6 junio, 2024

Concrete thinking: concept, characteristics, examples

What is concrete thought?

He concrete thought It is a type of thinking that focuses on the physical world and its elements. It is considered the opposite of abstract thought and people use it to reflect on facts, on the here and now, on physical objects, and on literal definitions.

It is also called literal thinking and is based on what you can experience here and now, what you can hear, feel and see. For example, young children are concrete thinkers; they think of an object that is in front of them and when it is not there they no longer think of it.

Concrete thinking, because of its fundamental importance for our survival, is the first thing that children learn to master. Very young babies think in an extremely concrete way, reaching the point of not being able to conceive that an object exists if they are not able to see it.

However, this type of thinking alone is not enough for a person to lead a normal life. If someone gets stuck in developmental stages where only concrete thinking is used, they are very likely to develop autism spectrum disorders or similar disorders.

Characteristics of concrete thought

Next we will see some of the most important characteristics of concrete thought.

Focuses only on what is present here and now

A person who was thinking only concretely would be unable to reflect on something that is not present in their immediate reality.

Therefore, this type of thinking is not valid for planning about the future, drawing conclusions, or making metaphors.

Hardly requires mental processing

Because it focuses on a very basic part of reality, concrete thought spends little mental energy and does not require great processing power. Therefore, it is the one that is performed in general when there is a brain problem or the person is in an altered state of consciousness.

Some studies show, in fact, that the ability to think in a concrete way is shared by many animal species.

Only some types of primates could think in the abstract. And even then, this ability would be present in a very limited way in them.

Focuses on the facts

Concrete thought is only capable of dealing with the obvious, with the first explanation that can be given to what is happening.

Therefore, it is not effective for looking for different theories about a situation. Nor is it useful for looking for the hidden motives behind an action or moment.

It is based on the senses

The only valid information for the person who uses only concrete thought is that which comes from his senses. Thus, if someone cannot use abstract reasoning, he would be unable to make generalizations or try to understand why what happens.

On the other hand, the person who only uses concrete reasoning would not understand concepts such as emotion, desire, or goal. He alone would be able to care about the most basic survival and living in the present moment.

Differences with abstract thought

Now that we’ve seen what exactly concrete thinking is, how does it differ from abstract thinking? Are they two sides of the same coin? Or, on the contrary, are they completely different abilities?

Difficulty to acquire it

On the one hand, we can see that abstract thought is much more complicated to develop at an evolutionary level. Only some of the higher animals would have been able to generate it; and among them, only humans in a really complex way.

Within our own development as people, exactly the same pattern can be observed. Children spend practically their entire childhood using nothing more than concrete thought.

Thus, just shortly before entering adolescence, they are able to begin to reflect on something that is not present at that moment. And even so, at this time the ability to think abstractly would not yet be fully formed.

Involves different areas of the brain

The latest advances in neuroscience suggest that abstract thinking is much more present in the prefrontal cortex, the last part of the brain to develop at an evolutionary level.

Although concrete thought is also related to it, it also involves other areas in charge of processing information from the senses.

Thus, we can affirm that the two types of thinking are abilities that have been developed at different moments in our history as a species. Therefore, despite having many things in common, we cannot say that it is a single mental process.

differences in intelligence

Concrete thought has little impact on intelligence (since the ability to use it is very similar in all people).

However, differences in the ability to use abstract thought cause different IQ levels to appear.

Thus, abstract thought helps people to use abilities such as language, creativity or logic. Without this ability, the vast majority of advances we’ve made as a species simply wouldn’t exist.

There are different types of abstract thinking

Concrete thought only focuses on the facts, on what can be observed through sight, hearing and the rest of the senses. Therefore, it does not leave room for many interpretations.

However, abstract thought, being much more complex, can develop in a multitude of directions in the face of the same stimulus.

Thus, we can find different types of this variant of thought; for example, divergent thinking, critical thinking, analytical thinking, or convergent thinking.

Example of concrete thought

One of the best ways to understand exactly what concrete thinking is is by looking at the way children use it.

Developmental psychologists have studied this phenomenon based on the different stages that people go through when they grow up.

Thus, in the concrete reasoning phase, children are unable to qualify the information they receive from their senses with any kind of logic. A classic example of this is the clay ball experiment.

Plasticine balls experiment

The study consists of the following. The experimenter takes two balls of plasticine of clearly different sizes and shows them to a child in the stage of concrete reasoning.

After asking which of the two has more plasticine, the psychologist crushes the smaller one giving it an elongated shape, and asks the child the same question again. The latter, seeing that the plasticine now occupies more space than the other ball, answers that the largest is the one with an elongated shape.

As can be seen, the child is unable to understand that if one of the pieces had less amount of plasticine and nothing has been added to it, it is impossible for it to now have more than the other. This occurs because, at this stage, nothing more than concrete thought is being used.

Because the child’s senses tell him that the long Play-Doh takes up the most space, he believes it has the most space, despite the evidence that people who use abstract thinking may see.

Other examples

A person with concrete thinking understands the expressions literally: «being in the clouds» can be understood literally as someone who is among the clouds of the sky.
A child is shown a chocolate bar and when it is hidden, he stops thinking about it.
A child sees a car and thinks about it, its shape, not about other possibilities.

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