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Abstract Thinking vs Concrete Thinking: Unleash Your Brainpower

Abstract thinking vs concrete thinking: Ever wondered why some people seem to have a knack for imaginative thinking, while others excel at making quick, practical decisions?

These differences often boil down to whether a person leans more towards abstract or concrete thinking, two distinct types of thinking abilities that affect how we process information, make sense of concepts, and solve problems.

This article will explore these two distinct cognitive styles, their connection to fluid intelligence, and how they can be developed even in adulthood.

We’ll also delve into their practical applications in everyday life, from enhancing communication to boosting problem-solving and creativity.

So, let’s embark on this enlightening journey into the realms of abstract and concrete thinking!

Table of Contents

Abstract Thinking vs Concrete Thinking: Definitions

Defining abstract thinking

Abstract thinking is a skill that involves the ability to think about concepts, ideas, and theories that are not physically present or visible.

It requires imagination, creativity, and intuition to understand complex concepts, which can be further enhanced through philosophy.

Abstract thinkers can see connections between different ideas and make concrete distinctions between abstract concepts and concrete objects.

Defining concrete thinking

Concrete thinking is the skill of individuals to think about things that are physically present or visible.

It involves using facts, observations, and experiences to understand the world around us.

Concrete thinkers rely on what they can see, touch, hear, smell or taste in order to make sense of their surroundings.

The meaning behind “abstract” and “concrete”

The terms “abstract” and “concrete” refer to how we perceive information:

  • Abstract information refers to ideas that cannot be seen or touched, while
  • concrete information refers to things that can be observed through our senses.

These concepts are important for developing higher order thinking and different thinking styles, as they require different levels of thinking to process and understand.

Examples to help understand each type of thinking

  • Abstract thinking examples:
    • Understanding mathematical equations without physical objects.
    • Interpreting a piece of art without any context.
    • Developing a new theory based on existing research.
  • Concrete thinking examples:
    • Identifying colors by looking at them.
    • Following a recipe step-by-step.
    • Describing the shape and texture of an object.

Development of Abstract Thinking and Fluid Intelligence

Abstract and concrete thinking are fundamental concepts in cognitive development. They represent different ways in which we understand, interpret, and interact with the world around us.

Jean Piaget and His Philosophy of Child Development

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist known for his work on child development. Piaget’s theory of cognitive development suggests that children move through four different stages of mental development.

His focus was on the development of the children’s intellectual organization and how they adapt to the world around them.

These stages are:

  • Sensorimotor Stage (Birth to 2 years): Children learn about the world through their senses and actions. They develop object permanence, understanding that things continue to exist even when they can’t be seen.
  • Preoperational Stage (2 to 7 years): Children begin to think symbolically but are still very concrete in their thinking. They struggle with understanding the viewpoints of others.
  • Concrete Operational Stage (7 to 11 years): Children start to think logically about concrete events. They understand the concept of conservation, that quantity doesn’t change with changes in shape or arrangement.
  • Formal Operational Stage (12 years and up): This is when abstract thinking begins. Children can think about hypothetical scenarios and reason deductively.

Fluid Intelligence

Fluid intelligence refers to the ability to think and reason abstractly and solve problems.

This ability is considered independent of learning, experience, and education. It’s about being able to think on your feet, solve new problems, and identify patterns.

In terms of abstract and concrete thinking, fluid intelligence is closely tied to abstract thinking as it involves the ability to understand and process complex information and situations.

Developing Abstract and Concrete Thinking as an Adult

It is possible to cultivate both abstract and concrete thinking later in life. Our brains are capable of neuroplasticity, which is the ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience.

This means that with practice and targeted cognitive exercises, adults can improve their thinking skills, including both abstract and concrete thinking.

Here are some strategies to enhance abstract and concrete thinking skills:

  1. Engage in Problem-Solving Activities: Participating in activities that require problem-solving can help improve abstract thinking. This could include puzzles, strategy games, or real-world scenarios that require strategic planning.
  2. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness exercises can help improve concrete thinking by encouraging individuals to focus on the present moment and the specifics of their current environment.
  3. Continual Learning: Engaging in lifelong learning, such as reading, taking courses, or learning new skills, can help stimulate the brain and improve both types of thinking.
  4. Creative Activities: Engaging in creative activities such as painting, writing, or playing a musical instrument can help to stimulate abstract thinking.
  5. Physical Exercise: Regular physical exercise is not only good for the body, but it’s also beneficial for the brain. It can enhance cognitive functions and promote neuroplasticity.

Remember, it’s never too late to improve cognitive skills. With consistent practice and the right activities, you can enhance both your abstract and concrete thinking abilities.

Importance of Understanding Abstract vs Concrete Thinking in Daily Life

Communication Improvement

Understanding abstract thinking versus concrete thinking is essential for improving communication.

People have different ways of interpreting the world around them, and recognizing these differences can help you communicate better with others.

Abstract thinkers tend to focus on emotions and meanings, while concrete thinkers rely more on their senses and body language.

By understanding these differences, you can adjust your communication style to better suit the person you are talking to.

Philosophy can help us understand the reasoning behind these differences, and being mindful of our own biases can help us approach conversations with an open front.

Impact on Problem-Solving Skills

Abstract thinking, a philosophy that involves thinking beyond what one sees or hears, plays a crucial role in problem-solving skills.

Thinking in abstract terms allows individuals to open up new possibilities for solutions and consider all aspects of a problem before coming up with possible solutions.

On the other hand, concrete thinking often leads to a limited perspective on problems. When faced with a complex issue, abstract thinkers will use their philosophy to think beyond the surface level.

Enhancing Creativity through Abstract or Concrete Thinking

Both abstract and concrete thinking can enhance creativity in different ways:

  • Abstract thinkers, in philosophy, tend to be more creative. They can imagine things that do not yet exist and come up with unconventional solutions to problems. The ability to think in abstract terms is a great help to enhance creativity.
  • Concrete thinkers, on the other hand, tend to have a different thinking style compared to those with abstract thinking skills. They excel at creating structures, systems, and designs that are functional and aesthetically pleasing, showcasing their level thinking and unique thinking patterns.

Making Better Decisions by Recognizing Which Type of Thinking is Needed

Recognizing which type of thinking is needed for a particular situation is crucial for making better decisions.

  • For example, if you need to solve a complex problem that requires innovative solutions, or you’re dealing with ideas or concepts, abstract thinking may be more effective than concrete thinking.
  • On the other hand, if you need to make a decision based on facts and data analysis rather than intuition or feelings, then concrete thinking may be more appropriate.

Examples of Abstract and Concrete Thinking

Concrete and abstract thinking examples in real life

Abstract thinking involves conceptualizing ideas, theories, and principles, while concrete thinking involves focusing on tangible objects and experiences.

Here are some real-life examples to help you understand the difference:

  • Abstract Thinking: A scientist developing a new theory about the origins of the universe.
  • Concrete Thinking: A construction worker building a house.
  • Abstract Thinking: An artist creating an abstract painting.
  • Concrete Thinking: A child drawing a picture of their family.
  • Abstract Thinking: An author writing a novel exploring complex themes.
  • Concrete Thinking: A journalist reporting on current events.

Concrete and abstract thinking activities and scenarios

Abstract and concrete thinking are both useful in different scenarios. Here are some examples:

  • In education:
    • Abstract thinking is often used when teaching advanced concepts such as algebra or philosophy.
    • Meanwhile, concrete thinking is used to teach basic skills like reading and counting.
  • In business:
    • Abstract thinking may be necessary for developing long-term strategies or creating innovative products.
    • On the other hand, concrete thinking is important for executing day-to-day tasks and managing operations.
  • In art:
    • Abstract thinking can lead to unique expressions of creativity that challenge traditional norms.
    • Conversely, concrete thinking can produce more realistic depictions of the world around us.

How to identify whether someone is using abstract or concrete thinking

Identifying whether someone is using abstract or concrete thinking can be challenging but here are some ways to tell:

  • Listen carefully to how they talk about their ideas: If they use lots of metaphors and analogies, they may be engaging in abstract thought, indicating a higher level thinking. On the other hand, if they express their thoughts in a straightforward manner, it may indicate strong concrete thinking skills.
  • Pay attention to how much detail they provide when describing things: People who focus on specific details may be engaged in concrete thought.
  • Observe how they approach problem-solving: Those who prefer logical reasoning over intuition may lean towards abstract thought while those who rely on hands-on experience often use concrete thinking.

Difference Between Abstract and Concrete Thinking

Key Differences between Both Types

Abstract thinking and concrete thinking are two distinct forms of cognitive processing that differ in how they perceive, interpret, and understand information.

Concrete thinking is focused on the present reality, while abstract thinking involves conceptualizing ideas beyond the immediate environment.

Concrete thinkers tend to focus on specific details or facts without considering their broader context. They rely heavily on sensory information to make sense of the world around them.

In contrast, abstract thinkers can see connections between seemingly unrelated concepts and ideas.

How They Approach Problems Differently

When faced with a problem, concrete thinkers tend to use trial-and-error methods to find solutions. They may rely on past experiences or established rules to guide their decision-making process.

On the other hand, abstract thinkers are more likely to use creative problem-solving strategies that involve generating new ideas and exploring multiple possibilities.

Their Impact on Decision-Making Processes

The way we think impacts our decision-making processes in significant ways.

Concrete thinkers often make decisions based on what they know from past experiences or established rules.

Concrete thinking can be helpful in situations where there is a clear right or wrong answer.

However, concrete thinking may not be as effective when dealing with complex problems that require innovative solutions.

Having the ability to entertain abstract concepts enables you to expand your thinking beyond the limitations of what is known and provide new perspectives for problem-solving.

Abstract thinkers, with their ability to generate new ideas and explore multiple possibilities, are better suited for tackling complex problems that have no clear-cut answers.

However, this type of thinking can also lead to indecisiveness if not managed correctly.

Why It’s Important to Recognize Which Type You’re Using

Understanding whether you tend towards abstract or concrete thinking can help you make better decisions in your personal and professional life.

If you’re someone who tends towards concrete thinking but needs to solve complex problems regularly at work, you may need to develop your abstract reasoning skills further.

On the other hand, if you’re an abstract thinker who struggles with making decisions quickly or has difficulty following established rules, you may need to work on developing your concrete thinking skills.

Signs You Might Be a Concrete Thinker or an Abstract Thinker

Identifying Your Thinking Style

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to have a better grasp of abstract concepts while others are more grounded in reality? It all comes down to the way we think.

Some people tend to think in concrete terms, while others prefer abstract thinking. Here are some signs that indicate which category you might fall into:

Concrete Thinkers

  • You rely heavily on your senses and perceive things as they are.
  • You prefer facts over theories.
  • You enjoy hands-on activities that involve physical objects.
  • You find it difficult to understand complex ideas without concrete examples.

Abstract Thinkers

  • You enjoy contemplating theoretical concepts and exploring possibilities.
  • You prefer ideas over facts.
  • You excel at problem-solving and critical thinking tasks.
  • You can easily understand complex ideas without concrete examples.

Recognizing Differences in Thought Patterns

Concrete and abstract thinkers differ in their thought processes.

While concrete thinkers focus on what they can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, abstract thinkers delve deeper into the meaning behind these experiences.

This difference in perspective can lead to misunderstandings and communication breakdowns between the two types of thinkers.

If you’re a concrete thinker, you may find it challenging to understand the motivations behind other people’s actions or see things from multiple perspectives.

On the other hand, if you’re an abstract thinker, you may struggle with practical tasks that require attention to detail.

Understanding How Your Thinking Style Affects Your Daily Life

Your preferred way of processing information affects how you approach various aspects of your daily life. For instance:


  • Concrete thinkers tend to excel at jobs that require practical skills such as carpentry or plumbing.
  • Abstract thinkers thrive in fields like science or engineering that demand analytical thinking.


  • Concrete thinkers may struggle with empathizing with others’ emotions or understanding social cues, where abstract thinkers don’t.

Practical Applications of Abstract and Concrete Thinking in Different Scenarios

Applying each type in various situations

Abstract thinking involves generating ideas that are not based on physical reality or concrete evidence. It is a creative way of thinking that allows someone to see things from different perspectives, come up with new solutions, and think outside the box.

On the other hand, concrete thinking focuses on tangible objects and experiences that can be seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled. It is a practical way of thinking that relies on facts and evidence.

In work scenarios, abstract thinkers are often sought after for their ability to generate innovative ideas and solve complex problems creatively.

For example, in marketing campaigns where new ways of presenting products are needed to catch consumers’ attention or when developing new software programs where unique features need to be added to stand out from competitors.

In school settings, abstract thinking is essential for students who need to understand concepts beyond what they can see or touch.

For instance, when learning about mathematical equations or scientific theories that require imagination and creativity.

In personal life situations such as planning events or deciding how to spend time with family members or friends; abstract thinkers tend to excel because they can come up with different ways of doing things than just sticking to traditional methods.

Recognizing when to use one over the other for optimal results

Knowing when to switch between abstract and concrete thinking is crucial for optimal results in different scenarios.

In some instances such as dealing with mental health conditions like anxiety disorders where focusing on tangible objects can help calm someone down; concrete thinking may be more effective than abstract thinking.

On the other hand, if someone is facing a problem that requires creative solutions such as developing an innovative product idea; then abstract thinking would be more useful than concrete thinking.

Case study: Use abstract thinking to make decisions when you’re feeling low

A study was done about how the way we think can affect our decision-making, especially for people who are feeling down or depressed.

The researchers wanted to see if thinking in an abstract way (like focusing on the big picture or the reasons behind things) or in a concrete way (like focusing on the details or the steps needed to do something) would make a difference.

They found that people who were feeling down tended to think more in an abstract way when they were trying to make decisions resulting in a harder time making decisions and feeling worse about the decisions they made.

On the other hand, when these people were encouraged to think in a more concrete way, they didn’t have as much trouble making decisions.

So, the takeaway is that if you’re feeling down and having a hard time making decisions, it might help to try focusing on the details and steps you need to take, and practice concrete thinking, rather than getting caught up in the big picture or the reasons behind things (abstract thinking).

Benefits that come with being able to switch between both types depending on circumstances

Being able to switch between both types of thinking depending on circumstances has several benefits.

Balancing Abstract and Concrete Thinking for Optimal Decision-Making

In conclusion, understanding the differences between abstract and concrete thinking is crucial for optimal decision-making in daily life.

While concrete thinkers tend to focus on the present moment and tangible details, abstract thinkers are more inclined towards conceptualizing ideas and envisioning future possibilities.

It is important to strike a balance between these two types of thinking to make informed decisions that take into account both short-term realities and long-term goals.

By recognizing your own thinking style and being open to different perspectives, you can improve your problem-solving skills and achieve better outcomes.

Examples of practical applications of abstract and concrete thinking include:

  • brainstorming sessions where both types of thinkers can contribute unique insights,
  • strategic planning that considers both immediate needs and future possibilities, and
  • creative endeavors that require a blend of imagination and attention to detail.

To optimize your decision-making process, it is essential to be aware of your thinking tendencies, recognize the strengths of each type of thinking, and seek out diverse perspectives.

As such, you can make more informed choices that align with your goals while also considering the bigger picture.

FAQs on Abstract Thinking vs Concrete Thinking

Q: Can I train myself to become an abstract thinker?

A: Yes! While some people may have a natural inclination towards one type of thinking over another, it is possible to develop skills in both areas through practice.

Engaging in activities like brainstorming exercises or creative writing prompts can help stimulate abstract thinking abilities.

Q: Is one type of thinking better than the other?

A: Neither type of thinking is inherently better than the other – they simply serve different purposes.

Depending on the situation at hand, either type of thinker may be better suited for making decisions or solving problems.

Q: How do I know if I am a concrete or abstract thinker?

A: Some signs that you may be a concrete thinker include a preference for hands-on learning experiences or difficulty grasping theoretical concepts.

On the other hand, abstract thinkers may enjoy brainstorming sessions or have a talent for envisioning future possibilities.

Q: Can a team benefit from having both concrete and abstract thinkers?

A: Absolutely! By combining different thinking styles, teams can approach problems from multiple angles and come up with more creative solutions.

Concrete thinkers can provide practical insights while abstract thinkers can offer new perspectives and ideas.

Q: How can I improve my decision-making skills?

A: In addition to being aware of your thinking style and seeking out diverse perspectives, practicing mindfulness and considering the potential consequences of each option can help improve decision-making skills.

Seeking feedback from others can provide valuable insights that you may not have considered on your own.

About the Author

Jane "Cosmic" Campbell, is the heart and soul of Imperfect Spirituality.

She's been through the spiritual wringer and came out the other side with a degree in Spiritual Psychology and a mission to help others navigate their spiritual journey without getting lost in the cosmic sauce.