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Critical Thinking and Research

This is an excerpt from my book, A Worker's Worth, available here.

Too often, we refuse to believe or disbelieve something just because of our own personal experience. Remember that there are plenty of life experiences out there which are dramatically different from our own.

In the end, do your own research. This goes beyond agreeing with someone because you like what you’re hearing. That’s your bias, and it will cause you to believe only what you want to believe. Listen to different points of view and consider the truth in each perspective, and how it could be true to each person. Most importantly, read the research evidence for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

Reading research critically can be tricky for anyone who’s not trained in research methodology. Quantitative research, using numbers and statistics, is often seen as a way to figure out objective reality. Qualitative research, using the study of people through more narrative and observational means, is based on the premise that we all see the world a little differently, but we can still find commonalities and patterns in our experiences. Psychology is known as a “soft science” since human perspectives are drastically different from the hard facts you’ll find in a field like mathematics or chemistry. However, every researcher should be ethically inclined to explain the limitations in their research, and this is a great place for you to consider how the results might have been different if the research had been done with different kinds of people, in a different setting, or with a different choice of measurement.

Limitations can show up as the way that the math was done, or the methodology was laid out. Sample size is a big deal – it should be large enough that you could generalize the results back to the population that you’re studying. Sample participants are also important, because the people in the study might be predominantly represented by a specific race, age range, or gender. The research may have been carried out with bias and that could have tainted the way that the researchers understood the findings.

Real research is different from people seeking the information that they want to hear. Research can still be influenced by researchers who are seeking to prove something they believe in, but research done properly according to standard methodological guidelines would theoretically show factual evidence for a hypothesis. Otherwise, it can almost be terrifying when someone takes one limited case or flawed information as truth to fuel their cause.

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