Critical thinking skills and unconscious decisions can go hand in hand, complement each other, or exist as independent phenomena. In this paper, both methods will be considered and compared. Critical thinking and nonconscious thinking help analyze information and experiences to participate in the decision-making process. In the article “Deciding Advantageously Before Knowing the Advantageous Strategy”, based on the results of the experiment, the authors explain the idea of thinking without explicitly thinking. They conclude that people’s behavior is controlled by their nonconscious thinking before conscious knowledge does. In contrast to this statement, comparing the concept of the core critical thinking skills in Think Critically (Facione & Gittens, 2016). Moreover, despite their opposite, both methods can be equally helpful in making informed decisions.
Summary of Article
In the article “Deciding Advantageously Before Knowing the Advantageous Strategy,” the authors conduct an experiment involving normal individuals and patients with prefrontal damage (Bechara et al., 1997). Participants were given $2,000 each and were asked to play a gambling game, choosing cards from one of four decks. They were asked to develop any strategy that helped them to lose less and win more money. At the same time, the participants did not have enough information to analyze the probability of losing or winning. Throughout the game, normal players began to identify some decks as risky and others as relatively safe. Based on these conclusions, they made the right choice. Authors noticed that normals began to experience skin conductance responses even before they knew explicitly that their choice was risky. In other words, normal individuals make the right choice before analyzing the reasons for it. As the patients with prefrontal damage continued to make the wrong choice, even after gaining knowledge of the correct strategy, the authors suspected that the ventromedial frontal cortices hold dispositional knowledge, the activation of which, in turn, activates autonomic neurotransmitter nuclei.
The authors conclude that two parallel processes coincide at the moment of choice. In one, the sensory representation of the situation or the facts it evoked activates neural systems that hold nondeclarative knowledge related to the individual’s previous emotional experience of similar situations. Subsequently, unconscious signals are involved in cognitive reasoning and evaluation. The second process is the explicit recall of experience and its evaluation to make the right decision. The authors note that in normal participants, covert biases preceded conscious reasoning. However, they did not become the reason for making a decision but rather contributed to processing knowledge.
Contrasting the Article with Critical Thinking Approaches
Nonconscious thinking, which the article’s authors explore, contrasts with the critical thinking skills described in the book Think Critically (Facione & Gittens, 2016). There are six critical thinking strategies in total. For instance, self-regulation requires monitoring one’s cognitive activities and evaluating one’s inferential judgments to question, confirm, and validate. This strategy is opposite to the experiment, which involved the lack of self-control of the participants and forced them to act intuitively. Another strategy interpretation means “to comprehend and express the meaning or significance of a wide variety of experiences, situations, data, events, judgments, conventions, beliefs, rules, procedures, or criteria” (Facione & Gittens, 2016, p. 3). This method also contrasts with the experiment described in the article because the game participants were deliberately placed in conditions where they first had to make a decision and only after that analyze their behavior.
The listed examples do not mean that critical thinking completely excludes the benefit of unconscious thinking. Banks (2021) writes that unconscious thought based on automaticity, reward-based association, and spreading activation is adaptive in frequently encountered situations and provides the capacity for highly effective thinking. In addition, comprehension of the mechanisms of thinking without explicitly thinking described in the article gives a wide idea of why one made this or that decision. This knowledge can be useful for such strategies of critical thinking as explanation and evaluation. The evaluation assesses the credibility of statements or other representations, and the explanation state the results of one’s reasoning. They require a cognitive perception of reality, information, facts, and events and decoding based on evidence, methodological and conceptual arguments. Such an argument for explanation and evaluation can be the knowledge about nonconscious thinking. Applying critical and unconscious thinking together can be an effective strategy for becoming a strong critical thinker and adept truth-seeker.
It can be concluded that critical thinking skills and nonconscious thinking are not mutually exclusive phenomena. Often both processes occur in parallel but are closely interconnected. Nonconscious thinking, based on previous experience, and emotional memories, allows one to recognize certain qualities of an object, situation, or fact and make an operational decision. However, core critical thinking skills allow analyzing unconscious impulses and hunches and recognizing their nature to use them along with critical thinking strategies. Critical thinking skills and nonconscious thinking may work together. An advanced critical thinker can succeed in making decisions by relying on cognitive analysis and data validation strategies and using thinking without explicitly thinking. On the other hand, critical thinking and unconscious thinking can be unrelated processes that occur independently of each other.
Banks, A. P. (2021). Mechanisms of Unconscious Thought: Capacities and Limits. The Journal of Mind and Behavior, 42, 317-346. Web.
Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Tranel, D., & Damasio, A. R. (1997). Deciding advantageously before knowing the advantageous strategy. Science, 275(5304), 1293-1295. Web.
Facione, P. A., & Gittens, C. A. (2016). Think critically. Boston: Pearson.