Critical thinking and effective decision-making are not always foolproof. Sometimes the cognitive barriers make solutions ‘out of our reach’. Getting stuck with a particular way of thinking can be slightly challenging. The automaticity induced by thinking inside the box generally influences our attempts at solving everyday problems. Here is an effort to stay aware of the automatic tendencies that we tend to do without conscious efforts.

The most common barriers to effective decision-making and critical thinking are discussed below:

1.     Mental Sets

Mental sets can be understood as a shortcut to problem-solving with the help of patterns that worked in the past. People tend to try the solutions that previously succeeded in the past due to the difficulty involved in thinking of other possibilities.

The best example to understand the problem of mental sets is to solve the dot problem given below.

All of us are generally taught to stay between the lines. The pattern that we learned from the past will not help solve this dot problem. The solution to good decision making to unique problems requires drawing lines beyond the dotted boundaries.

2.     Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency of searching for evidence that aligns one’s existing beliefs. This bias becomes a barrier to efficient decision making. This involves remembering things that confirm the pre-existing beliefs. This bias can be extremely dangerous. Suppose a person who believes that he is a multitasker would generally text/call while driving his vehicle because he has never personally experienced vehicle accidents or ‘near misses’. While it may be tempting to have confidence in oneself but the lack of awareness other than personal experience can be threatening due to this bias.

3.     Functional Fixedness

Another barrier to decision making and critical thinking is functional fixedness. Functional fixedness means “fixed on the function”. An excellent example to understand functional fixedness could be the usage of the screwdriver. Have you searched all over your house to find a screwdriver to fix something? While you were searching for a screwdriver all this while, did you even take a moment to think that the thing can also be fixed using a butter knife or anything else closer to you? This is functional fixedness. We don’t seem to think of something other than their defined functions. Because a knife can only be used in the kitchen, right? There are several things around us that can be used in a flexible and adaptable way. Still, the fixedness we have in our minds regarding their functionality creates a hurdle for critical thinking.