Shortcutting Critical Thinking
Leah Walker and Zoë Brammer
What effects do digital technologies have on critical thinking? The DCDI coalition and IST researchers came to five major conclusions:
- The scale, accuracy, and speed of digital technologies make them particularly effective at activating the very emotions that influence and undermine critical thinking. Not only do digital technologies have the ability to inflame those emotions, but they often are designed to do so, as those very emotions drive engagement, use, and consumer spending.
- Digital technologies are affecting the cognitive processes that comprise critical thinking, including memory, attention, and reasoning.
- Digital technologies make it easier for people to confirm their existing beliefs, with little incentive to go through the often arduous processes of thinking critically. The most prolific online spaces are designed to validate beliefs, rather than challenge them. This constant reinforcement, in turn, makes people more confident in and vocal about their beliefs.
- Overconfidence in beliefs makes people more vulnerable to disinformation and less likely to take in contrary arguments.
- Compounding the problem, there is little financial incentive for tech companies to design products that encourage people to think critically, especially if that involves helping people slow down by building friction into systems optimized for speed.