Abstract thinking is both a cognitive component and a cognitive skill. In the human intellect, abstract thinking is a higher-order cognitive skill predictor of academic achievement and professional success. In recent times where the world is highly data-driven, the insights drawn are still a reflection of the underlying abstract thinking.
This underrated mental ability is a gift bestowed to the human species exclusively. Apart from impacting academic and professional accomplishments, abstract thinking is the essence of a rich and meaningful life, acting as the agency guiding people in forming their moralistic values and life objectives.
Hence, with abstract thinking comes the power to correlate events and phenomena, finding underlying symbolic meaning and creative and artistic manifestations of intangible concepts. This blog sheds light on various examples of abstract thinking and how abstract thinkers use them.
Examples of abstract thinking
Abstract thinking isn’t that abstract of a concept. And with the following examples, one can easily comprehend the tangibility of its core ideas and principles.
Conceptualization forms the core of abstract thinking. Unlike concrete principles of thinking in which most of the information is a given, conceptualization involves consolidating scattered pieces of information to make it an understandable whole.
Not only does the mental labor in this consolidation process involves piecing together the scattered information, but reflecting and catching relevant details which can be expressed tangibly. Thus, conceptualization in abstract thinking is extremely dependent on good articulation.
Moreover, conceptualization with articulation leads to clear-cut definitions and boundaries of concepts. So, next time you find a concept relevant and well-defined, chances are that the theorist is a great abstract thinker.
is a part of our smart world and, in the simplest of terms, means finding a cause-and-effect relationship between two or more situations. Hypothesizing, however, isn’t rigid and often involves analysis of all the possible reasons behind the occurrence of a situation. For instance, finding the answer to why most people get irritable during summer would involve the perusal of every contributing factor, from personal to environmental.
The rules of objectivity and reliability govern hypothesis testing in the research domain. However, hypothesis formation in a larger context involves exploring all possibilities that go well beyond the boundaries set by parameters of concrete thinking.
For instance, Hypothesizing is a great way to understand the cause of one’s behavior. For instance, a student’s low scores, being attributed to being on gadgets, is a classic way people tend to the world and people around them through various hypotheses.
3. Creative Thinking
Creative thinking or divergent thinking means thinking out of the box. A creative mind often manifests itself in artistic endeavors; however, creative thinking influences yet another less-talked-about domain, problem-solving. If someone is always looking for new and innovative ways to tackle a problem, creativity lies there too. It involves the utilization of one’s imaginative abilities to formulate a contingency plan for a problem.
As the novel solution first lies in the head and is yet to be attempted, the approach to finding a creative solution goes through both the hypothesizing and conceptualizing phases. And when talking about the fundamentals of creativity, using different art forms like music, poetry or sketching can further enrich the expression of abstract information.
Creative thinking employed in problem-solving manifests itself through brainstorming. Brainstorming means discussing perspectives and solutions in a group setting to beat conventional setbacks and have an open-ended conversation on novel ideas.
4. Inductive Reasoning
Assessment of abstract reasoning often uses inductive reasoning as a parameter. Inductive scenario involves using a relatively general scenario to draw conclusions about a specific scenario. Highly intelligent abstract thinkers quickly find a similarity between phenomena and people. Inductive reasoning surely needs to be practiced within limits; nevertheless, it is an important asset when approaching unfamiliar or abstract information.
Inductive reasoning is a short and time-saving mental operation. For instance, someone who has been academically bright and professionally successful can lead people to believe that all academic achievers will be professionally successful too.
5. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence has been a hot topic since the concept came into the limelight. Whether as part of general Intelligence or a specific aptitude, emotional quotient is a space that employs the usage of mood, feelings, and body language and is undoubtedly something enhancing one’s thought processes and decisions. Concrete thinking gives a universal view of emotions without considering individual differences that exist among individuals.
Feelings, as abstract as they can be, need more than just a shallow understanding of human emotions. Hence, emotional Intelligence allows an individual to fully explore the spectrum of emotions and contextual information when trying to grasp an individual’s personality. Even in cases of personal reflection, emotional Intelligence helps us make sense of our world and accordingly make a conscious decision.
Empathy is a cornerstone of the emotional intelligence quotient in individuals. People who can relate to other people’s situations, understand them, and validate their emotions, exhibit a form of abstract thinking that comes along with high emotional Intelligence.
There must have been enough instances where you would have found someone’s humor relatable and well-constructed. Often such humorous encounters leave us wondering how someone can summarize every bit of the information to curate a perfectly phrased joke. Either such puns are on the tip of our tongue and are presented articulately with proper comic timing and body language, or they come from a completely different line of thought. The wide genres of comedy testify to the amount of abstract thinking behind creating the humorous content.
Individuals who can turn conversation fun and amusing, with their presence of mind, display a good sense of humor along with abstract thinking.
7. Analogical Reasoning
Spirituals, saints, and book writers often use metaphors and analogies to make us realize the power of our minds. Delving deeper into the realities of life and in their mind, they can find and explain the relationship between unrelated scenarios.
Analogical reasoning is often cited as a hallmark of intellectuals. Not only do they introduce us to their perceptual world, but they also inspire us to practice introspection for analogical conclusions. Common proverbs and metaphors are also a manifestation of high abstract thinking taking place through analogical reasoning.
For instance, Students being compared to a plant to emphasize the nurturance and care that goes into a child’s growth is an example of analogical thinking.
8. Moral Values
Moral values are of two types, universal and personal. Even universal moral principles are challenged by several who’ve indulged in deeper reflection to consider situational factors. What might be right for some might be wrong for others, the moral values and the sense of right and wrong are all a product of experiences, upbringing, cultural values, and personal reflection. And for us to form a synthesized set of these values, abstract thinking is crucial. Justice, freedom, and all other concepts have been theorized by several philosophers, demonstrating a high level of abstract thinking.
Mother Teresa committed her whole life to a noble cause, which means that compassion, honesty, and various values are practiced by people differently. However, each individual’s non-negotiable and humanitarian values explain the amount of abstract thinking that forms personal views and values, predicting their life choices.
9. Aesthetic Sensitivity
Aesthetic sensitivity is synonymously linked to a visual awakening. However, aesthetic sensitivity applies to all forms of art that sometimes better match a culture, human emotion, or situation. For instance, light, uplifting music for days when we feel low is a classic example of how we turn to forms of artistic expression instead of concrete facts about bodily changes, hormones, or statistics on grief.
Of course, aesthetic sense differs from person to person. However, musicians, interior designers, and stylists have a high aesthetic sense. They can choose or create the perfect piece to illustrate the abstract information freely floating in our minds and wanting to be discovered.
Aesthetic sensitivity is often accompanied by creativity; however, many individuals, like hair stylists, are always up-to-date with trends and changing styles, thus, being highly sensitive to cultural evolution.
10. Existential Intelligence
In the humdrum of everyday life, one question that is always bothering individuals in their mid-twenties is the purpose and meaning of their life. Such questions are best complemented with philosophical answers that require a high level of abstract thought and reasoning. The answer to the purpose of humankind and one’s life is not the easiest to answer, but interestingly, only some go through an inner Q&A about their existence. Abstract thinkers and gifted individuals often ask themselves existential questions and contribute to the wealth of literature on making life meaningful.
Building a life on exploration and experiences to gain wisdom is an example of existential Intelligence. For instance, Lord Buddha was said to have acquired wisdom after leaving everything and exploring the meaning of life and death.
Are abstract thinkers more intelligent? What does the research say?
Abstract thinking, in its purest forms, breaks the bindings of a conventional mindset. Core classroom activities promote concrete thinking more than abstract forms of mental work, which is one of the primary reasons for the lack of understanding and development of abstract thinking skills.
Compared to concrete thinkers, Abstract thinkers are more intelligent as abstract thinking is considered more complex and hard to develop. A study by D.H. Feldman found that amongst intellectually gifted children with IQ above 150, the noteworthy feature was high abstract reasoning.
The classic theory of Intelligence: General Intelligence, given by Raymond Cattel, regards abstract thinking as part of fluid Intelligence, which can be defined as mental operations to solve new problems. Research, including the one by Gottfredson, states that not only is fluid Intelligence an important part of cognitive development, but it is also a definite achievement predictor of intellectually demanding professions.
Abstract thinking is a life skill that needs regular practice. Broadening our viewpoints, pushing us to think differently, and helping us recognize the beauty of artistic expressions are all done by one component of intellect, abstract thinking. Despite the variety of personalities and professions, abstract thinking is the underlying force between them. Not only professions, the various types of Intelligence, like spatial, musical, linguistic, and clerical, amongst others, require a moderate degree of abstract reasoning. So, remember to check out the examples mentioned above of abstract thinking and explore your strong points.
- Feldman, David & Morelock, M.J.. (2011). Prodigies and savants. The Cambridge handbook of intelligence. 210-234. 10.1017/CBO9780511977244.012.
- Gottfredson, L. S. (1997). Why g matters: The complexity of everyday life. Intelligence, 24(1), 79-132. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0160-2896(97)90014-3