Mistakes in Critical Thinking

So many mistakes in critical thinking are made by so many people that numerous books have been written about the topic. Though you will make mistakes on your own, the actions and words of other people often contribute to your mistakes. By being aware of how others influence your thinking process, you will be able to judge situations more clearly and come to better decisions. Some of the most common mistakes in thinking are described in the following paragraphs.

Mistakes in thinking are called fallacies. They distract you from making decisions based on critical thinking. Several fallacies are described below.


Peer Pressure

Peer pressure causes you to go along with the crowd in order to be accepted or popular.

Example: “Ling and I are skipping class tonight to go to the hockey game. Aren’t you coming with us?”

Horse Laugh

Horse laugh refers to making fun of someone or something when you disagree. This fallacy is best communicated by one’s tone or voice or body language.

Example: Wallie is talking to a co-worker, and the coworker says, “You are doing that project?”

Two Wrongs Make A Right

This refers to returning an insult with an insult.

Example: “My coworker invited everyone to her party but me, so I’m not going to help with her project.”

Hasty Generalization

This refers to making a decision too quickly.

Example: “I know I just met him, but I don’t like him” or ” I tried playing tennis once, and I’m not going to try it again.”

Name Calling

Name calling substitutes a personal insult for a direct response.

Example: Joe says, “Being metacognitive about studying is a great help.” Pat responds, “That’s a typical nerd statement if I ever heard one.”

Scare Tactics, Appeals To Pity, and Apple Polishing

These fallacies all focus on emotional thinking and ignorance logic.

Scare Tactics Example: ” We, the membership committee of the Sigma Club, see in your application that you’ve been very active with the student newspaper. Did you know that our club president was kicked off your paper’s editorial board last year?”

Appeal to Pity Example: “Professor Amato, please let me had in my paper tomorrow. I had to take care of my grandmother last night. When I finally started typing, I ran out of paper, and it was too late to buy any. If you accept my paper late, I’ll be able to stay off probation.”

Apple Polishing Example: “Hamid, please let me photocopy your notes to study for an exam. Your handwriting is so much neater than mine, and you always get more out of Professor Smith’s lectures than I do.”

False Dilemma

People use a false dilemma to make you think there are only two choices in a situation–the one they favor and an unappealing alternative.

Example: The statement “Strong men watch wrestling on T.V., so what’s the matter with you?” is intended to make you think you aren’t strong if you don’t enjoy professional wrestling. Actually one has little to do with the other; there are many ways to be strong. People often combine peer pressure, mentioned earlier, with the false dilemma tactic.

Slippery Slope

People tend to use slippery slope thinking in situations involving change. Claims are made that the change will lead to many more changes and that the end result will be bad.

Example: “If we let you have two excused absences, then you’ll want three. Before we know it, all of our absentee standards will have disappeared.”

Begging the Question

This is also known as “circular reasoning.” The same statement gets repeated with different words, but nothing is added to the meaning. This is very popular in advertisements.

Example: “Athletes need a good, healthy diet. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to what you eat if you want to perform well in sports.”

Straw Person

Have you ever had someone disagree with you by changing your statement? The changed statement is the “straw person.” Notice how the brother changed the one time clean-up request in the following example to a daily one.

Example: You ask your brother to help you clean the bathroom. He says he can’t clean it every day. It’s too much work and a waste of time.


Using someone of status to convince others of the “right” thing to do is one of the most common fallacies used in advertising and political campaigns.

Example: Famous people (prestige identification) or people just like you (ordinary people) tell you how great something is: “Buy it!” “Vote for it!”

Point of View

These fallacies are frequently used by people who want to persuade you to believe or do something. They have a particular point of view, and their message to you is tilted to favor that point of view. That tilt is called bias. Two common groups of persuaders in American society are politicians and advertisers. Politicians want you to vote for them. Advertisers want you to buy their products or support their cause.

In order to be influenced, a persuader only shows you part of the picture (that’s the bias)or a point of view he or she thinks you will like. Presenting part of the picture is called card stacking. The persuader only shows you the cards he or she has chosen instead of the full deck.

Several of the critical thinking guidelines can help you with bias. (Refer to the Critical Thinking Guidelines at http://thinkwellcenter.edublogs.org/2019/06/06/how-do-you-think-critically/).

Know when you need more information¬† (Guideline #2) is something to keep in mind when you suspect the persuaders is stacking the cards. Separate emotional and logical thinking (Guideline #5) when you sense the persuader is appealing to your emotions –greed, fear, pity– and is omitting a logical approach. Know the difference between something that must be true and something that might be true (Guideline #4) when the persuader is making statements that are not backed by proof. Build your vocabulary (Guideline #6) when the persuader uses unfamiliar words and terms.

Looking for points of view is a critical-thinking strategy. While it is easy to believe people who share your point of view, remember to be openminded to new ideas (Guideline #1). Consider using other points of view and accepting people who have them.

Points of view connect with what you believe is important in life. Because what’s important carries feelings, part of your critical thinking is always connected to your feelings. Your brain has emotional and logical responses.¬† A careful thinker notices how feelings are involved in problem solving and decision making. Remember most sources of information have points of view!

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