6 Attributes of Learners with a Critical Thinking Disposition

Read about what is a critical thinking disposition, its attributes, and how to encourage this disposition.

Were you the kid that always asked why? While we can certainly develop a skill set to encourage critical thinking, an important attribute is a personal disposition.

To make the decision to think critically is as important as possessing the skills to apply critique – having a critical thinking disposition means that we decide to investigate information presented to us rather than accepting it at face value.

But what about a growth mindset? Isn’t that the same thing?

Having a growth mindset is certainly a useful attribute but it is a little different from a critical thinking disposition. A growth mindset is self-focused. It is a view we adopt for ourselves and acknowledges that progress can occur through application and effort. In a growth mindset, you are not limited by an unalterable or pre-determined capacity. It drives persistence and helps us embrace ‘failure’ as an expected part of the learning process.

While a growth mindset relates to aptitude (and not being bound by it), we can differentiate disposition by relating it to attitude. The great news is that both are universally applicable.

So, what is a critical thinking disposition?

Disposition relates to a predominant cognitive and emotional state. It is not a personality trait (although it could develop into one over time). Holding a critical thinking disposition means we bring energy to the learning process. These learners choose to engage in the learning process even when the content is not engaging. They use the information to springboard into further thinking- what are the implications? How does this relate to other prior learning? What are the applications? Why are we being taught this information now- how do I join the dots?

Many of us understand that we should question the information presented to us, but we are not always willing to do so. Critical thinkers aren’t always welcome. Sometimes the questions that need to be asked are inconvenient or uncomfortable. Holding a critical thinking disposition means that we are willing to engage and have the desire to explore the information more deeply; we want to use the skills we possess.

Are growth mindsets and critical thinking dispositions related?

Absolutely! One of the most important connections is embracing failure. Rather than expecting success on the first attempt, learners possessing a growth mindset and a critical thinking disposition focus on mastery over time and over multiple attempts. These learners demonstrate growth after receiving feedback and are encouraged by a challenge.

Can a critical thinking disposition be encouraged?

It sure can! A critical thinking disposition can be encouraged by educators or facilitators who are equally interested and engaged with the content as the learner. Facilitators who have the humility to acknowledge that they are also learners rather than an all-knowing expert is important. A desire to understand more deeply is contagious and modelling a critical thinking disposition is a first step in encouraging others. Ensuring that there are opportunities to apply a critical thinking disposition in an authentic environment that is relevant to end situations is also useful, especially to adult learners. Finally, using collaboration and incorporating peer-to-peer learning will definitely encourage a critical thinking disposition.

Cahoot’s top six attributes of learners with a critical thinking disposition

1. Curious

Learners who don’t just want to be given an answer but want to figure it out for themselves. These learners are interested in how things come to be, why they are as they are and when it all came about- as a start!

2. Good Listener

Learners give the person they are listening to an opportunity to finish what they are saying and aren’t planning their response before the person is done. They are also listening to what hasn’t been said and anticipate the consequences of the information presented.

3. Confidence

Learners support their own inquiry and feel that their curiosity is valid. They are not afraid to ask the presenter how they got access to or where the information came from. Learners with a critical thinking disposition are not pressed to give an immediate response if something needs further thought; especially if the information to be explored is a long-held belief or comes from someone we trust deeply.

4. Empathetic

Critical thinking isn’t aggressive. A critical thinking disposition seeks merit in information being presented and tries to understand why someone might have a particular perspective or bias and why. Open-mindedness, respect, and maturity are key to thinking critically when information is different to what you want it to be.

5. Persistent and Committed

Possessing a critical thinking disposition means you like to investigate information yourself allowing you to see beyond the surface features. These learners are truth seekers who take a systematic approach to find out more. They are clear in their questioning methods and can identify an area of weakness that requires further probing.

6. Deeply interested in the subject matter

Learners benefit from humility in knowing that there is always more to learn and that they will never know everything about that subject. This is an exciting proposition where there will always be more to investigate.

“A probing inquisitiveness, a keenness of mind, a zealous dedication to reason, and a hunger or eagerness for reliable information.” Facione, 2015.


Abrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Waddington, D. I., Wade, C. A., & Persson, T. (2015). Strategies for Teaching Students to Think Critically: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 85(2), 275–314. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654314551063

Gaier, S. (2015, July 20). A Mindset for Learning: The Dispositions of Academically Successful Students. The Scholarly Teacher. https://www.scholarlyteacher.com/post/a-mindset-for-learning

Facione, P. A. (2011). Critical thinking: What it is and why it counts. Insight assessment, 2007(1), 1-23.

Halpern, D, F., & Butler, H, A. (2019). Teaching Critical Thinking as if Our Future Depends on It, Because It Does. In Dunlosky, J. & Rawson, K, A. (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Cognition and Education (pp. 51–66). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108235631.004

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