Friday, October 7, 2011

Dr. William Perry's Research on How Critical Thinking Develops - Important!!! Read This.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to attend and graduate from college.  But, for those who do attend and for those who graduate, college can be a positive transformative experience.

In the first semester of their college years, students have a way of looking at the world that influences how much they learn, how they think about themselves and the world, and why they make the ethical decisions they do.

Hopefully, students evolve through the four year period of college education and they become not only more educated but also more developed human beings.  Hopefully, learning to think expands college graduates’ world view and empowers them to be contributing members of society.  Hopefully, the world is a better place because of their four years of higher education.

An individual does not have to go to college to expand her/his world and to develop as a human being.  We have all heard about and maybe attended the “college of hard knocks”. The tuition for this “college of hard knocks’ can be quite expensive.  It can cost alumni/ae of this college  emotional pain and  privation in quality of life.

Others who do not have the opportunity to attend a traditional college but are spared from having to attend too many semesters at the CHK are also developing, evolving, and achieving their human potential.

This psychological/cognitive evolution does not happen in any life circumstance without affecting the intellectual and ethical development of the individual.   As a psychologist, as a college professor, as an artist, and as a citizen of Planet Earth, I am interested in how I got to be the way I am, and who I want to become.  I like to believe that all of human life is a process of becoming.

I find this a fascinating area to read about.  We all like to know ourselves better; and we all like to believe that we are developing as positive human beings who know how to think and how to act in a manner that is beneficial for each of us and in our particular sphere of human relationships.

I enjoy reading about human development.  The work of William Perry has had a serious  influence on me.  I have included the fundamental premises of his research in a few paragraphs below.  I got this description of Perry’s Stages of College Student Cognitive and Ethical Development from the national clearing house for educational research ERIC at http:///

You don’t have to have gone to college to apply these stages to yourself. They can be applied to any individual. The experience of attending college formally intensifies the student’s developmental growth – but the College of Hard Knocks does that, also.  Human growth and development occurs in any environment that has intellectual and emotional stimuli.  How would you classify yourself?  Most of us have not reached perfection yet and are unique blends and combinations of the developmental stages that Perry identified.

I love to read fictional stories but there is nothing like a true-life story – developmental psychology tells the unique story of each individual.  Try reading this type of writing for a change – it might be challenging, but reading about human development is both fascinating and manageable.  It is not too technical.

How would you classify your thinking according to Perry’s research?

Here is the ERIC excerpt.

          DUALISTIC STUDENTS are those who see the world as a place of absolutes such as right or wrong, true or false. Knowledge is seen as existing absolutely.  Dualistic students tend to think of their role in terms of “right” answers and the role of the professor as providing those answers.  These students will present judgments and evaluations as if they were self-evident, without the need for substantiation.

MULTIPLICITIC STUDENTS recognize that there are multiple perspectives to problems. However, they are unable to evaluate each perspective adequately.  A typical
multiplicitic response might be “We’re all entitled to our own opinions,” or “We’re all good people.”

RELATIVISTIC STUDENTS see knowledge as relative to particular forms of reference.  They show a capacity for detachment; they look for the “big picure”, think about their own thinking, and evaluate their own ideas as well as those of others.  Frequently, by seeing alternative perspectives, they have difficulty making a decision.  Authorities are seen as people who can and should be questioned.

Perry's model is a significant contribution to developmental psychology.  UCLA has used his work as the basis for annual surveys of college students throughout the USA.  Every year they come up with a current profile of the gradating seniors based on Perry’s model.  The students have been surveyed over a four year period.

Perry believed that college Freshmen begin college as DUALISTIC STUDENTS and by graduation many achieve MULTIPLICITIC and RELATIVISTIC Thinking.

            In his research, 

            Perry found that most entering college freshmen were at theDualistic level. In this stage, students:

            Exhibit black/white thinking which relies on authority figures to provide
            right answers
            Perceive their intellectual job as to memorize and repeat the correct answer 
            which was given by the authority figure (author, professor, etc.)
            Dislike active or cooperative learning. They are looking for facts and figures, 
            and aren't comfortable with abstract concepts.

            He also found that most graduating seniors only progress to the next broad category,
            Multiplicity. In this level, students:

            -  are more able to accept questions with gray answers, although there is still
               a belief that all answers will eventually be known.
           -   are also starting to use supporting evidence (outside that provided by the
               professor) to support their arguments or assertions.
           -   still are very tolerant of their own pre-conceived notionsand are unwilling to
               challenge themselves or be inclined to look at other points of view.
           A few students reach Relativism stages by graduation. In this stage, students:

          -  understand that knowledge and values depend on context and individual
          -  use evidence to reach and support conclusions in habitual and internalized 
         -   begin to see the need for commitment to a course of action even with gray
             areas – based on critical evaluation and not external authority

         Only rarely do graduating students reach the upper level of development:
         Commitment with Relativism, characterized by individuals who can:
         -  make commitments based on personal values
         -  evaluate the consequences and implications of these commitments
         -  attempt to resolve conflicts and acknowledge that these may never fully be
         -  come to terms with struggle (getting comfortable with the questions)

If you wish to do further reading on this topic, here is the URL for another article.

What are your thoughts about your own cognitive development?
Which stage most describes you? 
In your life, are you aware of others who are at specific stages in their development? 
How do you feel about interacting with someone who is at a different developmental stage?
Could she/he be your friends?  Or, would you draw an invisible line between yourself and them? 
Can people at different developmental stages authentically interact  on a personal basis?
What do you think????

Dr. CW


  1. My cognitive development currently would be considered to be multiplicitic, according to William Perry's survey. I am aware fo others who are at specific stages in their development. I interact with all developmental stages, regardless of differences. I respect a persons growth and realize we don't all learn nor develop as human being exactly the same. Absoulutely, people at different developmental stages can authenically interact on a personal basis. We can learn from people with a higher levels of development. We have something to offer to those of lower levels of development. I am not judgemental. As long as they comprehend and are interested, then we can conversate.

  2. I too feel to be multiplicitic. I am a big fan of new ideals and improving old ones. If I can helpanyone I will, but I am also open to new ideals and concepts. We all are different and tht is what makes the world go round. --That the beauty of it.

  3. I would have to say at this time in my life, I am a division of all three. Having attended college decades ago, going to work, getting married, having a family I was in my initial mind set. Now years later, the loss of a husband, a business, going back to school, I am starting over. When I started my college years, I had graduated high school early, moved out of the house, worked two jobs. That was the way it was. In this day and age, children stay within the family arena. They are unable to support themselves on their own.

  4. Definitely "black and white" for me. Grey areas seem to be for those who are looking for excuses or are in denial of the obvious. Abstract to me, means one can not make up their mind. This may be a little harsh for those creative thinking individuals, but for me it makes sense. What are you "right brain or left brain?" TOny :)