Critical thinking instruction in humanities reduces belief in pseudoscience

March 20, 2017 by Matt Shipman
Teaching critical thinking skills in a humanities course reduces student beliefs in “pseudoscience” -- such as believing in the underwater civilization of Atlantis. Image credit: Jerrye and Roy Klotz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

A recent study by North Carolina State University researchers finds that teaching critical thinking skills in a humanities course significantly reduces student beliefs in "pseudoscience" that is unsupported by facts.

"Given the national discussion of 'fake news,' it's clear that critical thinking - and classes that teach critical thinking - are more important than ever," says Anne McLaughlin, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the work.

"Fundamentally, we wanted to assess how intentional you have to be when teaching students critical thinking," says Alicia McGill, an assistant professor of history at NC State and co-author of the paper. "We also wanted to explore how humanities classes can play a role and whether one can assess the extent to which critical thinking instruction actually results in improved critical thinking by students.

"This may be especially timely, because humanities courses give students tools they can use to assess qualitative data and sort through political rhetoric," McGill says. "Humanities also offer us historical and cultural perspective that allow us to put current events into context."

For this study, the researchers worked with 117 students in three different classes. Fifty-nine students were enrolled in a psychology research methods course, which taught statistics and study design, but did not specifically address critical thinking. The other 58 students were enrolled in one of two courses on historical frauds and mysteries - one of which included honors students, many of whom were majors in science, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

The psychology class served as a . The two history courses incorporated instruction explicitly designed to cultivate critical thinking skills. For example, students in the history courses were taught how to identify logical fallacies - statements that violate logical arguments, such as non sequiturs.

At the beginning of the semester, students in all three courses took a baseline assessment of their beliefs in pseudoscientific claims. The assessment used a scale from 1 ("I don't believe at all.") to 7 ("I strongly believe.").

Some of the topics in the assessment, such as belief in Atlantis, were later addressed in the "historical frauds" course. Other topics, such as the belief that 9/11 was an "inside job," were never addressed in the course. This allowed the researchers to determine the extent to which changes in beliefs stemmed from specific facts discussed in class, versus changes in a student's critical thinking skills.

At the end of the semester, students took the pseudoscience assessment again.

The control group students did not change their beliefs - but students in both history courses had lower beliefs in pseudoscience by the end of the semester.

Students in the history course for honors students decreased the most in their pseudoscientific beliefs; on average, student beliefs dropped an entire point on the scale for topics covered in class, and by 0.5 points on topics not covered in class. There were similar, but less pronounced, changes in the non-honors course.

"The change we see in these students is important, because beliefs are notoriously hard to change," says McLaughlin. "And seeing students apply critical thinking skills to areas not covered in class is particularly significant and heartening."

"It's also important to note that these results stem from taking only one class," McGill says. "Consistent efforts to teach critical thinking across multiple classes may well have more pronounced effects.

"This drives home the importance of teaching critical thinking, and the essential role that humanities can play in that process," McGill says. "This is something that NC State is actively promoting as part of a universitywide focus on critical thinking development."

The paper, "Explicitly teaching skills in a history course," was published March 20 in the journal Science & Education.

Explore further: Fostering critical thinking via assessment

More information: Anne Collins McLaughlin et al, Explicitly Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in a History Course, Science & Education (2017). DOI: 10.1007/s11191-017-9878-2

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34 comments

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cantdrive85
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 20, 2017
It would seem as if most astrophysicists missed these courses with all their pseudoscientific dark stuffs.
CubicAdjunct747
3.6 / 5 (9) Mar 20, 2017
too bad they didnt have the question on there about Christianity being a historical fraud, there is no critical thinking involved with that fake news religion.
Captain Stumpy
3.5 / 5 (11) Mar 20, 2017
It would seem as if most astrophysicists missed these courses ...
@nazi sympathizing eu pseudoscience cult idiot
perhaps you should actually read the article and study first?
from the study
Critical thinking skills are often assessed via student beliefs in non-scientific ways of thinking, (e.g, pseudoscience). Courses aimed at reducing such beliefs have been studied in the STEM fields with the most successful focusing on skeptical thinking.
STEM means Science, Technology, Engineering and Math ( https://www.ed.gov/Stem )
so, by definition, astrophysicists are a part of STEM

the one thing that isn't a part of STEM is the electric looney-verse because it doesn't in any way comply with the scientific method

and if you will note, that quote also directly refutes all your hannes/reeve posts as well as everything from zeph, rc, benji, tux and the rest of the pseudoscience coalition attempting to gain attention here on PO
gkam
3 / 5 (8) Mar 20, 2017
"@nazi sympathizing eu pseudoscience cult idiot"
---------------------------------------

Is this nasty stuff necessary?
SiaoX
Mar 20, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
rhugh1066
2 / 5 (12) Mar 20, 2017
I wonder why the Christianity haters who infest this web site never, ever have the balls to castigate Islam for the constant, never-ending acts of mass murder it's adherents commit yet refuse to ever give the least credit to Christians for the constant acts of feeding hungry people and providing clean water and medical care to countless numbers? Here's the answer: the Christian haters are sniveling cowards. They know the Christians are easy, harmless targets whereas the Islamist's will murder them.
gkam
3.5 / 5 (8) Mar 20, 2017
As an atheist who tires of having religion imposed on me, you might want to call me a "Christian-Hater", which reveals more about you than me.

There is no hate. I have the same feeling for all religions. Feel free to "believe" anything that lets you get through the day.

Just leave the rest of us alone.
DeliriousNeuron
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 20, 2017
@Capt. Stupid
the one thing that isn't a part of STEM is the electric looney-verse because it doesn't in any way comply with the scientific method

Apart from the Scientific method wrote, the irony is humorous.

@Capt. Stupid
and if you will note, that quote also directly refutes all your hannes/reeve posts as well as everything from zeph, rc, benji, tux and the rest of the pseudoscience coalition attempting to gain attention here on PO

No attention gain needed. Some come here to point out mainstream flaws to discuss. I come here to laugh at your scripted posts and your countless attempts of frantically attempting to defend old ways of thinking that inevitably will be rewritten or enhanced upon.

You remind me of an 80 year old Politician stuck in 1948. Whos trying to influence a tech giant or the FCC with your outdated ideas.

I think we are ALL wondering why YOU come here. Are you the one seeking attention?
HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (5) Mar 20, 2017
Re: "the one thing that isn't a part of STEM is the electric looney-verse because it doesn't in any way comply with the scientific method"

The supposed "heresy" of the electric universe is that cosmic plasmas should behave as laboratory plasmas. The astrophysical community doesn't merely object to that; they insist that this cannot possibly be commonplace in space.

Either way, it certainly shouldn't be the right of self-appointed ideologues to make that call. There's too much at stake for personal worldviews; astrophysics is susceptible to error in terms of both observation and its inability to replicate any of its experiments; and defenders of this line of reasoning should be a bit more humble considering that they've apparently misplaced around 95% of the universe.

There's more than enough reason to consider an alternative to mainstream astrophysics today -- especially one that is fundamentally rooted in laboratory physics.
Da Schneib
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 20, 2017
Signal to the politicians and Babble BS boneheads to defund critical thinking and make sure anyone who teaches it gets fired.
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 20, 2017
I wonder why the Christianity haters who infest this web site never, ever have the balls to castigate Islam for the constant, never-ending acts of mass murder it's adherents commit yet refuse to ever give the least credit to Christians for the constant acts of feeding hungry people and providing clean water and medical care to countless numbers?
@rhugh1066
you mean like the crusades? in inquisition?

the difference between Islam and Christianity? - the prophet of choice

BOTH are abrahamic religions and based upon the same deity as judaism (another abrahamic religion)

you see the exact same "feeding", "care" and "water" as from christians, just in different areas

also note... none of that above charity absolves the fanatics of either side, so why should we absolve xtians when they're no different than islamists?
Captain Stumpy
3.3 / 5 (7) Mar 20, 2017
No attention gain needed. Some come here to point out mainstream flaws to discuss
@delirious eu pseudoscience cultist
if you were presenting a scientific based argument you would not be challenged by anyone... you would be arguing the merit of [x] statement over [y] statement and it's evidence

however, that is not the case

the only thing any of your eu pseudoscience nutters have ever done, EVER, on this site is link to pseudoscience and belief as supporting evidence for your claims

that isn't science by any stretch of the imagination - nor is it in any way pointing out the flaws of MS science

that is pure unadulterated seeking of attention for the sake of attempting to gain merit through repetition, which is a tactic of cults and religions

if you were in any way interested in the science of your own cult, you would promote the science if it while never linking the pseudoscience, and link only studies, not eu cult sites
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2017
@Cappy, you'd look a lot less hypocritical if you weren't denouncing "safe spaces" and arguing against academic freedom on other sites.
Captain Stumpy
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 20, 2017
The supposed "heresy" of the electric universe is that cosmic plasmas should behave as laboratory plasmas. The astrophysical community doesn't merely object to that; they insist that this cannot possibly be commonplace in space
@hannes/reeve eu pseudoscience cult socks
1- blatantly false claim debunked repeatedly on PO alone, but you can also see this link: http://www.pppl.gov/about

2- the problem you have is that you can't comprehend scale, location or other effects known to astrophysicists that are not known to your eu cult leadership engineers... like gravity, ety

3- repeating your lies don't make them more true

3a - repeating your lies on the internet where they can be easily checked is also quite stupid: it doesn't die once it's out there, which is why your eu cult sites removal of it's epic failures WRT prediction or pseudoscience isn't dead (like the grand canyon formation, moon craters, D/1993 F2, Cassini, etc ad nauseum)
Zzzzzzzz
4 / 5 (4) Mar 20, 2017
I wonder why the Christianity haters who infest this web site never, ever have the balls to castigate Islam for the constant, never-ending acts of mass murder it's adherents commit yet refuse to ever give the least credit to Christians for the constant acts of feeding hungry people and providing clean water and medical care to countless numbers? Here's the answer: the Christian haters are sniveling cowards. They know the Christians are easy, harmless targets whereas the Islamist's will murder them.

Are you some kind of dumb phark? Don't try to answer, that was a rhetorical question......
Pooua
3 / 5 (6) Mar 20, 2017
I took a Logic and Critical Thinking class that was part of the curricula for the Paralegal major at my junior college to fulfill my course requirements for Laser Electro-Optic Technology. That class was profoundly useful and one of my favorite classes that I've ever taken. One side effect was my realization at how much bad reasoning people had used to attack my behavior and claims.

@Captain Stumpy The Crusades were defensive. Islam had already conquered most of Spain and islands of the Med and was spreading across Europe. The Inquisitions (there were 3) were abusive, but were the product of just one denomination, not all of Christianity. If you really think Islam and Christianity are the same, you don't have a clue what is going on in the world.
Da Schneib
3.9 / 5 (7) Mar 20, 2017
Whining about people who reject the Babble by the Stone Age sheep herders on mushrooms about the super magic daddy in the sky who gives pie in the sky when you die because they don't "reject Islam" ignores the fact that the Quran acceots all the same fairy tales by the same drunken sheep herders.

As far as Buddhism they seem a lot closer to reality; still got fairy tales, but less of them. Get over it.
RobertKarlStonjek
4.1 / 5 (9) Mar 20, 2017
Religious education, which many Americans have more faith in than science, teaches the exact opposite: if you apply critical thinking to the Bible you would see it as false, which is, apparently, evil. Same for many Republican policy positions and to a lesser extent, political positions generally.
ab3a
5 / 5 (1) Mar 20, 2017
Many who teach the humanities are doing all they can to encourage whimsy and creativity. One of the most prominent things they think of as a buzz-kill is rationality and logic.

A belief I see quite frequently is that creativity is destroyed with such boring things. In reality, it is enhanced because the subject becomes that much more believable and realistic.

Meanwhile, the lack of critical thinking in the humanities isn't seen as the huge problem that it is. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why our journalists fall prey to so many garbage stories and write so poorly.
Da Schneib
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 20, 2017
Public education is being forced to do the same, @RKS. It's becoming law in many states. I suggest this is a major problem: we are teaching children to accept propaganda. This has had disastrous results in the 20th century.

@ab3a, then how come you promulgate climate denial?

Hypocritical much?

Just askin'.
Captain Stumpy
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 21, 2017
The Crusades were defensive
@pooua
1- apologies - meant to give a 3
2- no, they weren't "defensive"
it doesn't matter who took what
they're both abrahamic religions, for starters, which is a key point
and the xtians mounted military action against the muslim "invaders" with the blessing of the pope in order to establish the power of the church and it's perspective on which version of religion was better than the other
If you really think Islam and Christianity are the same
1- i didn't say they were "the same"
i said they had the same god and origin as an abrahamic religion
https://en.wikipe...eligions

2- justifying one of the two abrahamic religions complicit in the act of killing each other off in massive wars to establish their supremacy because the other attacked first when they both have the exact same god is where "critical thinking" and logic fail

3- BUT... they both do the same crap - and both suck
NeutronicallyRepulsive
5 / 5 (6) Mar 21, 2017
Logic class should be even more basic class than math. In my opinion it's English class and then immediately logic class. Then the rest.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) Mar 21, 2017
Logic class should be even more basic class than math. In my opinion it's English class and then immediately logic class. Then the rest.

Agreed (though I'd rate logic before language class). The scary thing is that having a critical thinking class is a novel idea at all. This should be the most basic of all courses (and a 'must pass' at that).
zaxxon451
5 / 5 (1) Mar 21, 2017
I think a logic class is certainly interesting and helpful to critical thinking, but the main tool needed is the ability to contextualize information, which can only happen with a deep understanding of historical forces, and how power works to subvert historical narrative for its own ends. History isn't what happened, but a story about what happened. Being able to recognize the hidden assumptions that underlie narratives is often more important than how well the narrative itself stands up to logical critique.
khermerker
5 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2017
well i was planing to say that religión is similar to psuedocience, still that is not the problem i want to point.. believe that 9/11 is an inside job is not pseudocience.. is a conspirancy theory. The difference between them is that conspirancy claim that a third party erase all evidance, pseudocience don't have any evidence at all.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (4) Mar 21, 2017
Among other things carefully left out were descriptions of what constituted "critical thinking skills". Did they include trusting what people in white lab coats said as necessarily always true? Or accepting as necessarily untrue something that takes too much time to prove, something that isn't immediately obvious? Or the presumption that only something a tiny fraction of a shade different from the conventional is possible, but nothing very different? Note, Christopher Hitchens is feted by "science" devotees for saying that, if proof or evidence of a statement is not provided, that automatically proves it is untrue. Was this fraudulent claim included in the "critical thinking skills"?
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2017
@Neutronic and @AAP, unfortunately you can lead a person to knowledge but you can't make them think. Nevertheless, at least if it were taught *some* of them might use it.
cgsperling
5 / 5 (7) Mar 21, 2017
julianpenrod said
...Note, Christopher Hitchens is feted by "science" devotees for saying that, if proof or evidence of a statement is not provided, that automatically proves it is untrue. ...


Hitchens is quoted as saying 'That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.'

Dismissed is not the same as proven untrue. It just means you don't have to accept baseless assertions.
DanielNason
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 21, 2017
This must be an entry-level course; are kids that dumb now? Atlantis didn't exist except as an ancient myth leading to operas, novels, movies. "Fake News"? To each his beholder; Global Warming is a deliberate hoax done for political and social-engineering reasons because Climate is NOT constant but varies and long long term we are in a cooling trend. 1000 years ago it was at least a degree warmer than now; what was North America like in 1600 in the midst of the Little Ice Age? I have posted elsewhere about current events; take a look at McClatchy-Hyde/Stone to see what the FBI is really investigating: it's NOT a Trump-Putin alliance to throw the election--more like Putin's "Expose the Truth" campaign. But good that they're teaching critical thinking--but this should be done on the elementary/junior high level, not college, where students should be already familiar with it. Lots of stuff going on they should be critical of--but won't.
ab3a
2 / 5 (4) Mar 21, 2017
Religious education, which many Americans have more faith in than science, teaches the exact opposite: if you apply critical thinking to the Bible you would see it as false, which is, apparently, evil. Same for many Republican policy positions and to a lesser extent, political positions generally.


You tar all religion with fundamentalist behavior. This is wrong. There are religions who do not see conflict with religious teachings of morality and science.

You tar the Republican party with this as well, but you fail to see all the sacred cows that Democrats and Green Party adherents worship without question.

Your opinion may be popular, but it is overly broad, ignorant, and wrong. Congratulations. You are leader of the herd.
MR166
1 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2017
How can colleges be teaching critical thinking and also be creating so called "Safe Zones" where dissenting speech is not tolerated? Instead of creating critical thinkers they are creating class after class of Umpa-lumpas.
Mark Thomas
not rated yet 1 hour ago
"teaching critical thinking skills . . . significantly reduces student beliefs in 'pseudoscience'".

Yes, yes, yes! I feel like I have been arguing for this all my adult life. Yes!
Mark Thomas
not rated yet 1 hour ago
Pooua wrote, "I took a Logic and Critical Thinking class . . . That class was profoundly useful and one of my favorite classes that I've ever taken."

Thank you for sharing that. This should be mandatory for high school graduation in the U.S., and probably everywhere.
Mark Thomas
not rated yet 1 hour ago
AAP wrote, "The scary thing is that having a critical thinking class is a novel idea at all. This should be the most basic of all courses (and a 'must pass' at that)."

We completely agree.

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