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Reluctance to think: unable or unwilling?

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posted on 2023-05-17, 11:17 authored by Brown, S
Students have started to tell me that they do not want or need to think about science. Those concerned were undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in various biomedical sciences. The thinking expected was entirely normal for science, involving the synthesis of information, problem analysis, calculation, the solution and analysis of practical problems and question development, for example. I have not solicited expressions of reluctance, but I have attempted to elicit more information from those students volunteering them. While this explicit reluctance to think is new to me, there are reports of similar observations [1-3]. Of course, we are all reluctant to think sometimes, but the new willingness of students to express it implies a more profound problem. If education is intended in part to train students how to learn and think for themselves [4], the reluctance of students to practise this compromises the value of education. For those students intending to practise medicine, work as scientists, formulate health policy, teach or engage in any of the many other occupations that might suit biomedical scientists, an ability to think effectively and efficiently is essential [5]. Students must be helped to prevent a reluctance to think becoming a habit. Effective thinking relies on both the ability and the willingness to think [4]. Moreover, the ability to think necessarily implies a recognition of the possibility of error [6], which is relatively uncommon among students. There is a considerable difference between the thought patterns of practising scientists and clinicians and those of students. It takes time for thought and practice to develop the questioning, analysis, pattern matching, deduction and educated guesswork that contribute to thinking [7-9]. This is reinforced by a Xhosa speaking South African student of speech and hearing therapy who wrote "... I fail because I have to learn more than the words of your teaching - I have to give back to you the way you think. This is what you are really testing, this is how you assess my 'intelligence'. You test to see whether I have learnt to think like you yet" [10]. Even if students are willing to think, they may not be as capable as we might hope because they may not have had enough time to develop the necessary thinking skills. The reluctance of students to think prompts at least four questions. These relate to the significance of the reluctance, the reasons for refusing, the consequences of refusing and how we might encourage students to be more willing to think better. I consider each of these in turn.


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Medical Physiology Online










School of Health Sciences


E.S Prakash, Mercer University School of Medicine, 1550 College St, Macon, GA, USA

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