Abstract thinking: concept, examples, forms, how to develop?

Thinking is a special form of cognition that is peculiar only to people. Psychologists distinguish a large number of different types of thinking, each of which plays a role in cognitive processes. Today we will talk about abstract (or abstract-logical) thinking. It is formed in a person by about 7 years of age and implies the manipulation of general concepts, and not specific objects or phenomena.

What is abstract thinking?

Abstract thinking is the operation of abstract concepts. These include concepts that do not correspond to specific objects or phenomena. These can be generalizations (man, animal, dog), as well as various concepts that receive their meaning directly in the process of thinking or discussion (number, morality, matter).

In dialectical logic, the abstract is contrasted with the concrete. For example, you can talk about a specific dog, or you can talk about a dog or an animal in general – this is already an abstraction. We can say that the weather outside is bad today – rain and thunderstorms, or we can talk about the weather as a phenomenon in general.

To correctly understand what abstract thinking is, it is important to understand the meaning of the terms “abstraction” and “abstraction”. Abstraction is a distraction from some of the properties of an object. For example, in painting, this implies that the artist discards some of the visual properties of characters and objects in order to emphasize other properties and convey certain emotions. Abstraction is the very process of generalization and simplification, discarding specific details that are irrelevant in the current context.

Abstract thinking allows us to think about various objects and phenomena without specifying their properties. Using it, we can imagine and comprehend a certain situation without formulating what is happening in words and without recreating any images in our thoughts. Being the fastest way of thinking available to us, it is this that allows us to quickly find extraordinary ways to solve the problems we face.

Differences from “concrete” thinking

Abstract and concrete thinking can be considered opposites of each other. The first is aimed at conceptualization and generalization, while the second concretizes an object or phenomenon, attaches fundamental importance to it or its properties.

Concrete or concrete-objective thinking occurs at the age of 18 months and develops up to about 7 years. Using it, the child can solve problems using specific objects and their images. At the same time, he is not able to be distracted from real objects, abstract concepts and categories are inaccessible to him.

Abstract or abstract logical thinking occurs in a child by about 7 years of age, after which it develops as his personality is formed. Together with him, he gains the ability to operate with categories that do not exist in real nature in the form of specific objects or phenomena.

Examples of abstract thinking

The most obvious example of abstract thinking is mathematical operations. You can use math in real life by counting or measuring specific objects and phenomena. But at the same time, we can completely abstract from reality using abstract meanings.

For example, everyone perfectly understands what the number 10 means, even if we are not talking about 10 specific subjects. In addition, mathematical operations are abstract. We can add, divide, multiply, and subtract without implying any particular object.

A less obvious but much more extensive example is the language of our communication. It consists of a huge number of abstract lexical units, most of which in one way or another are compared with real objects and phenomena, but in a conversation they are far from always tied to something concrete. The sentences that we use in speech are abstract logical chains of tokens that our interlocutor can understand and interpret quite unambiguously.

Forms of abstract thinking

Abstract thinking can take three forms: concept, judgment, and inference. Usually, thinking abstractly, a person consistently uses all three forms. Let’s consider each of them in more detail.

  1. Concept. It is a generalized abstraction that describes a specific object or phenomenon, but does not indicate a specific object or event. Examples of concepts: person (abstract person, not a specific individual), house, dog
  2. Judgment. This is a kind of statement containing information about the property of a certain object. Judgments are divided into true and false, as well as simple and complex. A simple judgment indicates one fact, while a complex one can describe a pattern or causal relationship. For example, the judgment “The grass is green” is simple and true, while the judgment “We do not slide off the Earth because it is flat” is complex and false.
  3. Inference. Inference is a new judgment based on several others. It is the result of rational knowledge (that is, it is not obtained empirically). An example of inference based on two judgments: “In the morning there were sweets in this vase” + “Now the vase is empty” → “Someone ate all the sweets.”

What are the benefits of abstract thinking?

Abstract thinking is the source for creative ideas that are needed in almost every profession. Creativity allows you to come up with ideas for new projects, find unusual solutions for tasks, select tools for yourself and create new ones. A creative approach is useful in all areas of life, and it relies primarily on the ability to think abstractly.

Advanced abstract thinking provides advantages such as:

  • the ability to solve complex problems;
  • high level of intelligence;
  • high level of creativity;
  • penchant for various arts;
  • the ability to go beyond stereotypes;
  • the ability to generate new ideas;
  • ability to predict and evaluate project prospects;
  • the ability to spot potential pitfalls.

How to develop abstract thinking?

As we have already found out, the ability to think abstractly is very important, so anyone should work to develop it. Like other cognitive abilities, abstract thinking develops with active use. To do this, you can do 5 simple but effective exercises:

  1. Comprehension of an abstract object or phenomenon. Each of us constantly operates with various abstract concepts, for example, such as “love”, “friendship”, “respect” and so on. A very good exercise in developing the ability to think abstractly is to try to understand what each of these abstract concepts is. You need to comprehend them and give them definitions in simple and understandable words.
  2. Association game. Children love to play this game, or rather, they do it involuntarily. Looking at the clouds, they recognize familiar images in them. They can tell you what a car at the curb is like, what shape the tree is, what the sound of a vacuum cleaner or washing machine is like. Children do this involuntarily, because they study the world and everything that surrounds them, arouses their interest. But adults should also play this game more often, trying to recognize familiar images in the outlines of objects, look for associations to certain sounds, try to understand what the taste of this or that dish is like.
  3. Development of imaginative thinking. Abstract logical thinking largely depends on the figurative. Therefore, for its development, it is useful to actively use the ability to think in images. To do this, you can recall the events that happened during the day, trying to restore visual images, voices and other sounds, experienced emotions, smells and tastes in your imagination. In this case, detail is important. For example, remembering someone’s face, it is advisable to clearly imagine the shape of the nose, eyes and other details.
  4. Use of metaphors. It takes a lot of abstract thinking to come up with a good metaphor. And it can be developed using this feature. To do this, it is useful to read fiction, which often contains interesting and unexpected metaphors. It is also useful to apply them in everyday communication, trying, of course, to make it look appropriate. However, if you are not sure of the quality of the invented metaphor, it is not at all necessary to voice it.
  5. Finding the essence. It is very useful to get to the bottom of various events, phenomena, and even your own actions. To do this, you can ask yourself questions about everything that surrounds us. Examples of such questions: “Why does this thing have exactly this form?”, “Why am I doing this work the way? Shouldn’t I do it differently? “,” What will be the result of my actions? Is this exactly what I need? “,” Can I simplify my work to achieve the same result with less effort? ” Finding answers to such questions will not only help develop abstract thinking, but can also significantly simplify life.


Abstract thinking is one of the most important forms of cognition. It allows us to think quickly in order to adapt to changing conditions and find solutions to various problems. In addition, it provides us with the ability to think creatively, create something new, generate non-standard ideas and more fully reveal our potential in any kind of activity. Not everyone has it equally well developed, fortunately, you can develop abstract thinking using the exercises that we reviewed today.