We are obsessed with data, a physical context we can use to determine a result, right? When I say data, what comes to mind is patterns, numbers, and whatnot but is that all we need to base our thoughts on?
There’s a difference between gathering data and understanding it. This can also be described as a difference between concrete and abstract thinking/reasoning.
Abstract thinking is when we understand that some concepts are real such as love, growth, and freedom but these concepts are not tied to the concrete or even physical world – object or experience.
In this blog, I’ll help you understand what abstract thinking is from a psychology perspective, how it affects our thinking process, how it impacts our life, and how you can improve your abstract thinking skills!
What Is Abstract Thinking?
Abstract thinking involves the ability to think with concepts that are real but lack concrete experiences. Abstract thinking in psychology is considered a type of high-order thinking that is more complicated than other types of thinking that are centered around information based on data and facts.
Abstract thoughts revolve around ideas and principles that are often figurative or philosophical.
Abstract thinking examples can include concepts such as:
While we understand that these concepts are real, they are not concrete that you can experience directly.
Read: Super Thinking Ideas For Brain Toolbox
Abstract v/s Concrete Thinking?
Abstract thinking is the opposite of concrete thinking. Concrete thinking is when you can tie certain experiences to something you can directly observe. A good example of concrete thinking can be:
If you organize an online event, then a concrete thinker will focus on the exact methods that have been used and proven to be effective.
Abstract thinking involves thinking about the bigger picture, looking at the deeper meaning, the different possibilities, etc. They are quick to associate with metaphors and subtext. A good example of abstract thinking can be: (Taking the same example as above)
An abstract thinker would be more interested in what the same methods say about basic human nature and how they can apply those methods to all aspects of human interaction in their business to create connections and inspire others.
Is Abstract Thinking Developed?
Jean Piaget, a developmental psychologist, argued that children develop abstract thinking during the last stage of their development, also known as the formal operational stage (11-16 years).
Although, many gifted children develop abstract thinking way before the last stage. Other psychologists argue that this reasoning skill is not a part of the natural developmental stage but a result of cultural exposure, life experiences, and teachings.
Around this age, children also develop abilities such as putting themselves in others’ shoes or simply put, empathy. Empathy is an abstract thinking skill.
How We Use Abstract Thinking In Our Daily Life?
Abstract thinking is the skill that helps you think critically and solve problems. It is the thinking skill that helps us form unique, out-of-the-box solutions to certain problems.
Abstract thinking can be used in different ways in various aspects of your life. I’m sure, you unknowingly use abstract thinking in most of your daily life. How? Here are some examples:
When you use a metaphor to describe something
When you use a figurative language
When you think out-of-the-box for a solution
When you notice patterns
When you come up with a theory
When you think about something from a different point of view
Abstract thinking plays a huge role in the actions we take. While concrete thinkers avoid risks, abstract thinkers are more likely to take a risk.
What Is The Impact Of Abstract Thinking?
Abstract thinkers score well on IQ tests as this type of thinking is related to creative thinking and critical thinking. Abstract thinkers are more likely to score well on subjects such as arts, writing, and other related areas.
Keep in mind that this type of thinking can have its pros and cons too. Abstract thinking can cause thinking problems such as:
Cognitive Bias: You may seek out patterns that may or may not exist.
Catastrophic Thinking: You may struggle with feelings of fear and think about the worst possible scenario.
Rumination: You may also struggle with overthinking that may cause depression, anxiety. Abstract thoughts are even related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mental Health & Abstract Thinking
If you or someone you know is struggling with a learning disability or mental health disorders, then your abstract thinking skills can be affected. Disorders that are associated with abstract thinking are:
Traumatic Brain Injury
Tips To Improve Abstract Thinking
Psychologists may argue that abstract thinking skills are naturally developed while others may argue that this thinking skill can be nurtured. While some people may be born with this kind of thinking skill, there are still some practices you can use to strengthen your abstract thinking skills.
Some tips to improve your abstract thinking skills:
Think Why, Not Just How: Instead of focusing on just the hows or the meaning of your goal, think about the reasons why your goal is important or what will happen when you reach your goal.
Reframe Your Thoughts: When you’re faced with a problem, think about a unique way to solve the problem. How would your partner approach the problem? Can you figure out an easier way to solve the problem? Think differently!
Focus On The Big Picture: Instead of focusing on specific outcomes, try taking a look at the bigger picture. Focus less on the little details and more on how it relates to other goals or fits into the larger outcome.
Read: How Cognitive Reframing Helps In Stress Management
Abstract thinking helps us think about the patterns, themes, and problems with creativity. While there are people who are naturally good at abstract thinking, it is a skill you can develop and nurture with practice.
Concrete thinking and abstract thinking are both needed to solve problems, set goals, and find success in life. Both have their pros and cons, though. Maintaining a healthy balance between concrete thinking and abstract thinking is important to maintain healthy mental functioning.
I hope this article helped you understand what abstract thinking is, how we use it in our daily life, what impact it has on our mental capacity, and how you can improve your abstract thinking skills.
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