Reduce Psychological Distress Produced by Critical Thinking with Mindfulness

Reduce Psychological Distress Produced by Critical Thinking with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“The most active form of developing critical thinking is through meditation. Meditation makes you exercise control of mind over matter. Your mind becomes an active place for several activities such as: cleansing of mind from rubbish which may lead to wrong actions and decisions; accepting healthy thoughts into the cleansed mind; and letting the good ideas come to work and change the way you think.” – Operation Meditation


We tend to believe that the ability to think critically is a major positive characteristic that should be trained. For intellectual tasks this is probably true. But in the emotional realm, critical thinking might actually be negative and lead to greater emotional distress. Disordered, self-critical, thinking is associated with a variety of mental illnesses. This form of thinking can produce cognitive distortions that consist of dysfunctional reasoning including arbitrary inference, false dichotomy, selective abstraction, and overgeneralization. Mindfulness has been shown to improve thought processes and also the individual’s ability to regulate their emotions. So, mindfulness may counteract the negative emotional consequences of critical thinking.


In today’s Research News article “The Moderating Effect of Mindfulness on the Mediated Relation Between Critical Thinking and Psychological Distress via Cognitive Distortions Among Adolescents.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Su and Shum recruited high school seniors and had them complete measures of anxiety, depression, cognitive distortions, mindfulness, and critical thinking. They then subjected these measures to regression analysis.


They found that the higher the levels of cognitive distortions the higher the levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, and lower levels of mindfulness. In other words, psychological distress (anxiety, depression, and stress) were associated with faulty thinking. They then performed linear structural modelling and found that critical thinking was associated with psychological distress directly and indirectly by being associated with cognitive distortions which is, in turn, is associated with psychological distress. They found that mindfulness moderates the relationship between critical thinking and psychological distress. It does so by being related to lower cognitive distortions and by being related to lower psychological distress.


These results are interesting and suggest that having high critical thinking can lead to distorted thinking that can, in turn, lead to greater anxiety, depression, and stress. This faulty thinking may be related to thinking about the self, being overly critical of the self and thereby producing psychological problems. The results also suggest that mindfulness can to some extent blunt this process by making it less likely that distorted thinking will develop and also by directly reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. Hence, mindfulness may allow for critical thinking without producing psychological distress.


So, reduce psychological distress produced by critical thinking with mindfulness.


The capacity to be mindful is associated with higher well-being in daily life.” – David Creswell


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary


Michael Ronald Su, Kathy Kar-man Shum. The Moderating Effect of Mindfulness on the Mediated Relation Between Critical Thinking and Psychological Distress via Cognitive Distortions Among Adolescents. Front Psychol. 2019; 10: 1455. Published online 2019 Jun 26. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01455



Critical thinking has been widely regarded as an indispensable cognitive skill in the 21st century. However, its associations with the affective aspects of psychological functioning are not well understood. This study explored the interrelations between trait mindfulness, critical thinking, cognitive distortions, and psychological distress using a moderated mediation model. The sample comprised 287 senior secondary school students (57% male and 43% female) aged 14–19 from a local secondary school in Hong Kong. The results revealed that high critical thinking was significantly associated with high levels of psychological distress when mindful awareness was low among adolescents. Trait mindfulness was found to moderate the indirect effects of critical thinking on psychological distress via cognitive distortions as the mediator. Specifically, in low trait mindfulness conditions, critical thinking was found to associate positively with cognitive distortions and psychological distress. Such associations were not observed in high trait mindfulness conditions. The findings reveal that though critical thinking has positive associations with cognitive functioning, its associations with affective well-being might be negative. The results also suggest that mindfulness might play an important role in preventing the possible psychological distress associated with critical thinking. Educational implications relating to the fostering of critical thinking and mindful awareness are discussed.

Think More Critically with Mindfulness


Mindfulness slows things down so we can be more deliberate in our critical thinking process.” – Lalith Gunaratne


“Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.”


Currently, there is a major deficit in critical thinking skills being taught in schools.  Only around 5% of U.S. high school seniors demonstrated the ability to not only comprehend text, but also to analyze and evaluate it. This underscores the need to find ways to improve critical thinking.

Mindfulness, the ability to pay attention in the present moment without judgment, affects our thought processes in mostly positive ways. It has been shown to improve the ability to control our thinking, termed executive function and the extremely important ability to think critically (see Because of this, mindfulness training is being applied in schools to help facilitate learning (see


Because it is such a critical consequence of mindfulness, it is important to further investigate the effects of mindfulness on critical thinking. In today’s Research News article “Does Mindfulness Enhance Critical Thinking? Evidence for the Mediating Effects of Executive Functioning in the Relationship between Mindfulness and Critical Thinking”

Noone and colleagues study the relationship between mindfulness and executive function to explore whether mindfulness may produce its effects on critical thinking as a result of its effects on executive function. They measured mindfulness, critical thinking, and executive function in college students.


They found that the levels of mindfulness of the students were not directly related to critical thinking performance. On the other hand, they found strong relationships between executive function components and critical thinking. In particular, the updating component of executive function was strongly related to critical thinking and the Inhibition component was moderately related. Updating involves the active revision and monitoring of thinking and the continuous updating of working memory. In other words, critical thinking requires the ability to constantly revise thought processes as ideas are analyzed. Inhibition involves the suppression of intrusive thoughts or responses in order to keep attention on the problem at hand. In other words, critical thinking requires the ability to control the interference from irrelevant thinking and thereby concentrating on the problem. Interestingly, mindfulness appeared to have a small relationship with critical thinking. The observing component of mindfulness was positively related to the inhibition component of executive function which is directly facilitative of critical thinking.


At least in the current analysis, mindfulness appears to be indirectly and only mildly related to critical thinking through its observing facet. It appears to do so by improving attention which screens out thoughts that are not pertinent to working on the problem. It allows for better focus and therefore better critical thinking.


So, think more critically with mindfulness.


“Mindfulness practice is the kale to my high-stimulus lifestyle, but man cannot live by kale alone. I’m balancing my diet with the whole three course meal. Mindfulness, Mind Yoga and Introspective Intelligence are all practices to have on our plates.” – Jeremy Sherman


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies