Why Debate? Evidence from research

We harness the power of debate to sharpen three core skills: Critical Thinking, Communication, and Confidence. 

We push our students to be critical thinkers—engaging in clear, skeptical, evidence-driven thinking.

Our students develop communication skills and emotional intelligence—they become persuasive speakers who can articulate their ideas with conviction and clarity.


Most importantly, we foster confidence. The confidence to speak up, to engage, and to challenge ideas.

Critical thinking

Dr. Tony Wagner, a renowned education specialist, Harvard fellow, and author of “The Global Achievement Gap”, underscores the growing importance of critical thinking in the 21st century. He outlines seven critical skills for success in the future, with critical thinking and problem-solving at the top. In a world where information is at our fingertips, the ability to critically evaluate and apply that information is paramount.


Evidence shows debate improves critical thinking skills.

  • Even seventy-five years ago, Professor Winston L. Brembeck found that debaters “significantly outgained the control students in critical thinking scores.”[1]
  • A more recent study found that “debaters’ critical thinking test scores are significantly higher.”[2]
  • A meta-analysis of the best available studies concludes that debate generates significant gains in critical thinking.[3]


At Carnegie Debate, we do not teach critical thinking – we engage in it. There are four defining elements to critical thinking: thinking must be logical, skeptical and evidence-driven, well-reasoned, and free from bias and one-sidedness.[4] This is precisely what we exercise with our debaters:

  • We invite students to stake out a position.
  • Then we ask them to explain their position, and to defend their position against the scrutiny of fellow students and coaches.
  • We push our students to engage in clear, skeptical, evidence-driven thinking.


Communication & Emotional Intelligence


Emotional intelligence (EI) is the bedrock upon which interpersonal relationships are built and sustained. As Daniel Goleman articulates in his seminal work “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” (1995), EI is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions as well as recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others.

  • Goleman and a host of subsequent researchers have amassed a wealth of evidence suggesting that emotional intelligence is a vital predictor of numerous important outcomes in life, ranging from academic achievement and job performance to mental health and friendships.
  • Children with higher emotional intelligence tend to perform better in school.[5]
  • Children with high EI have an improved ability to focus, can handle stress better, and have superior problem-solving skills.


Debate exercises emotional intelligence. At Carnegie Debate, our debaters are trying to convince each other and their coaches—thus competitively exercising their ability to recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others.

  • Studies show debaters are “significantly better at employing the three communication skills (analysis, delivery, and organization).”[6]
  • Research suggests critical thinking skills acquired at a young age contribute significantly to social and emotional intelligence.[7] This is because critical thinking promotes openness, curiosity, understanding, and empathy—all key facets of emotional intelligence.




A confident child is more likely to engage in learning, take on challenges, and persevere in the face of adversity. Debate gives children the conviction that their voices matter.

  • Renowned Professor Cori Dauber from UNC-Chapel Hill emphasizes that debate nurtures a profound sense of confidence in a child’s intellectual capacities and decision-making prowess.[8]
  • As Melinda Fine, an independent evaluator at the Open Society Institute, has written, debaters “feel they have something useful to say, and because they feel more articulate in saying it.

[1] Brembeck, W. L. 1949. The effects of a course in argumentation on critical thinking ability. SPeech Monographs, 16, 177-189.

[2] Colbert, K. 1987. The effects of CEDA and NDT debate training on critical thinking ability. Journal of the American Forensic  Association, 23, 194-201.

[3] Allen, Mike, Sandra Berkowitz, Steve Hunt, and Allan Louden. “A meta‐analysis of the impact of forensics and communication education on critical thinking.” Communication Education 48, no. 1 (1999): 18-30. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03634529909379149

[4] Garside, C. (196). Look who’s talking: A comparison of lecture and group discussion teaching strategies in developing critical thinking skills. Communication Education, 45, 212-27.

[5] Professor Maurice Elias in his book “Emotionally Intelligent Parenting”,

[6] Semlak, W. D. & Shields, D. 1977. The effect of debate training on students participation in the bicentennial youth debates. Journal of American Forensic Association, 13, 194-196.

[7] in “The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education” (Davies & Barnett, 2015)

[8] Dauber, C. 1989. Debate as empowerment. Journal of the American Foresnic Association, 25, 205-207.