of government authority, moral and immoral judgment, decisions, and organizational success? Can individual frames of reference related to a culture influence or bias the thought process or differently affect the critical thinking process? The literature review indicated that cultural conditioning and language do affect an individual’s thought and decision-making process. Because educational institutions have diverse cultures among faculty, students, and staff, the academic environment provides an opportunity to view cultural conditioning and its effect on critical thinking during the decision-making process. In higher education, case studies have provided a means for students to respond to questions, issues, and challenges that provide reasonable alternatives influenced by cultural conditioning. Research on understanding critical thinking and influences by culture can assist in developing awareness of differences in the decision-making processes and might eliminate many of the misunderstandings incurred when leading a group toward strategic thinking and planning.

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1 Barriers to critical thinking

First, let’s briefly examine some barriers to critical thinking.

Take another look at the visual summary below on critical and analytical thinking, which was introduced at the end of Session 3. Note the warning sign next to the ‘black pit’ to the lower right of this figure.

A visual summary of critical and analytical thinking

This figure shows a visual summary of critical and analytical thinking. It includes phrases such as ‘objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement’, ‘abilities’, ‘dispositions’ and ‘questioning’.

We have provided you with a larger version of this image in PDF format [ Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. ( Hide tip ) ] .

What are the common pitfalls or barriers to thinking critically and analytically? Some of these were highlighted in the visual summary, and include:

  • Misunderstanding . This can arise due to language or cultural differences, a lack of awareness of the ‘processes’ involved, or a misunderstanding that critical thinking means making ‘negative’ comments (as discussed in Sessions 3 and 4).
  • Reluctance to critique the ‘norm’ or experts in a field and consider alternative views (feeling out of your ‘comfort zone’ or fearful of being wrong).
  • Lack of detailed knowledge . Superficial knowledge (not having read deeply enough around the subject).
  • Wanting to know the answers without having to ask questions .

Why do you think being aware of these potential pitfalls is important?

As a critical and reflective thinker, you will need to be aware of the barriers, acknowledge the challenges they may present, and overcome these as best you can. This starts with an understanding of expectations. Some students feel anxious about questioning the work of experts. Critical thinking does not mean that you are challenging someone’s work or telling them that they are wrong, but encourages a deeper understanding, a consideration of alternative views, and engagement in thought, discourse or research that informs your independent judgement. At postgraduate level you will also need to read widely around a subject in order to engage effectively with critical and analytical thinking, and to ask questions: there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, only supported arguments. This is at the heart of postgraduate study.

Critical thinking encourages you to be constructive, by considering the strengths and weaknesses of a claim and differing sides to an argument. It helps you to clarify points, encourages deeper thought, and allows you to determine whether information that you come across is accurate and reliable. This helps you to form your own judgement, and drives research forward.

People can find it difficult to think critically, irrespective of their education or intellectual ability. The key to understanding critical thinking is not only knowing and making sure that you understand the process, but also being able to put this into practice by applying your knowledge.

Critical and reflective thinking are complex and lifelong skills that you continue to develop as part of your personal and professional growth. In your everyday life, you may also come across those who do not exercise critical thinking, and this might impact on decisions that affect you. It is important to recognise this, and to use critical and reflective thinking to ensure that your own view is informed by reasoned judgement, supported by evidence.

Take another look at the visual summary. You will see two aspects to critical thinking: one focusing on the disposition of the person engaged in critical and reflective thinking, and the other concerning their abilities. Let’s focus here on dispositions. At a personal level, barriers to critical thinking can arise through:

  • an over-reliance on feelings or emotions
  • self-centred or societal/cultural-centred thinking (conformism, dogma and peer-pressure)
  • unconscious bias, or selective perception
  • an inability to be receptive to an idea or point of view that differs from your own (close-mindedness)
  • unwarranted assumptions or lack of relevant information
  • fear of being wrong (anxious about being taken out of your ‘comfort zone’)
  • poor communication skills or apathy
  • lack of personal honesty.

Be aware that thinking critically is not simply adhering to a formula. For example, reflect on the following questions:

  • How can you communicate with those who do not actively engage with critical thinking and are unwilling to engage in a meaningful dialogue?
  • How would you react or respond when you experience a lack of critical thinking in the media, amongst your own family members, colleagues at work, or on your course?


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How to Identify and Remove Barriers to Critical Thinking

An illustration of an office worker jumping over a brick wall representing barriers to critical thinking.

Critical Thinking: Structured Reasoning

Even a few simple techniques for logical decision making and persuasion can vastly improve your skills as a leader. Explore how critical thinking can help you evaluate complex business problems, reduce bias, and devise effective solutions.

Critical Thinking: Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is a central business skill, and yet it's the one many people struggle with most. This course will show you how to apply critical thinking techniques to common business examples, avoid misunderstandings, and get at the root of any problem.

Contrary to popular belief, being intelligent or logical does not automatically make you a critical thinker.

People with high IQs are still prone to biases, complacency, overconfidence, and stereotyping that affect the quality of their thoughts and performance at work. But people who scored high in critical thinking —a reflection of sound analytical, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities—report having fewer negative experiences in and out of the office.

Top 5 Barriers to Critical Thinking

To learn how to think critically, you’ll need to identify and understand what prevents people from doing so in the first place. Catching yourself (and others) engaging in these critical thinking no-no’s can help prevent costly mistakes and improve your quality of life.

Here are five of the most common barriers to critical thinking.

Egocentric Thinking

Egoism, or viewing everything in relation to yourself, is a natural human tendency and a common barrier to critical thinking. It often leads to an inability to question one’s own beliefs, sympathize with others, or consider different perspectives.

Egocentricity is an inherent character flaw. Understand that, and you’ll gain the open-minded point of view required to assess situations outside your own lens of understanding.

Groupthink and Social Conditioning

Everyone wants to feel like they belong. It’s a basic survival instinct and psychological mechanism that ensures the survival of our species. Historically, humans banded together to survive in the wild against predators and each other. That desire to “fit in” persists today as groupthink, or the tendency to agree with the majority and suppress independent thoughts and actions.

Groupthink is a serious threat to diversity in that it supports social conditioning, or the idea that we should all adhere to a particular society or culture’s most “acceptable” behavior.

Overcoming groupthink and cultural conditioning requires the courage to break free from the crowd. It’s the only way to question popular thought, culturally embedded values, and belief systems in a detached and objective manner.

Next Article

5 of the Best Books on Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving


Drone Mentality and Cognitive Fatigue

Turning on “autopilot” and going through the motions can lead to a lack of spatial awareness. This is known as drone mentality, and it’s not only detrimental to you, but those around you, as well.

Studies show that monotony and boredom are bad for mental health . Cognitive fatigue caused by long-term mental activity without appropriate stimulation, like an unchanging daily routine full of repetitive tasks, negatively impairs cognitive functioning and critical thinking .

Although you may be tempted to flip on autopilot when things get monotonous, as a critical thinker you need to challenge yourself to make new connections and find fresh ideas. Adopt different schools of thought. Keep both your learning and teaching methods exciting and innovative, and that will foster an environment of critical thinking.

The Logic Tree: The Ultimate Critical Thinking Framework


Personal Biases and Preferences

Everyone internalizes certain beliefs, opinions, and attitudes that manifest as personal biases. You may feel that you’re open minded, but these subconscious judgements are more common than most people realize. They can distort your thinking patterns and sway your decision making in the following ways:

  • Confirmation bias: favoring information that reinforces your existing viewpoints and beliefs
  • Anchoring bias: being overly influenced by the first piece of information you come across
  • False consensus effect: believing that most people share your perspective
  • Normalcy bias: assuming that things will stay the same despite significant changes to the status quo

The critical thinking process requires being aware of personal biases that affect your ability to rationally analyze a situation and make sound decisions.

Allostatic Overload

Research shows that persistent stress causes a phenomenon known as allostatic overload . It’s serious business, affecting your attention span, memory, mood, and even physical health.

When under pressure, your brain is forced to channel energy into the section responsible for processing necessary information at the expense of taking a rest. That’s why people experience memory lapses in fight-or-flight situations. Prolonged stress also reduces activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that handles executive tasks.

Avoiding cognitive impairments under pressure begins by remaining as calm and objective as possible. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and slow your thoughts. Assume the role of a third-party observer. Analyze and evaluate what can be controlled instead of what can’t.

Train Your Mind Using the 9 Intellectual Standards

The bad news is that barriers to critical thinking can really sneak up on you and be difficult to overcome. But the good news is that anyone can learn to think critically with practice.

Unlike raw intelligence, which is largely determined by genetics , critical thinking can be mastered using nine teachable standards of thought:

  • Clarity: Is the information or task at hand easy to understand and free from obscurities?
  • Precision: Is it specific and detailed?
  • Accuracy: Is it correct, free from errors and distortions?
  • Relevance: Is it directly related to the matter at hand?
  • Depth: Does it consider all other variables, contexts, and situations?
  • Breadth: Is it comprehensive, and does it encompass other perspectives?
  • Logical: Does it contradict itself?
  • Significance: Is it important in the first place?
  • Fairness: Is it free from bias, deception, and self-interest?

When evaluating any task, situation, or piece of information, consider these intellectual standards to hone your critical thinking skills in a structured, practiced way. Keep it up, and eventually critical thinking will become second nature.

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Developing Critical Thinking Skills For Overcoming Stereotypes In Intercultural Communication

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The article addresses the issue of developing students’ critical thinking skills as an effective way of dealing with stereotypes arising in intercultural communication. These skills constitute an integral component of intercultural communicative competence (ICC), which is the result of merging communicative and intercultural competences and recognized as a key goal in foreign language teaching. The article gives an overview of critical thinking skills and substantiates that these skills are instrumental in overcoming cultural stereotypes. Based on their teaching experience, the authors suggest a technique for developing critical thinking skills in foreign language classrooms. This technique is aimed at reducing and preventing stereotypes, or overgeneralizations, which often lead to misunderstanding and distorted perceptions of other cultures as well as students’ own culture. The suggested technique consists of four consecutive stages, which are motivational, educational, practical and controlling stages. The authors describe the purpose of each stage and give examples of activities and tasks used at each stage. They also provide guidelines for teachers, including lists of questions for critical evaluation of information. Keywords: Intercultural communication intercultural communicative competence critical thinking skills teaching technique stereotypes TEFL


The increasing internationalization and globalization set specific requirements on professional education, including professionally integrated foreign language education, the overall goal of which should be intercultural communicative competence (ICC). Having rather a complex structure, this competence requires an interdisciplinary approach. Studies in psychology, linguistics, language teaching science and theory of communication ( Wiseman, 2006 ) enable to indicate constituents of ICC, the complex development of which provides effective language and culture learning with the aim of successful intercultural communication. One of these constituents is critical thinking skills ( Bennett, 2013 ; Deardorff, 2009 ; Wiseman, 2006 ). In intercultural communication, often impeded by stereotypes, prejudices and biases, critical thinking skills are a vital asset, especially if we take into account an unprecedented amount of information to which people are exposed. This article considers how critical thinking skills can be used for dealing with stereotypes in intercultural communication and what activities can be recommended for developing these skills in EFL classrooms.

Problem Statement

Before designing a teaching technique for developing students’ critical thinking skills to overcome cultural stereotypes in intercultural communication, let us consider:

what intercultural communicative competence is;

what the core skills of critical thinking are;

why it is important to cope with stereotypes.

Critical thinking and its core skills

Since critical thinking was first described by Dewey ( 2008 ) in 1910, there have been numerous definitions of this term. Educators generally understand the core of this concept as “careful goal-directed thinking”; yet, the existing definitions of critical thinking “can vary according to its presumed scope, its presumed goal, one’s criteria and threshold for being careful, and the thinking component on which one focuses” ( Hitchcock, 2018, p. 29 ).

A lot of attention has been given to determining what cognitive skills critical thinking consists of. Ennis ( 1985 ) claims that since critical thinking is “reflective and reasonable” and “focused on deciding what to believe or do” (p. 45), it goes beyond the lower-order thinking skills in the cognitive domain of Bloom’s taxonomy, which are knowledge and comprehension, and comprises a significant part of the higher-order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation. This means that besides recalling, organizing, comparing, interpreting and summarizing information, critical thinkers are able to reason and apply knowledge to solve problems, to thoroughly examine information and to explore different viewpoints, to combine information in new patterns and to draw conclusions ( Ennis, 1985 ).

Wade ( 1995 ) distinguishes eight characteristics of critical thinking. In her opinion, a critical thinker should be able to ask questions, determine problems, analyse evidence, scrutinize assumptions and biased judgments, avoid emotional reasoning, eschew oversimplified statements, take into account multiple interpretations and be willing to accept ambiguity.

Facione’s ( 2010 ) research, during which he surveyed a group of forty-six experts about essential elements of critical thinking, shows that critical thinking includes six main cognitive skills: interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation and self-regulation.

The Pearson RED critical thinking model ( Chatrand et al., 2011 ) arranges critical thinking skills into three groups, which are Recognizing assumptions, Evaluating arguments, and Drawing conclusions. Although this model was designed for training programs in business environment, it is also applicable in other contexts, for example, in teaching foreign languages. Being able to recognize assumptions and evaluate the quality of arguments before making a logical conclusion based on solid evidence is vital in intercultural communication where the view of another culture is often subject to overgeneralizing and stereotyping. Since critical thinking was first described by Dewey ( 2008 ) in 1910, there have been numerous definitions of this term. Educators generally understand the core of this concept as careful goal-directed thinking; yet, the existing definitions can vary according to the scope of critical thinking, its goal, the thinking component, the criteria and threshold for being careful ( Hitchcock, 2018 ).

Stereotypes in intercultural communication

The term “stereotype” is used to describe rigid beliefs about a particular category of people considered to conform to one pattern and lack any individuality. These beliefs can be based on different variables, such as social class, nationality, gender, education, religion, sexual orientation and others.

Since stereotypes originate from social categorization, which is a natural cognitive process, people tend to have generalizing preconceptions about others and overlook their individual characteristics. Such oversimplified representations of a specific national group are common in intercultural communication.

Any stereotype, whether it is positive or negative, is a misleading overgeneralization based on judgmental attitude and selective perception. Blum ( 2004 ) calls stereotypes “a form of morally defective regard of persons” because they are “false and unwarranted” (p. 271). In Blum’s (2004) opinion, among the deficiencies of stereotyping are “viewing members of the stereotyped group as more similar to one another than they actually are” and “viewing members of the stereotyped group as more different from other groups than they actually are” (p. 275).

In intercultural communication, stereotypes often lead to misunderstanding or even cultural conflicts as they prevent representatives of one national culture from rationally evaluating products, perspectives, and practices related to another culture. Besides, as stereotypes are typically acquired in a subconscious way, as part of socialization ( Macrae et al., 1996 ), people are often unaware that they hold stereotypic beliefs about other cultures. As these stereotypes are deeply rooted, they are hard to recognize and to subject to a critical examination.

Overcoming stereotypes as barriers to successful communication across cultures is one of the central roles in teaching foreign languages. Developing critical thinking skills is an effective way of deconstructing stereotypical perceptions and promoting openness toward other worldviews. The term “stereotype” is used to describe rigid beliefs about a particular category of people considered to conform to one pattern and lack any individuality. These beliefs can be based on different variables, such as social class, nationality, gender, education, religion, sexual orientation and others.

Research Questions

Developing critical thinking skills which are necessary for dealing with overgeneralizations (stereotypes) in intercultural communication is an elaborate process. We suggest a special teaching technique for this purpose. Since critical thinking comprises a set of interrelated skills often applied simultaneously, it is hardly possible to develop each of these skills in a discrete and linear way. It means that the technique suggested in this article includes activities which are often multi-purpose. At the same time, like any other teaching technique, this technique consists of four clear-cut stages, which are motivational , educational , practical (autonomous ) and controlling . Before students start doing critical thinking activities, it is necessary to motivate them and to activate their cognitive sphere. The next step is to instruct students how to analyse and evaluate information properly before they begin to autonomously fulfil critical thinking tasks. Finally, the teacher should control and assess students’ work, discuss the results and make corrections if necessary.

Purpose of the Study

The practical goal of the study is to give a detailed description of each stage of the teaching technique for developing students’ critical thinking skills as one of the key components of intercultural communicative competence. This will enable them to overcome cultural stereotypes during intercultural communication.

Motivational Stage

The first, motivational, stage involves engaging students and stimulating their interest in examining their own world views and the worldviews of people from other cultural backgrounds. At this stage, students need to realize that there are divergent world views, both across cultures and within one culture, yet people tend to have stereotypical perceptions distorting the complexity of the world. It should be emphasized that for successful intercultural communication it is vital to avoid overgeneralizations and to demonstrate flexibility in considering alternatives and opinions.

To stimulate students’ interest, the teacher can, for example, show a video which gives examples of cultural stereotypes, or assign the students to read a text which contains cultural stereotypes, or ask the students to name some common stereotypes. These stereotypes can be about the students’ own culture or about the culture they study. Then, the following questions can be discussed: “How do such stereotypes develop?”; “What effect do they have?”, “Does it make a difference whether the stereotypes are positive or negative?”, “Do you think it is possible to avoid such stereotypes?” Such a discussion will be a good lead-in to further activities.

Educational Stage

During the second, educational, stage the teacher’s task is to provide activities aimed at developing students’ critical thinking skills of recognizing assumptions and subjecting them to a critical examination. The teacher gives explanations and instructions and then guides the students as they do the activities.

Being able to recognize assumptions about other national cultures is essential as some of these assumptions may turn out to be false and may lead to stereotyping. Recognizing assumptions includes such skills as separating facts from opinions, evaluating the credibility of sources, and examining assumptions from multiple perspectives.

These skills can be developed through exposing students to information coming from different sources and asking them to evaluate the quality of the information and the sources. The following questions for such an evaluation can be suggested:

Can this statement be verified?

Does the statement look like an expression of judgment or belief?

Is this statement based on research and supported by evidence (e.g. statistics, documentation, etc.)?

Are there any biased words in the statement?

Who is the author? What are his/her credentials? Are these credentials sufficient?

What kind of source does the information come from (e.g. a blog, a personal website, a movie, a documentary, a website of an educational organization, etc.)? Do you think it is a credible source? Do you think it is a biased source? Why/Why not?

Can you rely on one source of information? Why/Why not?

For instance, the teacher selects various texts on the topic “How do Americans view Russians?” The length and the difficulty of these texts vary depending on the students’ level of language proficiency. These texts could include an episode from an American movie featuring a Russian character, an extract from a book or an article written by an American author about Russians, a blog/ a video blog in which opinions about Russians are expressed, etc. The students study these texts and answer the questions above. Besides learning to differentiate between facts and opinions and to evaluate the sources of information, students get a valuable experience of dealing with multiple viewpoints, which gives them a richer perspective on the topic.

The next step is to critically analyse the assumptions. This means questioning the quality of evidence and identifying possible biases and logical fallacies. One of the most common biases resulting in stereotypical distortions and clichés about cultures is confirmation bias. This bias means the tendency to process information by selecting information which matches one’s world view and to ignore the information which is not consistent with it. For example, if a person has an idea that Americans are an individualistic nation, giving priority to personal liberty, s/he is likely to look for confirmatory examples and to reject contradictory examples.

For example, while doing the activity described above, students may come across some negative opinions about Russians and they may feel like rejecting this information under the influence of confirmation bias. In this case, analysing information objectively and accurately means detaching yourself from your mind-set and gaining a different perspective of your culture. These critical thinking skills are vital for better intercultural communication.

Sweeping generalizations (also called unqualified generalizations) and hasty generalizations (also known as faulty generalizations) are both logical fallacies which lead to stereotyping, exaggerations and unwarranted conclusions in any communication, including intercultural communication. The two fallacies are the inverse of each other. A sweeping generalization means treating a general rule as universally true and applying it to any specific situation, regardless of the circumstances, whereas a hasty generalization means taking a small sample and extrapolating a specific rule about this sample to a general situation. In both fallacies conclusions are not justified by sufficient, proper evidence. An example of a sweeping generalization could be a situation when a person says that because all Americans like eating fast food, a particular American must also like fast food. An example of a hasty generalization could be the opposite situation when a person says that he knows an American who likes eating fast food, so it must be true of all Americans.

Students should be taught how to identify these logical fallacies in other people’s reasoning and to avoid overgeneralizations in intercultural communication. This could be done through analysing a selection of texts on one aspect of culture from different sources, for example, texts about typical housing or fast food in the USA. The following questions can be suggested for discussing these texts:

Does the source contain a personal experience or findings of a study?

Is one person’s experience enough to determine a group’s characteristic?

Is one study enough to determine a group’s characteristic? Is it important to know how the study was conducted?

How similar do you think members of one national culture are? How different do you think they are? What makes them similar or different?

How much evidence is needed to make a justified generalization about a national culture?

What linguistic means help to make a justified generalization?

These questions aim to stimulate students to question the assumptions and to reconsider them, to bring diverse information together and to avoid unwarranted generalizations.

It is important that students be taught how to use hedging to make qualified generalizations about other cultures, taking into account diversity of any group. Hedging, or cautious language, turns an overgeneralization into a credible claim. This language includes using modal verbs (e.g. may, might, can, could, etc.), certain lexical verbs (e.g. to seem, to appear, to tend, etc.), probability adjectives (e.g. probable, possible, (un)likely, etc.) and adverbs (e.g. probably, perhaps, apparently, etc.), qualifiers of degree, quantity, frequency, and time (e.g. roughly, generally, some, somewhat, often, etc.) and other features.

The following activity could be suggested. Students make a list of some common stereotypes about a nation, for example, about Americans or the English, and then change these overgeneralizations by means of hedging. If students have difficulty making such a list, the teacher can show a video with on-the-street interviews where people from one country talk about their stereotypes of another culture (there are plenty of videos of this type on the Internet). After the hedging activity, the teacher asks the students to discuss the effect caused by the use of hedging.

Practical Stage

The third stage of the technique is called practical, or autonomous. During this stage, students are given tasks in which they can practice their critical thinking skills for dealing with cultural stereotypes. These tasks vary in their content and form depending on the students’ level of language proficiency and the syllabus. Let us consider a few examples.

Students can be asked to critically explore their own views of their national culture and to realize that this culture is not homogenous. The purpose of this exercise is to teach students to see multiple perspectives and to identify possible auto stereotypes, or overgeneralized perceptions of themselves. Students can do it in several ways:

The teacher chooses a particular cultural aspect or several aspects (e.g. family, home, customs, work rules, community, food, time, sense of space, etc.) and makes a list of questions about people’s behaviour and attitudes. For example, if the teacher chooses the topic “Family”, such questions can be asked: “Do several generations usually live together, under one roof?”; “Who takes care of the elderly members of the family?”; “Do young people tend to move out when they come out of age?”; “Who does the household chores?” and others. The teacher asks students to imagine a situation when a person from an English-speaking country asks them these questions. Working in small groups, students discuss how they would answer the questions. Then they present the results of their discussions to class. This task can be done in class or assigned as homework.

Alternatively, this activity can be done individually. In this case, the teacher asks students to imagine that they need to write a post for a blog or make a video for a video blog about Russians. The teacher (or the students themselves) can create a blog on a free platform for the students to publish their content.

Similar projects can be done about various aspects of a foreign culture – its products, practices and perspectives. The teacher can organize work in a number of ways. Besides discussions and blogs/vlogs, students can make presentations, write essays and critical reviews, prepare posters, participate in debates, etc. When doing these projects, students will use their critical thinking skills to examine not only their view of the foreign culture but also that of their own culture. Comparing and contrasting the two cultures will eventually enrich their cognitive structure, making it broader, more flexible and interculturally equipped.

Controlling Stage

During the fourth stage of the technique the teacher exercises control and checks the correctness of the tasks completed by the students. The main focus is put on how well the students can identify overgeneralizations and use the language of hedging, how good they are at evaluating the quality of reasoning and considering multiple viewpoints before arriving at a conclusion.

Research Methods

Having taken into account the theoretical issues discussed above, the authors put into practice the procedure of teaching students intercultural communication with the aim of developing their critical thinking skills. The technique was tested with a group of second-year students (15 people) of Irkutsk State University (Baikal International Business School) majoring in management. These students study English for professional purposes and have 12 hours of language classes a week.

Before starting a series of classes devoted to the problem of stereotypes in intercultural communication, the students were offered an interactive lecture on stereotypes. After discussing numerous examples of stereotypical situations, they did a questionnaire. The results showed that 96% of the students are aware of the phenomenon of stereotypes and understand that it is a problem that can prevent effective communication with representatives from other cultures. About 30% of the group are able to distinguish between stereotypes and objective facts. Only 5% of the students have a vague idea of how to deal with stereotypes in intercultural communication.

Below is an example of one of the classes based on the suggested technique.

In this class, the teacher set the task of critically examining the concept of the American dream, the belief that everyone in the USA has the chance to be successful and happy if they work hard. There may be stereotypes about this concept which need to be recognized and challenged.

During the first stage, the teacher activated the students’ background knowledge by brainstorming their ideas about the American dream. These ideas were written down on paper / on the board and grouped into categories. Only 67% of the group could describe this phenomenon in the American culture.

During the second stage the students watched a video where a journalist does man-on-the-street interviews and gets a range of opinions on how Americans understand the concept of the American dream. These ideas were also written down on paper or on the board. Then, the students discussed similarities and differences between the ideas which they have brainstormed and learned from the video. The teacher also asked the students to assess the reliability and sufficiency of the information from the video.

During the third stage the students were given the assignment to find more sources of information about the American dream and analyze them using the questions suggested above. They were encouraged to consider multiple viewpoints to get a richer perspective on this issue. The teacher suggested that they find answers to these questions: “Do all Americans believe in the American dream? Do they understand it in the same way? Is the American dream something unique, found in the USA only?’ The results of this work were presented in the form of a report, a poster or an essay.

During the fourth stage the teacher assessed the results of the students’ work and paid attention to how many sources of information the students have used and what these sources are like, how well they have analyzed this information, and whether they have used hedging to present their conclusions as reasonable claims, not as overgeneralizations.

The study showed the interrelation and interconnection between intercultural communicative competence and critical thinking skills and their importance for overcoming stereotypes. A series of classes designed on the basis of the suggested technique was taught to a group of students during which they were introduced to such concepts of American culture as American dream, privacy, patriotism, family and individualism. The teacher conducted diagnostic tests at the beginning and at the end of each series. The following criteria were under control:

students’ level of acquisition of linguacultural phenomena;

changes in values when accepting facts about the target culture;

students’ level of analytical and interpretative skills.

Comparing the results of the tests we found out that the indicators tend to increase. The final test showed that 90% of the students are apt to make logical conclusions, evaluate quality of arguments and specify rather than generalize preconceptions. These results allow us to conclude that the technique presented in the study can be considered quite effective.

In this paper the value of critical thinking skills for overcoming cultural stereotypes in intercultural communication has been studied. First, the concept of intercultural communicative competence (ICC) was clarified. Its distinction from related concepts of intercultural and communicative competences was defined. Then, it was proved that critical thinking skills are a key constituent of ICC and are crucial for overcoming cultural stereotypes. These skills were also specified. The purpose of the study was to work out a specific teaching technique for developing students’ critical thinking skills which would enable them to successfully participate in intercultural communication dealing with stereotypes. The theoretical framework of this technique includes linguacultural, cognitive and communicative aspects of EFL teaching. The technique was tested on the students of Business School majoring in management. The testing before and after implementing a series of language classes based on the designed technique showed that the students started to process the information more carefully. They got acquainted with a number of concepts of American culture and realised that some of them are rather stereotypical. They improved their skills of examining information from different perspectives and extrapolating it into their own culture and view of the world. These skills will undoubtedly contribute to their future professional communication in cross-cultural situations.

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  • Dewey, J. (2008). How we think. Heath.
  • Ennis, R. H. (1987). A taxonomy of critical thinking dispositions and abilities. In Baron, J. B., & R. J. Steinberg (Eds.), Teaching Thinking Skills: Theory and Practice (pp. 9-26). WH Freeman.
  • Ennis, R. (1985). A logical basis for measuring critical thinking skills. Educational Leadership, 43, 44-48.
  • Facione, P. (2010). Critical thinking: What it is and why it counts? Measured Reasons and the California Academic Press.
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21 October 2020

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Economics, social trends, sustainability, modern society, behavioural sciences, education

Cite this article as:

Annenkova, A. V., & Domysheva, S. A. (2020). Developing Critical Thinking Skills For Overcoming Stereotypes In Intercultural Communication. In I. V. Kovalev, A. A. Voroshilova, G. Herwig, U. Umbetov, A. S. Budagov, & Y. Y. Bocharova (Eds.), Economic and Social Trends for Sustainability of Modern Society (ICEST 2020), vol 90. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1028-1038). European Publisher.

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  • 2.1: Barriers to Critical Thinking
  • 2.2: Social Conditioning
  • 2.3: Labeling
  • 2.4: Stereotypes
  • 2.5: Fallacies
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Eggcellent Work

12 common barriers to critical thinking (and how to overcome them).

As you know, critical thinking is a vital skill necessary for success in life and work. Unfortunately,  barriers to critical thinking  can hinder a person’s ability. This piece will discuss some of the most common  internal and external barriers to critical thinking  and what you should do if one of them hinders your ability to think critically.

Table of Contents

Critical Thinking Challenges

You already know that  critical thinking  is the process of analyzing and evaluating a situation or person so that you can make a sound judgment. You normally use the judgment you derive from your critical thinking process to make crucial decisions, and the choices you make affect you in workplaces, relationships, and life’s goals and achievements.

Several  barriers to critical thinking  can cause you to skew your judgment. This could happen even if you have a large amount of data and information to the contrary. The result might be that you make a poor or ineffective decision instead of a choice that could improve your life quality. These are some of the top obstacles that hinder and distort the ability to think critically:

1. Using Emotions Instead of Logic

Failing to remove one’s emotions from a critical thinking analysis is one of the hugest barriers to the process. People make these mistakes mainly in the relationship realm when choosing partners based on how they “make them feel” instead of the information collected.

The correct way to decide about a relationship is to use all facts, data, opinions, and situations to make a final judgment call. More times than not, individuals use their hearts instead of their minds.

Emotions can hinder critical thinking in the employment realm as well. One example is an employee who reacts negatively to a business decision, change, or process without gathering more information. The relationship between that person and the employer could become severed by her  lack of critical thinking  instead of being salvaged by further investigations and rational reactions.

2. Personal Biases

Personal biases can come from past negative experiences, skewed teachings, and peer pressure. They create a huge obstacle in critical thinking because they overshadow open-mindedness and fairness.

One example is failing to hire someone because of a specific race, age, religious preference, or perceived attitude. The hiring person circumvents using critical thinking by accepting his or her biases as truth. Thus, the entire processes of information gathering and objective analysis get lost in the mix.

3. Obstinance

Stubbornness almost always ruins the critical thinking procedure. Sometimes, people get so wrapped up in being right that they fail to look at the big picture. Big-picture thinking is a large part of critical thinking; without it, all judgments and choices are rash and incomplete.

4. Unbelief

It’s difficult for a person to do something he or she doesn’t believe in. It’s also challenging to engage in something that seems complex. Many people don’t think critically because they believe they must be scholarly to do so. The truth is that  anyone  can think critically by practicing the following steps:

  • 1. Gather as much data as possible.
  • 2. Have an opinion, but be open to changing it.
  • 3. Understand that assumptions are not the truth, and opinions are not facts.
  • 4. Think about the scenario, person, or problem from different angles.
  • 5. Evaluate all the information thoroughly.
  • 6. Ask simple, precise, and abundant questions.
  • 7. Take time to observe.
  • 8. Don’t be afraid to spend time on the problem or issue.
  • 9. Ask for input or additional information.
  • 10. Make it make sense.

5. Fear of Failure or Change

Fear of change and failure often hinders a person’s critical thinking process because it doesn’t allow thinking outside the box. Sometimes, the most efficient way to resolve a problem is to be open to changing something.

That change might be a different way of doing something, a relationship termination, or a shift of positions at a workplace. Fear can block out all possible scenarios in the critical thinking cycle. The result is often one-dimensional thinking, tunnel vision, or proverbial head-banging.

6. Egocentric Thinking

Egocentric thinking is also one of the main barriers to critical thinking. It occurs when a person examines everything through a “me” lens. Evaluating something properly requires an individual to understand and consider other people’s perspectives, plights, goals, input, etc.

7. Assumptions

Assumptions are one of the negative  factors that affect critical thinking . They are detrimental to the process because they cause distortions and misguided judgments. When using assumptions, an individual could unknowingly insert an invalid prejudgment into a stage of the thought process and sway the final decision.

It’s never wise to assume anything about a person, entity, or situation because it could be 100 percent wrong. The correct way to deal with assumptions is to store them in a separate thought category of possibilities and then use the data and other evidence to validate or nullify them.

XYZ  might  be why ABC happened, but there isn’t enough information or data to conclude it. The same concept is true for the rest of the possibilities, and thus, it’s necessary to research and analyze the facts before accepting them as truths.

8. Group Thinking

Group thinking is another one of the  barriers to critical thinking  that can block sound decisions and muddy judgments. It’s similar to peer pressure, where the person takes on the viewpoint of the people around him or her to avoid seeming “different.”

This barrier is dangerous because it affects how some people think about right and wrong. It’s most prevalent among teens. One example is the “everybody’s doing it (drugs, bullying), so I should too” mindset.

Unfortunately, this barrier can sometimes spill over into the workplace and darken the environment when workers can’t think for themselves. Workers may end up breaking policies, engaging in negative behavior, or harassing the workers who don’t conform.

Group thinking can also skew someone’s opinion of another person before the individual gets a chance to collect facts and evaluate the person for himself. You’ve probably heard of smear campaigns. They work so well against targets because the parties involved don’t use the critical thinking process at all.

9. Impulsivity

Impulsivity is the tendency to do things without thinking, and it’s a bona fide critical thinking killer. It skips right by  every  step in the critical thinking process and goes directly to what feels good in the moment.

Alleviating the habit takes practice and dedication. The first step is to set time aside when impulsive urges come to think about all aspects of the situation. It may take an impulsive person a while to develop a good critical thinking strategy, but it can work with time.

10. Not Knowing What’s Fact and Opinion

Critical thinking requires the thinker to know the difference between facts and opinions. Opinions are statements based on other people’s evaluative processes, and those processes may not be critical or analytical. Facts are an unemotional and unbiased piece of data that one can verify. Statistics and governmental texts are examples.

11. Having a Highly Competitive Nature

A “winning” mindset can overshadow the fair and objective evaluation of a problem, task, or person and undermine critical thinking. People who  think competitively  could lose sight of what’s right and wrong to meet a selfish goal that way.

12. Basing Statements on Popularity

This problem is prevalent in today’s world. Many people will accept anything a celebrity, political figure, or popular person says as gospel, but discredit or discount other people’s input. An adept critical thinker knows how to separate  what’s  being said from  who  said it and perform the necessary verification steps.

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How To Overcome Barriers in Critical Thinking

If you can identify any of the above-mentioned  barriers , your critical thinking may be flawed. These are some tips for overcoming such barriers:

1. Know your flaws.

The very first step toward improving anything is to know and admit your flaws. If you can do that, you are halfway to using better critical thinking strategies.

2. Park your emotions.

Use logic, not emotion, when you are evaluating something to form a judgment. It’s not the time to think with your heart.

3. Be mindful of others.

Try to put yourself in other people’s shoes to understand their stance. A little empathy goes a long way.

4. Avoid black-and-white thinking.

Understand that there’s always more than one way to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Additionally, consider that not every person is all bad or all good.

5. Dare to be unpopular.

Avoid making decisions to please other people. Instead, evaluate the full lot of information and make the decision you feel is best.

6. Don’t assign unjustified merit.

Don’t assume someone is telling the truth or giving you more accurate information because of his or her name or status. Evaluate  all  people’s input equally.

7. Avoid judging others.

Try to keep biases and prejudices out of your decision-making processes. That will make them fair and just.

8. Be patient with yourself.

Take all the days you need to pick apart a situation or problem and resolve it. Don’t rush to make hasty decisions.

9. Accept different points of view.

Not everyone will agree with you or tell you what you want to hear.

10. Embrace change.

Don’t ever be afraid of changing something or trying something new. Thinking outside the box is an integral part of the critical thinking process.

Now you know the answers to the question,  “What are the challenges of critical thinking?”  Use the information about the  barriers to critical thinking  to improve your critical thinking process and make healthier and more beneficial decisions for everyone.

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Jenny Palmer

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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