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The Role of Cognitive Development, Logic, and Emotionality in Management

Critical Thinking: The Role of Cognitive Development, Logic, and Emotionality in Management

Definitions of critical thinking range from simple statements reflecting one’s ability to create logical conclusions based on reasoning to more complex definitions that take into consideration a person’s emotions, personal feelings, and cultural biases.

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According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, “critical thinking is a broader term describing reasoning in an open-ended manner, with an unlimited number of solutions” (Erwin, 2000, p. 11). Critical thinking requires that “the thinker improve the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of its very structures and by imposing intellectual standards upon them”(University of Phoenix, 2003). The structures of critical thinking include cognitive skills, emotion, personal feelings, judgments, argument, and logic.

Cognitive development plays a significant role in a person’s ability to think critically. Jean Piaget “proposed the idea that cognitive development consisted of the development of logical competence, and that the development of this competence consists of four major stages”(University of Alberta, 2003).

It is not until early adolescence, around age 11 or 12, that a person enters the Formal Operations Stage and becomes capable of more sophisticated logical thought. This, according to Piaget is the final stage in human cognitive development.

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Other theorists contend that Piaget’s initial theories are either flawed or incomplete. Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, believes that an individual’s higher mental functions develop through social interaction. In other words, humans learn from their interactions with others. “Vygotsky asserted that development is complex and is affected by social and cultural contexts. Biological and cultural development are interrelated and do not develop in isolation” (Emory University, 2003).

In contrast to Piaget’s four finite stages of development, “Vygotsky believed that intellectual development was continually evolving without an endpoint (Emory University). Proposing the fifth stage to Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development was Klaus Riegel. Riegel suggested that Dialectical Reasoning be considered whereby a person’s “mental processes move freely back and forth among all the Piagetian stages”(Hoffman). Not unlike Vygotsky, Riegel did not believe that cognitive development could be defined in finite terms.

Emotion and personal feelings are often referred to as barriers to critical thinking. Indeed, emotional influences have the ability to “bury, twist, and fragment the thinking process”(Kirby & Goodpaster, 2002, p. 30). However, these same emotions and feelings are a necessary part of the critical thinking process. “Thinking without feeling is often cold and sterile” (Kirby & Goodpaster, p. 291). It is the emotion, passion, and personal feelings, which allow a person to achieve greatness.

In Howard Gardner’s book, Creating Minds, he recounts events and processes that led up to the significant achievements of several individuals. The first person, Sigmund Freud, frequently “dissected his own emotions” (Gardner, 1993, p. 53) to enable him to offer advice to others on dealing with interpersonal relationships.

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Freud’s passion for the structure and processes of the unconscious led him to develop a new system for exploring it despite meeting with resistance from other scholars within his field (Gardner, p. 132). Another influential figure, Picasso, examined emotion through his art. Picasso’s La vie “touched on his own feelings about death…his attitudes toward artistic productivity…and his relations to family and women” (Gardner, p. 151).

Gardner aptly calls Picasso an “artistic master of the modern era” (Gardner, p. 261) for “occupying a commanding role in his domain” (Gardner). In order to use feelings to an advantage versus a disadvantage, a person must become aware of the feelings that exist about a topic or situation, “evaluate his or her thinking and then adjust it toward greater objectivity and accuracy” (Kirby & Goodpaster, p. 108). Therefore, rather than view feelings and emotions as barriers to critical thinking, use them as a positive force to empower creative thought.

References Emory University. (n.d.). Vygotsky analyzes Piaget’s developmental theory. Retrieved December 6, 2003, from Erwin, T. D. (2000). The NPEC sourcebook on assessment, volume 1: Definitions and assessment methods for critical thinking, problem-solving, and writing. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Gardner, H. (1993). Creating minds: An anatomy of creativity seen through the lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi. New York: Basic Books.

Hoffman, W. C. (n.d.). The formal structure of dialectical psychology. Retrieved December 6, 03, from Kirby, G. R., & Goodpaster, J. R. (2002). Thinking (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc..

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University of Alberta. (n.d.). Piaget’s stage theory of development. Retrieved December 6, 2003, from

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