What is abstract thinking and how to develop it

Surely you know people who find unconventional solutions and gush with ideas? These characteristics are typical for people with developed visual-abstract thinking. It is what helps in solving practical and creative problems. Experts say that cumulative skills acquired in childhood help you always find ideas and unconventional solutions. To understand this type of thinking activity and find ways to develop abilities will help our material.

What is abstract thinking and what is it used for?

What are its peculiarities??

Definition of abstractio (Latin. “abstraction”, “extraction”) reflects the essence of a concept and is a separate philosophical category. It is a human cognitive activity to investigate individual objects and the world with general reasoning based on concrete facts. It relies on abstract concepts and allows you to draw conclusions on a common feature. Stimulates interest and self-development, curiosity, speed of thinking. It allows you to engage in different activities, draw parallels, and draw conclusions from knowledge and experience.

The ability to abstract from conventions and particulars implies:

  1. The mental abstraction of details to isolate basic and patterned features;

  2. The ability to explain events logically using metaphors and comparisons;

  3. Finding the relationship between them;

  4. Search for new ideas/solutions.

When they talk about creative people, they often use the phrase: “he thinks in abstract categories”. Understood as high cognitive intelligence, based on abstract concepts, judgment, and inference. When presenting material, one does not adhere to a rational system of information processing, relying on symbols and visual images without describing details. Because of the lack of concretization, the meaning of what is said is more accurately understood in the context of.

Distinguishing types of thinking

The abstract helps one to abstract away from the secondary things and concentrate on the essential. Everyone unknowingly resorts to this method every day and more than once. What do you think about when you look at the sky?? About the composition of the atmosphere of alternating layers of gases or only the word “sky” comes to mind? The brain sweeps away unnecessary details by generalization, does not convey details, but gives out processed information through objectification, conceptualization of images and objectification.

If the expression “clouds” comes to mind, a complex construction comes to mind. In this case, the brain not only used generalization, but concretized the description of the phenomenon. It is a natural process for him, requiring no energy expenditure. In contrast, the concrete type of thinking is conditioned by logical considerations, operates exclusively with facts, and excludes other versions.

High-order abstractions

The sky example demonstrates the typical abstraction from cognition of unimportant features and fixation only of significant characteristics. The concept has two overlapping meanings: process definition and abstract concept formation. It allows one to consider events from different angles in a meaningful way, to find unconventional solutions and ideas. An illustration is the pranks of Winnie the Pooh when he was trying to get honey out of the hollow tree.

A thinking category is related to formal logic and mathematics. If people could not think comprehensively and use symbolic images, they could hardly create masterpieces in art, invent letters and numbers. Mathematical step-by-step calculations in the mind are possible only after playing with images. Adding and summarizing specific signs has become a tool for conveying specific descriptive and numerical information.

And they generalize not only the objects, but also the abstractions themselves. They are used in the fundamental and exact sciences to describe complex definitions and patterns. In order to explain the event/ essence, a person resorts to analogies and metaphors.It is not for nothing that AM is associated with internal dialogue and eloquence. Words:

  1. reflect subjective perceptions and meaning;

  2. Help build logical stories;

  3. Give images form and action.

From simple abstraction to higher form, the brain goes through several steps, and sometimes the explanation is difficult to grasp. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to listen to philosophy lectures.

Types of form of consciousness

In psychology, the category is systematized into 6 groups with conditional definitions. Depending on the purpose, one distinguishes between a substantive form and a formal form. The first involves isolating the particular through the general, as in the example of the sky. The second is more complex and clarifying, as in the case of clouds.Formal highlights details in the description that do not exist in themselves (color), serves as a basis for reflection. It includes:

  1. Idealizing view. The desire to fit phenomena and events to standards: “perfect figure,” “impeccable style,” “pure environmental product”.

  2. Isolating or analytical with abstraction from characterization and objectification.

  3. Primitive-sensory to isolate secondary information.

  4. Constructivizing to give clear contours and shapes to abstract things.

  5. Generalizing, allowing one to judge an object/ phenomenon by characteristics.

The abstraction of actual infinity occupies a separate place, since it is impossible to observe. It is an abstract concept from speculative arguments to create a coherent picture, to explain the idea of infinity and incompleteness of evolution.

What AM is necessary for?

What is abstract thinking and what is it used for?

There is a concept of abstract painting in art. Plots are far from realistic depictions. With the help of colors, shapes, the dynamics of the plot, the paintings evoke emotions, a sense of the completeness of the composition. Stories, theatrical set pieces, and games can be abstract. Visualization and thinking are necessary for designers, people in other professions working with objects in space.

  1. An engineer or architect first visualizes an object, then develops a drawing.

  2. The geophysicist clearly imagines the process of formation of the Earth’s crust.

  3. The neurosurgeon uses visualization to model the stages of surgery and give a general prognosis.

No one knows exactly what the planets look like. Based on writers’ imagination, astronomical and generalized information from space, people create stories. You don’t have to touch ice to know how cold it is. Every experience refers to a form of abstract thinking.

Study tools

The mind has at its disposal a mass of information obtained by smell, touch, hearing, tactile sensations, the study of disciplines. The brain processes it and stores it as “files” or clusters on which abstractions. On the basis of notions, judgments, conclusions they help to conceptually perceive reality.To get in-depth knowledge about the subject other ways are used.

  1. Analysis. It is a conditional division of the subject of study into parts with local investigation of the components.

  2. Synthesis is an inverse process with the integration of parts into a whole to make a picture.

  3. Systematization – assigning concepts/properties/attributes to classes.

  4. Comparison or comparative analysis to identify differences and similarities.

  5. Analogy with the transfer of properties to a comparative object.

Forms of speculative thinking


The verbalized result of a logical analysis looking for common properties and features of similar objects. They may differ in purpose, but belong to the same group: duplex, cottage, townhouse. Machines come in different sizes but share common design characteristics. When concepts overlap, a contextual situation emerges. Example of overlap in conceptual parts: children playing volleyball; children playing soccer.


It is a true/false, simple/complex statement about a subject and the relationships between features. To use information for thinking and logical operations, truthfulness is important. Determine the difference between “The birds are singing” and “The birds are singing because it’s warm.”. Both phrases are true, but the second one is more specific and expanded.


The way of obtaining knowledge from known facts. If there are two judgments, use syllogisms. For example: machines are machines; machines need fuel to work. Conclusion: All cars run on fuel. A person can obtain information indirectly, making inductive and deductive inferences from judgmental assumptions. Logical structures have clear frameworks that eliminate errors and help structure information.


It is the absence of a connection to the object. Example with an apple. “The fruit is on the table, but I didn’t put it there. In addition to me, there is another person here. So this is his work. By the method of unsophisticated inference a conclusion is drawn about the actions of another character. In this case, the apple is the object of attention for obtaining information by the abstract method.


Allow for abstraction and no need to concentrate on unimportant facts when acquiring new knowledge. It does not matter when or with what hand the person put the apple. Summarizing facts helps discard secondary information when solving a multi-step problem that does not make sense in context.

Stages of Thinking

Children are constantly immersed in an imaginary world. They make up role-playing games, talk to toys, make up stories on the fly. Abstract thinking begins to actively develop in children in their third year of life, but first attempts appear when they begin to perceive visual images, distinguish mother’s voice. Neurophysiologists have found that the areas of the brain responsible for visualization and spatial thinking are activated at 4 months of age, and it peaks by age 15.Psychologists distinguish three stages:

  1. Direct. Initially the brain perceives concrete information. Babies react to a bottle with milk, bright toys, mom.

  2. Figurative. The emergence of the first images stimulates the imagination. Baby learns to compare, summarize, and organize information.

  3. Abstract. Entering the next stage of development, based on their own perceptions, are able to think more broadly. Based on hypothetical reasoning and conceptual thinking, concrete-imaginative representations create their pictures of the world.

How to Develop the Thinking Process?

What is abstract thinking and what is it used for?

Special programs have been developed to develop visual-spatial thinking. Parents can do activities with their children themselves, offering imagination and logic exercises. At an early age, drawing, stacking cubes, educational games, inventing fairy tales are enough. At this age, it is important to teach your child to form extended sentences.Before School Together:

  1. Solve puzzles;

  2. look at optical illusions;

  3. Improvise with role-playing games;

  4. Put on home plays;

  5. Get your child involved in arts and crafts.

Play with words. The development of the mind is stimulated by metaphors and comparisons. Invite your child to name objects differently. Look for associations that reinforce connections between concepts and objects, build long chains: home → warmth → family → joy → mom and dad.

Organize shadow theater. Light a lamp by the wall, show figures in the cast shadow. Ask your toddler to guess characters and comment. Cut out animal outlines from paper and suggest looking for familiar characters. At school, developed cognitive intelligence will help you understand geometry and science, and think outside the box.

Assignments for parents

To expand the mental range and creativity, parents can train themselves. Mental techniques can help. Close your eyes and recall the people you interacted with today. Reproduce details of clothing, gestures, and facial expressions. Imagine different emotions and give them to objects. Solve logic problems with increasing levels of difficulty and write down the moves. This will eliminate coincidences and guesswork.

Checking the level of development of AM is not difficult. There are a number of psychological-intellectual tests: the Eisenk IQ, abstract-verbal, which gives a score based on a conversation with a person. The speed of thought processes is tested by solving logical problems.

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