Study: Imagining dialogue can boost critical thinking, comprehension skills

WASHINGTON — Worried about a sit-down talk with a friend or loved one? Talking to yourself might better prepare you for the back-and-forth. A recent study has found that running an imaginary dialogue in your head can boost critical thinking capacities.

The research, published this month in the journal Psychological Science, determined that more sophisticated reasoning was found when people could imagine both sides of an argument.

“Envisioning opposing views leads to a more comprehensive examination of the issue,” says study author and psychology researcher Julia Zavala, in a news release from the Association for Psychological Science. “Moreover, it impacts how people understand knowledge—constructing opposing views leads them to regard knowledge less as fact and more as information that can be scrutinized in a framework of alternatives and evidence.”

Dialogue, Conversation
Imagining the dialogue in an argument beforehand might help you better understand both sides of the debate, a new study finds.

Zavala and co-researcher Deanna Kuhn were interested in the fact that a lot of people aren’t great at persuasive writing and considered that discussions between peers can help people see challenges from a different perspective. They set out to discover whether a similar result could come out of solo writing exercises as well.

To test their theory, they asked 60 students to take part in an hour-long writing exercise.  Some of them were asked to write a persuasive essay about two mayoral candidates after being given campaign information about each, along with information on the problems the city they’re running in faced. The other participants were given the same information, but asked to create a dialogue held between TV commentators about the candidates.

The researchers found that the students who had created the dialogue were more effective at including direct comparison between the candidates, including both problems and actions to solve them, and showed more critical concepts about the positions of each candidate. Only 20% of them included unsubstantiated claims in their dialogue, as opposed to 60 percent of the students who wrote essays.

“These results support our hypothesis that the dialogic task would lead to deeper, more comprehensive processing of the two positions and hence a richer representation of each and the differences between them,” explains Kuhn.

A separate task also showed that the participants who completed the dialogue assignment demonstrated a more “sophisticated understanding of knowledge,” according to the release.

Adds Kuhn: “Everything possible should be done to encourage and support genuine discourse on critical issues, but our findings suggest that the virtual form of interaction we examined may be a productive substitute, at a time when positions on an issue far too often lack the deep analysis to support them.”