Academic Research

The Reboot Foundation supports researchers who work on issues related to critical thinking. Learn more below about some of the projects the foundation supports.

Does Categorization Training Improve Critical Thinking?

Dr. Ben Motz and Dr. Emily Fyfe – Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University

Dr. Motz and Dr. Fyfe’s research will investigate:

  • whether critical thinking performance on a standard open-form assessment can be improved through categorization practice.

Deliberate practice has long been demonstrated to be an effective way to improve many higher-order cognitive skills, including problem solving, logical and mathematical reasoning, and general measures of executive function, but there has been less work considering the specific role of practice in improving critical thinking. Critical thinking is increasingly viewed as the ability to recognize flaws in empirical inferences; for example, recognizing that a causal claim is being inappropriately drawn from correlational data, or that findings are being cherry-picked to support a person’s prior opinions. In a sense, these might be operationalized as categorization tasks, where a critical thinker is able to identify whether a specific claim matches the general pattern of a logical fallacy. Preliminary research suggests that categorization training might improve performance on standard critical thinking assessments, but no research has yet examined the direct benefits of practice with these kinds of critical thinking categorization problems. Considering the contemporary importance of helping people learn to identify misinformation, the current study aims to experimentally evaluate a specific and practical approach to critical thinking training, through categorization practice.

Dr. Ben Motz studies the relationships between cognitive theories of human learning, psychological theories of student engagement, and what goes on in college classes. In particular, he is interested in understanding causal mechanisms and interactions between aspects of teaching and learning in authentic educational contexts, and accordingly, his research emphasizes the use of experimental methods in real classes. 

Dr. Emily Fyfe’s research focuses on the construction and organization of knowledge, with an emphasis on how children think, learn, and solve problems in mathematics. Children exhibit surprisingly intricate knowledge of key math ideas and can generate informal strategies to solve complex problems. Nevertheless, proficiency with mathematics in formal settings is often difficult to achieve. Her research is motivated by a question facing cognitive scientists, developmental psychologists, and education practitioners alike: How can we support children’s learning so that it leads to the construction of robust and meaningful knowledge?

The Genetic Invincibility Effect of Genetic Testing​

Dr. Woo-Kyoung Ahn – Department of Psychology, Yale University
Dr. Ahn’s research will investigate:

  • if the results of genetic testing revealing predisposition (or specifically, lack thereof) to certain medical conditions lead to decreased perceptions of that condition as a serious disorder, and 
  • intervention methods for feelings of invulnerability and genetic invincibility due to genetic test results.
Laypeople appear to believe that their genes play an essential and deterministic role. As a result, they ignore alternative factors that contribute to disorders and blindly accept that their genes can almost determine their fate. Previous studies had participants take a saliva test that was described to them as detecting their genetic predisposition for major depression and obesity. This study will examine the “genetic invincibility effect” in the context of alcoholism and devise ways to prevent it by fostering critical thinking.

Dr. Woo-Kyoung Ahn’s main area of research interest is higher-level reasoning processes. In particular, she studies how people learn and represent concepts and causal relations, how causal explanations shape our thinking processes, and in what ways our reasoning deviates from rational principles. She also studies applied issues, such as how expert clinicians’ causal explanations for mental disorders affect their diagnoses, and how learning about one’s genetic predisposition affects people’s expectations about their symptoms of mental illnesses. She has been teaching undergraduate and graduate courses on critical thinking and rationality. She served as the associate editor of Journal of Experimental Psychology: General and Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications. She is a fellow of American Psychological Association, a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, and a professor at Yale University.

Deliberation and Intuition in Decision-Making

Dr. Tania Lombrozo – Department of Psychology, Princeton University

Dr. Lombrozo’s research is motivated by the questions:

  • Why are “critical thinking tools” often employed poorly, or not at all, in real world decisions?

  • How can such decision making be improved? 

This project focuses on an aspect of critical thinking and decision-making that has received relatively little attention: when and why people think explicit deliberation ought (or ought not) to guide their decisions. There is already some evidence that people think immediate, gut responses are more indicative of their “true selves” than more reasoned responses. Does such a belief lead people to (inappropriately) favor gut reactions over deliberation (e.g., choosing a medical treatment or political candidate that “feels right,” rather than critically evaluating the relevant evidence and arguments)? This study will reveal how various factors predict responses about the use of deliberation and intuition.

Dr. Tania Lombrozo’s research aims to address basic questions about learning, reasoning, and decision-making using the empirical tools of experimental psychology and the conceptual tools of analytic philosophy. Much of her work is informed by philosophy of science, epistemology, and moral philosophy alongside cognitive, social, and developmental psychology. Lombrozo’s lab studies, for example, the human drive to explain. Why are we so compelled to explain some aspects of our social and physical environment, but not others? How does the process of seeking explanations affect learning, and how does the quality of an explanation affect our judgments and decisions? Other projects target different topics — including our intuitive beliefs about causation, moral responsibility, and the nature of knowledge. Lombrozo is a Professor within the Department of Psychology at Princeton University.

Media Reception in the Age of Disinformation

Manon Berriche – PhD Candidate, Sciences Po Paris médialab and the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity

Manon Berriche’s PhD research aims to address the following questions:

  • What kind of misleading content has the most impact?

  • How does information circulate in the digital public space and in which communication contexts is the sharing of fake news most likely to unfold?

  • How to mitigate the virality of “fake news” and how to instead facilitate access to high-quality information?

While the phenomenon of disinformation has become a public concern, much remains unknown about its impact on people’s beliefs and opinions. To address this major issue for democracy and society, the goal of Manon Berriche’s PhD research is twofold: first, she proposes to identify which type of misleading content is the most harmful and in which social contexts it is more likely to be diffused. She does this through an analysis of the digital public space, and the dynamics of public expression and social interaction both online and in-real life. Second, these preliminary findings will help her to test more calibrated educational methods for critical thinking to hamper the phenomenon.

Manon Berriche is a graduate of the digital track at Sciences Po Paris’ School of Public Affairs and from the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity. After several professional experiences in youth media and EdTech startups, she decided to turn towards the academic world to promote more research-based educational innovations in the areas of critical thinking and digital media literacy. She specializes in digital sociology and has had several research experiences in cognitive psychology. Her research now focuses on the phenomenon of disinformation and combines approaches from media studies and cognitive psychology. Since 2018, she also teaches an undergraduate course on Digital Culture at Sciences Po Paris.

Critical Thinking Guide for Parents

Mickaël Bardonnet – INFIPP
Sébastian Dieguez – University of Fribourg
Stéphane Sansone – Grenoble INP

Reboot assembled a team to develop tools, activities and content that parents can use to teach their children critical thinking skills. The team is comprised of cognitive scientists and researchers in France and Switzerland.

The online guide is available in English and French. It gives parents the resources that they need to help develop critical thinking skills in their children throughout their development. The guide integrates a theoretical framework, which outlines the development of critical thinking skills in the life of the child, with practical guidelines for fostering critical thinking in children. 

The authors take a holistic approach to critical thinking education, incorporating children’s social and emotional development, their sense of individuality and self-esteem, and their management of time and attention to the development of their own critical thinking skills.

Mickaël Bardonnet

Sébastian Dieguez

Stéphane Sansone