What is abstract thinking and what is it for?

Abstract thinking is a cognitive skill that allows us to understand complex ideas and concepts that are not directly related to concrete reality. In other words, it allows us to think about things we cannot see, touch or feel. This skill develops as we grow and mature, and is essential to our success in many aspects of life. 

Abstract thinking is important because it allows us to think beyond the obvious and find creative solutions to problems. It allows us to imagine things that do not yet exist and look for new ways of doing things. Furthermore, abstract thinking allows us to understand and appreciate abstract concepts such as justice, freedom and equality, which are fundamental in our society.

How does abstract thinking develop in adolescence?

The development of abstract thinking occurs throughout our lives, but is especially important in adolescence. During this stage, young people are developing their sense of identity and exploring new ideas and concepts. As they face new situations and experiences, they need to learn to think more abstractly to understand and process these experiences.

According to Jean Piaget’s theory, abstract thinking begins to develop in the formal operational stage, which generally begins at age 11 or 12. During this stage, young people begin to understand abstract logic and think in hypothetical terms. For example, they can imagine different solutions to a problem and analyze the consequences of each one.

Examples of abstract thinking in adolescence

An example of abstract thinking in adolescence is when young people begin to question the norms and values ​​established by society. Instead of accepting things as they are, they begin to question why things are the way they are and explore different ways of thinking and behaving.

Another example is when young people begin to explore their identity and ask themselves who they are and who they want to be. Instead of accepting the image that society has of them, they begin to imagine different possibilities and create their own identity.

The importance of abstract thinking in the modern world

In the modern world, abstract thinking is more important than ever. We live in an increasingly complex and changing world, and we need the ability to think creatively to find solutions to problems. Furthermore, abstract thinking is essential in many fields, such as science, technology, art, and philosophy.

In science, for example, abstract thinking allows us to understand abstract concepts such as Einstein’s theory of relativity or the Big Bang theory. In technology, abstract thinking allows us to imagine and design new technologies and systems that did not exist before. In art, abstract thinking allows us to create works that express ideas and emotions that cannot be described in words. And in philosophy, abstract thinking allows us to explore deep and complex ideas and concepts about the nature of human beings and the universe.

How to encourage abstract thinking in adolescence

To encourage abstract thinking in adolescence, it is important to provide young girls with opportunities to explore new ideas and concepts. Parents and educators can foster abstract thinking by encouraging young people to ask questions, explore different perspectives, and question established norms. They can also encourage young people to explore different forms of art, literature and music, which can help develop imagination and creativity.

It is important to keep in mind that abstract thinking does not develop overnight, and that each individual has their own pace of development. Some young people can develop abstract thinking faster than others, and that’s okay. The important thing is to encourage curiosity and imagination, and provide young girls with opportunities to explore and experiment.

Abstract Thinking vs. Concrete Thinking

Abstract thinking and concrete thinking are contrasting cognitive processes that shape how individuals interpret and engage with the world. Abstract thinking involves the capacity to conceive ideas beyond immediate, tangible experiences. It delves into the realm of concepts, symbolism, and theoretical frameworks, allowing individuals to grasp complex notions, explore possibilities, and engage in creative problem-solving. Abstract thinkers can synthesize information, draw connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, and appreciate the bigger picture.

In contrast, concrete thinking is firmly rooted in the tangible and observable aspects of the world. It relies on facts, direct experiences, and literal interpretations of information. Concrete thinkers excel in tasks that require a focus on real-world, practical applications and straightforward problem-solving. They thrive in situations where clarity and immediate applicability are paramount.

Can abstract thinking not be helpful?

Abstract thinking, while generally advantageous, may not always prove beneficial in certain contexts. In practical, hands-on situations that demand concrete solutions, excessive abstraction might lead to a disconnect from reality. Overemphasis on abstract concepts may hinder effective problem-solving when immediate, tangible actions are required. In fields reliant on precision, such as certain technical or mechanical tasks, too much abstract thinking may result in impractical ideas rather than practical solutions. 

Additionally, in interpersonal relationships, overly abstract communication might lead to misunderstandings, as concrete details and clear communication are often vital for effective understanding. Thus, while abstract thinking is valuable, its appropriateness depends on the specific demands of the situation at hand.

Important tips to improve your abstract thinking skills

Abstract thinking skills are crucial for problem-solving, creative decision-making, and overall cognitive flexibility. Strengthening these skills can enhance your ability to analyze complex situations, think critically, and adapt to various challenges. Here are ten tips to help you improve your abstract thinking skills:

Diverse Reading Habits

Engage in a wide range of literature, including fiction, non-fiction, and articles from different fields. Exposure to diverse perspectives and topics stimulates your mind, encouraging abstract connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. This broadens your cognitive framework and fosters creative thinking.

Puzzle and Strategy Games

Regularly indulge in puzzle-solving and strategy games. Games like chess, Sudoku, or even video games that require strategic planning and problem-solving activate your brain’s abstract thinking areas. These activities challenge your mind to consider multiple variables and anticipate outcomes, honing your analytical skills.

Mind Mapping Techniques

Practice mind mapping to visually represent and organize thoughts. This technique helps in recognizing patterns, relationships, and hierarchies among ideas. By mapping out concepts, you encourage your brain to think abstractly, fostering a clearer understanding of complex information.

Learn a New Skill  

Acquiring a new skill forces your brain to adapt and think abstractly. Whether it’s learning a musical instrument, a programming language, or a sport, the process of understanding and mastering something new enhances your ability to make connections and draw on diverse knowledge.

Question Assumptions   

Cultivate a habit of questioning assumptions, both yours and others’. This involves challenging preconceived notions and considering alternative perspectives. By questioning assumptions, you stimulate abstract thinking and open your mind to innovative solutions and viewpoints.

Seek Diversity in Perspectives

Surround yourself with people from diverse backgrounds and with different expertise. Engaging in conversations with individuals who think differently from you broadens your perspective and exposes you to alternative ways of approaching problems. This diversity can significantly enhance your abstract thinking capabilities.

Practice Abstraction Exercises  

Engage in exercises that require abstract thinking, such as creating metaphors, analogies, or solving abstract problems. These activities challenge your brain to think beyond the literal and draw connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, fostering a more flexible and imaginative mindset.

Meditation and Mindfulness  

Incorporate mindfulness and meditation into your routine. These practices help improve focus and clarity of thought, allowing your mind to explore abstract ideas without distraction. Regular mindfulness can enhance cognitive control and contribute to a more adaptable thought process.

Cross-disciplinary Learning

Explore topics from various disciplines to encourage cross-disciplinary thinking. The ability to integrate knowledge from different fields promotes abstract thinking by allowing you to draw connections between seemingly disparate concepts. This interdisciplinary approach can lead to innovative solutions and ideas.

Reflective Journaling   

Maintain a reflective journal where you document your thoughts, observations, and ideas regularly. Writing about your experiences and insights encourages abstract thinking by forcing you to articulate your thoughts and explore the deeper meaning behind them. This process enhances self-awareness and cognitive flexibility.


Abstract thinking is an essential cognitive skill that allows us to understand and process complex ideas and concepts that are not directly related to concrete reality. In adolescence, the development of abstract thinking is essential for the exploration of identity and understanding of society and the world around us. Encouraging abstract thinking in adolescence can help young people develop their creativity, problem-solving skills, and ability to find innovative solutions to problems.


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