Writing with critical thinking

One of the problems that students often have is how to include "critical thinking" into their exam essays. It is often clear that students know the strategies - that is, writing MAGEC about research (Methodological considerations, alternative arguments, gender considerations, ethical considerations, cultural considerations) - but they don't know how to write about them in their argument. Weaving those arguments into their essays is an essential part of writing a top-level essay.

It is essential that critical thinking not be an "add-on" or a list of psychological terminology sprinkled into their essay.  All critical thinking must be "unpacked."

One strategy to help students is to repeatedly remind them to use the words "because" and "that is" to "complete the sentence." In other words, they shouldn't just write that a study is not cross-culturally valid, but they should then write "because...." and explain why this is not the case - for example because the sample was made up exclusively of white British males from an individualistic society.

Practicing unpacking

In order to help students practice using "because" and "that is," here is a simple worksheet. Suggested answers are provided.

1. Loftus and Palmer’s (1974) study lacks ecological validity.

Loftus and Palmer's study lacks ecological validity - that is, what she observed under controlled conditions may not be predictive of what happens in a natural environment. OR Loftus and Palmer's study lacks ecological validity because when you watch a film of a car crash you experience different emotions than you would if you were actually at the scene of a real car crash; emotions may play a part in how memories are formed.

2. Lee and Lee's study on globalization and anorexia may lack construct validity.

Lee and Lee's study of globalization and anorexia may lack construct validity because the definition of globalization, which focused on the level of modernization in different parts of China, may not be accepted by everyone as a valid way of defining and measuring globalization. 

3. Bandura’s Bashing Bobo study may be considered unethical.

Bandura's study may be considered unethical because it could not be determined whether any aggressive behaviour that the children might learn would be reversible in the future. In addition, witnessing the models acting in such a manner may have led to high levels of stress or anxiety in the children.

4. Brown and Kulik's study may not have reliable data.

Brown and Kulik asked people to recall information about the day that a national tragedy took place.  Although people gave a lot of detail, there is not way to verify that the memories are accurate - and thus the data is not reliable.

5. Many memory studies suffer from the practice effect.

Many memory studies suffer from the practice effect because as participants repeatedly take a similar type of memory test, they will develop/learn skills to improve their performance over time.

6. Shively & Day's (2015) study of the role of stress on atherosclerosis in macaque monkeys may not be generalizable.

Shively & Day's study of the role of stress on atherosclerosis may not be generalizable because it was performed on animals, and it is not clear whether they process stress in the same way that we do; however, there does seem to be evidence of heart disease in individuals who self-identify as having high stress living conditions.

7. Studies of relationships often suffer from demand characteristics.

Studies of relationships often suffer from demand characteristics - that is, the participants will say what they think the researcher wants to hear, or what they feel is socially acceptable.

8. The Steele and Aronson study of stereotype threat has a sampling bias.

The Steele and Aronson study of stereotype threat has sampling bias because the sample was made up of American university students. The bias limits the generalization potentially only to students, whose academic performance is very much a part of their identity. Stereotype threat may not be as significant for older people who have a more developed sense of identity that is not based on school performance.

9. Peak-end rule is a problem in studies of why relationships fall apart.

Peak-end rule is a problem in studies of why relationships fall apart because most of the data is self-report.  Peak end rule argues that we remember distinctive events (peaks) and the most recent information - that is, the most recent, negative experience of the relationship.  It is difficult to reconstruct the relationship reliably in order to see why the relationship ended.

10. Many studies on the effect of television violence on children suffer from bidirectional ambiguity.

Many studies on the effect of television violence on children suffer from bidirectional ambiguity - that is, it is not possible to know whether violent children watch more violent television, or whether violent television makes children violent.

11. Rogers and Kesner (2003) made use of a placebo.

Rogers and Kesner made use of a placebo - that is, they gave a fake treatment to one group of rats - a saline solution - in order to make sure that it was not just the fact that the rat was receiving a injection that led to an improvement in memory. Injection with the needle could have caused an increase in adrenaline which may have led to memory consolidation. 

12. An advantage of case studies is that they often use method triangulation.

An advantage of case studies is that they often use method triangulation - that is, more than one research method is used (interview, observation, experiments, etc) in order to guarantee that it was not because of the choice of research method that the results were obtained.

13. Bartal et al's (1977) study on altruism in rats challenges the kin selection theory.

Bartal et al's (1977) study on altruism in rats challenges the kin selection theory because the researchers demonstrated that a rat who was exposed to other species of rats was then more likely to help them when they were trapped in a plexiglass tube.  In addition, when the rats were not raised with their own species, they did not help a rat of their "own kin."

14. Antonova's (2010) study supports the findings of Rogers and Kesner (2003).

Antonova's (2010) study supports the findings of Rogers and Kesner (2003) because in both cases the consolidation of spatial memories was impeded by the blocking of acetylcholine receptor sites.  Although the study by R & K was done on animals, we can see that Antonova had similar results when carrying out a similar procedure on humans.

15. The problem with many health studies of stress is that they are retrospective.

The problem with many health studies of stress is that they are retrospective - that is, we do not know the health of the individual before the stressful life situations, only after. They are also based primarily on self-reporting which can lead to problems due to reconstructive memory.

Critical Thinking Worksheet

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.

Comments