What is Concrete and Abstract Thinking?

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Using different types of thinking can help you solve problems by inviting you to make sense of the world around you by grasping both abstract and concrete ideas. Find out more about concrete thinking.

 

Concrete Thinking Definition

Concrete thinking is a type of thinking that is more literal and involves the physical world rather than analogies, idioms, and deeper inferences. Children learn concrete thinking before abstract thinking in early cognition. They learn to associate voices with specific people, sounds with specific toys, and smells with specific foods, for example.

As children grow older, they begin to develop more complex, abstract thinking. A concrete thinker, for example, might notice someone has a frowning facial expression and their shoulders are close to their ears when reading someone's body language. Someone using abstract reasoning, on the other hand, might notice that this person's physical posture demonstrated a lack of comfort and possibly depression symptoms.

 

What Is Abstract Thinking?

Abstract thinking is a type of thinking in which theoretical concepts are processed. Abstract thinking skills enable people to be creative, problem solve, and ruminate on complex issues.

Abstract reasoning develops during childhood and can instill critical thinking and decision-making skills that last a lifetime. Reading stories, learning new ideas, and comprehending "the big picture" all require abstract thinking. Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, claimed that young children develop abstract reasoning skills as part of their final stage of cognitive development, which begins around the age of twelve.

Brain injuries, autism spectrum disorder, and mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and dementia can make practicing abstract thinking strategies more difficult.

 

Abstract Thinking vs. Concrete Thinking

The approaches of abstract and concrete thinkers are diametrically opposed. Abstract reasoning skills revolve around the intangible—thoughts, ideas, and symbols—in order to gain a better understanding of the bigger picture (anthropological, economic, and political) behind events and actions. Concrete reasoning is a different type of thinking that involves physical objects that a person can experience through the five senses—smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight.

A concrete way of interpreting US American realist painter Andrew Wyeth's masterwork Christina's World (1948) would be to note the central woman, her pink dress, and a house in the distance. Abstract thinking abilities would reveal the work's deeper meanings: how the tawny colors represent loss, how the tableau evokes longing, and how Wyeth's model for the painting suffers from physical impairments, reflecting life's difficulties.

 

3 Concrete Thinking Examples

Thinking literally is part of the concrete thinking process. You might consider this in more detail if:

1. You have difficulty empathizing with the emotions of others. The inability to empathize with others is one sign of concrete thinking. If you lack social skills and find it difficult to understand social cues and body language, you may be a concrete thinker.

2. You only see physical characteristics. Concrete thinking is only concerned with the physical. A concrete thinker would describe a sofa as boxy and brown if they went to a furniture store to buy one. A more abstract thinker would consider how that couch fits in with the rest of the décor in the home, as well as what mood it suggests based on its upholstery and styling.

3. You take idioms literally. Concrete thinking is synonymous with literal thinking. Certain idioms may be difficult to understand for people who prefer concrete thinking. idioms. For example, if someone says "turn over a new leaf," it does not imply that you should go outside, find a leaf, and flip it over. Instead, the idiom means to change your perspective or lifestyle in order to better yourself.

 

How Concrete Thinking Can Hold You Back

Concrete thinking aids in the definition of key physical characteristics. Concrete thinking allows you to associate certain people with specific colors and styles (based on their clothing), just as you can associate certain bands with specific music genres. Taking only these sensory elements into consideration, on the other hand, can be limiting.

Only discussing the concrete aspects of a project at work will come across as blunt and short-sighted. Abstract thinking broadens group dynamics and encourages collaboration, creativity, and new points of view.

A shoe company, for example, may make the concrete observation that black shoes sell better in the winter and yellow shoes sell better in the summer. Snow and precipitation make it easier to sell black shoes in the darker winter months because stains don't show as easily, whereas bright and summery months invite shoes that reflect the look of the sun. This speculative observation could aid the company in developing seasonal lines and color-coordinated styles to influence shoppers' purchasing habits.

 

How to Become an Abstract Thinker

Though more philosophical concepts can be honed in adulthood, the development of abstract thinking begins around adolescence. Consider the following strategies for abstract thinking:

Recognize patterns. Abstract thinking is concerned with the big picture. Consider whether you have seen a similar situation in your life when solving a problem at work. Connecting patterns is an excellent method for locating solutions.

Pay attention to movies. Determine the overall tone using details from cinematic storytelling. Each shot in a film is a meticulously rendered tableau full of color, lighting, and focus. Consider how filmmakers employ these tools and techniques to create atmosphere.

Talk to people. Learning about other people's points of view is an excellent way to develop empathy and abstract thinking skills.

Make use of metaphors. One way to practice abstract thinking is to speak and write in metaphors and analogies. Figurative language bridges the gap between concrete objects and abstract concepts.

Go to a museum. Getting involved in the arts is a great way to develop your abstract thinking skills. Visit a museum and examine the composition of an artwork. Begin with the concrete or familiar thinking style: consider the colors, the thickness of the brushstrokes, and the direction of light in the painting. Then consider the painting's mood or tone. Perhaps the image tells a story; consider how all of the physical elements at work contribute to the overall sensation of the work.

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