How to Write a Critical Thinking Essay in Psychology

What is Psychology? According to the American Psychological Association, psychology is the scientific study of mind and behaviour. It is a multifaceted discipline with many sub-fields of study such as cognitive, social behavior, clinical, health, sports, and human development processes. The Objectives of Psychology The four main objectives of psychology are to describe, explain, predict […]

Posted: August 20th, 2021

What is Psychology?

According to the American Psychological Association, psychology is the scientific study of mind and behaviour. It is a multifaceted discipline with many sub-fields of study such as cognitive, social behavior, clinical, health, sports, and human development processes.

The Objectives of Psychology

The four main objectives of psychology are to describe, explain, predict and change the mental processes and behavior of other people.

To Describe

Describing cognition or behavior is the foremost objective of psychology. This enables researchers to develop universal laws of human behavior. For instance, by describing the reaction of dogs to diverse stimuli, a researcher, Ivan Pavlov developed laws of learning referred to as classical conditioning theory.

To Explain

After describing the universal laws of behavior, the next thing is to explain why or how this happens. Psychologists suggest theories that explain behaviors.

To Predict

Psychology purposes to predict future behavior out of the findings of empirical research. If there is no confirmation of a prediction, then there might be a need to revise the explanation the prediction is based on. For instance, classical conditioning predicts that association of a negative outcome with stimuli may lead to the development of a phobia or a dislike of the stimuli.

To Change

After describing, explaining, and predicting human behavior, psychology attempts to change or control the behavior. For instance, classical conditioning interventions, such as systematic desensitization, treat people who have anxiety disorders, such as phobias.

What is a Critical Thinking Essay?

Essay writing is an essential academic exercise for university and college students. An example of the different essays required is a critical thinking essay, which requires the student to apply reflective and analytical writing skills. Essentially, these skills emphasize important features of an essay in critical thinking, which are information analysis, reflection of major findings, a re-evaluation of importance of information, and recognition of conclusions derived by the writer or scholar. Therefore, an essay on critical thinking is a piece of writing that requires students to read documents and interpret them from their viewpoints. It helps students improve on their reflective and analytical writing skills.

Some students think that critical thinking is only applicable in sciences, which is not the case. Creative essays often require the student to apply these skills in many levels. Creative essays involves coming up with and producing brand new and bright ideas that have not been generated by anyone else.

Writing and critical thinking skills, such as drawing conclusions, undertaking detailed researches, ability to analyze data, etc., are essential when completing a project or mastering a course with the highest grade. It is also vital to note that thinking critically does not mean criticising a certain evidence, idea, argument, or thought, but to evaluate information presented in the article.

Why do Students Write Critical Thinking Essays

When professors assign critical thinking essays to students, they want to test their critical thinking skills. The essay helps students learn how to spot weaknesses, strengths, inaccuracies, contradictions, and errors of work and the authenticity of the argument made in the article under scrutiny. As such, it is crucial for students to be serious when writing a critical thinking essay and accord it the proper attention. When asked to write a critical thinking essay, it is not about how soon you finish the paper, it is about the quality of the entire paper. In short, the devil of the critical thinking essay lies in the details.

What Is Critical Thinking In Psychology?

Critical thinking is a type of judgement, particularly reflective and purposeful judgement. When one applies critical thinking in psychology, they decide or solve a problem of judging what to do or what to believe, but does this in a reflective manner. Critical thinking considers the question at hand, the relevant theoretical and constructs for comprehending the type of problem, the relevant techniques or methods for forming a judgement, and the relevant criteria for arriving at the judgement. These components also happen to be the primary defining features of academic disciplines and professional fields. Due to this, critical thinking can happen within a specific field and across subject fields in all the spaces where people need to solve problems, make decisions, interact, figure out what to do and what to believe.

How Do I Start a Critical Thinking Essay?

Although the essay writing guide below is for a psychology critique paper, the same principles can be used to write critical thinking essays in other disciplines. Use the following guideline to assess your article or book to make better sense of it.

Read the introduction part of the article. Establish if the hypothesis is stated clearly and if there is relevant background information and a clear description of previous research. After establishing that, note other information available in the introduction and questions that you have concerning the information.

Read the methods part of the article. Check is the study procedure is clearly outlined in this section. Can you identify the variable being measured by the researchers? Do not forget to jot down thoughts and questions that crop up in your mind as you read. You will refer back to your thoughts and questions after reading the book and establish those that remain unanswered.

Read the section with the results. Is there clear labelling of graphs and tables in the results section? Did the researcher provide sufficient statistical information? Did they collect all necessary data to measure the variables under study? As in previous sections, make note of any concerns or questions that is not clear. You can come back to the questions when writing your final paper.

Read the section talking about discussion. Experts recommend taking notes while you go through the paper you are evaluating. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • How are the results of the study interpreted by the researchers?
  • Was the hypothesis supported by the emerging results?
  • Are the conclusions drawn seem reasonable?

The discussion part of an article enables students make a stand. If you agree with the conclusions made by the researchers, explain your decision. If you do not agree, point out the issues and provide alternative solutions. Another way to handle the issue is to point out what the researchers failed to answer in this section.

Start Writing your Essay

By now, you know what you want to write about. Here is the structure you should follow in your critical thinking essay in psychology. With a ready outline, you can start your paper from elsewhere and fill in the blanks later.

Introduction

Presumably, the theory you want to criticize is based on a major phrase forming the foundation for further evolution. If the phrase is a contradiction by itself, then the theory is an outstanding object for a critical thinking essay. Go ahead and start your introduction with the phrase and further develop the idea in a thesis statement.

Thesis

The thesis statement is your individual opinion that you develop after carrying out research, analysis, and critical thinking. It should not exceed two sentences in length and appear like a positive statement to argue about.

The Main Body

The first paragraph of the body should be about describing the entire picture. However, be careful not to retell the entire theory. Begin with when and how the theory was formed, its development, and tell what scientists today say about it in brief.

The second paragraph should be about providing a direct criticism of the theory. Begin with the strengths you found in the theory by writing down the first sentence to indicate a strong point. Follow this with a strong transition to your argument. Write your proof in the third sentence, which is the scientist’s opinion on the subject and support it with  a quote or data from a scientific paper. A brief conclusion should follow in the fourth sentence.

NB. Fill out the quote in the right way, following the academic style guidelines provided by your professor. If there are several strengths with the theory, talk about each strength in a separate paragraph; do not put everything together. The rule on “one paragraph, one full thought” also applies to a critical thinking essay in psychology. This means that your body paragraphs will be as many as the strengths you will identify in the theory.

The third and fourth paragraphs can describe the weaknesses as per the algorithm used to state the advantages.

Conclusion

This is the easiest and last section of the essay; you have already completed 90% of the project. Briefly write down everything you talked about earlier in the paper and ensure that the conclusion does not exceed the volume of the body paragraphs in length.

How Do You Conclude A Psychology Essay?

Your conclusion will determine if your essay ends with a whimper or a bang. An effective conclusion brings together individual concepts, studies discussed, and theories, and provides a brief and insightful summary of your understanding of human behaviour.

1. Recap

Your conclusion paragraph should start with a brief recap of the essay thesis, which is the main argument or idea you stated in the introduction. Then summarize the research studies and theories you already discussed in the main body of the essay. Basically, at this point you are just reminding the reader of what you explained in the essay. This should fit in two or three sentences.

It might not seem helpful to repeat yourself, but it helps to remind your reader of the “big picture”. When discussing research studies in the main body paragraphs, give plenty of details, such as experimental procedures and sampling method among others. But, when writing the conclusion, your objective is to provide the reader with a quick glance of everything discussed in the paper. This will lead you to the other part of the conclusion; synthesizing the research.

2. Synthesize

In the essay body, you probably discussed each research study in a different paragraph. While writing this way helps describe each study in detail, it fails to provide a complete understanding of what a combination of the studies depicts about human behaviour. Take each research study as part of a puzzle providing an essential clue on human behaviour. Having several piles of random pieces is not enough; you need to establish how the pieces work together. When synthesizing results from several studies, the following are the most possible outcomes:

Study A supports Study B and vice versa. This happens when two research studies come to the same conclusion. Remember that one topic, such as the relationship between aggressive and testosterone behaviour, can be learnt in many different ways. You can perform experiments on animals or use human participants. You can perform a lab experiment, assign participants to various conditions randomly, or do an observational study on various participant groups. You can also carry out similar studies on various types of participants, for example, people of different backgrounds, cultures, or ages. Whatever the case, when two diverse studies using different research methods arrive at the same conclusion, the studies are said to support each other and their results triangulate.

Study A complements Study B and vice versa. In some cases, two research studies can investigate related, but different, aspects of human behavior. For example, let’s say you are evaluating different studies on the topic why divorce happens. Obviously, divorce is a complex matter, which involves several factors and each study might opt to concentrate on a specific factor.  One study might delve into how relationships are affected by mental illness while the other one might look at various types of marriage counseling. All the studies may present essential findings on the subject of divorce, but from various viewpoints. Therefore, each study’s findings complement each other.

Study A contradicts Study B and vice versa. This is something that happens more often that many psychologists would want; sometimes two studies draw completely different conclusions. An experimental outcome acquired from one group of participants might fail to replicate the same results from another study. When findings from two studies contradict one another, you should try to establish the reason for the contradiction. For instance, how different participants or research methodologies can lead to different results. Primarily, it is essential to be honest if you do not know the answer. It is sometimes wise to wait for more research to make a definite conclusion.

3. Conclude             

After recapping the main ideas of your essay and synthesizing the research studies, you can now make a concluding statement. This statement should closely reflect your thesis. It should be a precise, simple one sentence statement talking about what we have learnt about the topic. Your concluding statement is deemed effective if the reader reads one sentence from the essay and understands the main message or idea of the paper.

4. Areas of Indecision and Further Research

Before you conclude your essay, acknowledge any areas of uncertainty or limitations. Please note that conclusions made in psychology are tentative, considering the best evidence available at the moment. Even the best designed research study has limitations, which imply that any conclusions drawn cannot be fully certain. For example, if most of the research of a certain topic was done on animals, there might be uncertainty if similar findings can be obtained from humans.

Finally, it is standard practice to end a scientific paper with suggestions for further research, so it would help if you conclude your essay in the same way. Suggestions for further research intend to address the limitations or shortcomings of the current research. For example:

  • If most of the current research does not have ecological validity, suggestions for further research could entail studying more realistic situations.
  • If most of the available research was done in Western countries, suggestions for more research could be done using groups of participants from other parts of the world.
  • If most of the available research is correlational, suggestions for future research could entail designing experiments to determine cause-and-effect.  If you have correctly identified limitations and areas of uncertainty and offered suggestions for further research, someone reading your essay might be motivated to do the research you suggested. And this ensures that psychology takes one more step forward.

How to Advance Critical Thinking

What is the importance of critical thinking and how can you improve it? Critical thinking skills enables the student to evaluate what they see, read or listen to, and draw conclusions based on the available information and other factors as well. With a capability to think critically, you can easily detect untrue news and will not cite non-credible sources in your academic papers.

Use the following tips to improve you critical thinking skills.

  • Learn to question situations even when they seem basic or confusing. Before you believe a news item, you should first seek to know if the person delivering the news can prove what they are saying, and so on.
  • Evaluate all current evidence; do not believe everything at face value even when the source looks trustworthy.
  • Authenticate everything you hear or read. When you receive some disturbing news, you can Google it to read another article from other credible sources.
  • Be open to the fact that critical thinking skills are not possessed by everyone.

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