Essential Life Skill #5: Critical Thinking

Every decision we make depends for its success on our ability to weigh the evidence and choose the wisest course, given our objectives. In session 5 of her Big Think Mentorworkshop on The Seven Essential Life Skills, Ellen Galinsky reviews the research and offers tips for building critical thinking skills in adults and children.

What's the Big Idea?

“Critical thinking”, says Ellen Galinsky, “ is the search for valid and reliable information and that’s important because the information that we have, the way we see the world guides not only what we think but what we do.” Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making and president of the Families and Work Institute, sees a dangerous, inverse relationship between the proliferation of information sources on the one hand, and our ability to judge reliability on the other. Consider this article. Is this journalism? A blog? An op-ed? In a traditional news source like the New York Times, the distinctions are made clear. But out here on the Web, it’s a jungle – anyone can claim anything and it’s up to the reader to evaluate the source.

A couple of decades ago, when there were only three or four major national newspapers and a handful of well-known investigative journalists and news anchors, it was somewhat less risky to be complacent about where your information was coming from. But as the recent vaccine “debate” demonstrates, and the fact that it persists in spite of the thorough debunking of the vaccines/autism connection, Pandora’s Box is well and truly open – and it’s high time we all fine tuned our bullsh*t meters.

Critical thinking is an essential life skill, says an abundance of cognitive psychology research, because it serves us in every aspect of our lives – not just in reading the news. Every decision we make depends for its success on our ability to weigh the evidence and choose the wisest course, given our objectives. In session 5 of her Big Think Mentor workshop on The Seven Essential Life Skills, Ellen Galinsky reviews the research and offers tips for building critical thinking skills in adults and children.

Video: Essential Life Skill #5 Critical Thinking, with Ellen Galinsky (free preview: full video available with subscription to Big Think Mentor


In a fast-changing world, only our higher-order thinking skills can keep us aware, engaged, and growing.  In The Seven Essential Life Skills, her workshop for Big Think Mentor, Mind in the Making author Ellen Galinsky teaches lessons learned over decades of psychological research into how humans learn throughout the lifespan.  The seven essential skills she teaches here, and demonstrates with stunning video footage of classic psychological experiments, are invaluable tools for adapting to, learning from, and thriving within a world in rapid flux.

The seven essential life skills you’ll hone in this workshop are:

  • Focus and Self-Control

  • Perspective Taking

  • Communicating

  • Making Connections

  • Critical Thinking

  • Taking on Challenges

  • Self-Directed, Engaged Learning

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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