Abstract thinking: what is it, examples, forms, types in psychology

In the process of understanding the world, man encountered exact values, quantities, definitions.

However, in order to get a complete picture of a particular phenomenon, this is often not enough.

Moreover, you often have to operate with unknown or inaccurate data, generalize and systematize information on any individual properties, and build various hypotheses and guesses.

It is in such cases that a person uses abstract thinking.

Definition of the concept

The ability to think helps an individual find a way out of the current situation and form his own view of the world. But this ability comes in several varieties:

  • Accurate – there is knowledge, information and a clear understanding of what is happening.
  • Generalized – there is no data, and a person can only assume and guess.

Abstraction belongs to the second type. In scientific terms, this is a type of cognitive activity when general reasoning occurs without taking into account specific details. This makes it possible to consider what happened from different angles and find various methods for resolving it.

Of course, this doesn't always happen. Let's imagine that a man is lying on the bed and scrolling through his feed on a social network. The first thing that comes to mind is “He’s lazy.” We will most likely draw this conclusion based on what we see. But in fact, something else could have happened. He lay down to rest for 10 minutes after a hard day at work. He was ill and therefore unable to attend to his business. There are many options, and if we move away from the specifics and look at everything from different angles, we can understand and learn a lot of new things.

Abstract thoughts have approximate meaning. There is no room for specific information, and phrases such as “in general” and “maybe” are used throughout the process.

Essence and benefits

So, the ability to think helps a person build his own views on the world around him, cope with life’s difficulties, and achieve goals. But in most cases we use the exact variety, operating with detailed data.

When we see a guy sitting on a bench and cracking sunflower seeds, it seems to us that he is a slacker. That is, we think based on the specifics that are in front of us. But we can do this more generally, and then we will learn much more.

Stepping away from the facts and assuming context, we understand that perhaps the young man had a fight with his girlfriend, and before that he had given up smoking and therefore replaces the cigarette in a similar way. Or today he has a free day and he decided to relax and get some fresh air. Abstract thinking gives us room for imagination, to look at what is happening from different points of view and to learn a lot of interesting things.

This method is especially useful in specific everyday events when a person finds himself in an intellectual dead end. That is, she finds it difficult to find a solution to a problem or develop an objective view. But abstraction allows you to notice what was not so obvious before.

Abstraction - what is it in psychology?

Abstraction is a process of cognition in which abstraction occurs from unimportant properties, parameters, connections of phenomena or objects in order to identify their more important generalizing patterns.

In other words, this is a generalization that can be made over objects or phenomena, processes, abstracting from some of their properties.

The following concepts are associated with abstraction:

  1. Abstract logic. It reflects a person’s ability to reason, think, construct statements, operating not with specific data, but with concepts.
  2. Abstract images are images that do not correspond to any real object.
  3. Abstract conclusions are a thought that was formed on the basis of several judgments about something.

Read about the main principles and ideas of Gestalt psychology here.

Abstract-logical type of thinking

In this case, abstractions are used - these are individual units of precise patterns. They are distinguished from the abstract properties of an object, that is, those that cannot be seen with your own eyes, touched or felt.

A fairly clear example is mathematics, where scientists try to explain phenomena that do not occur in nature in material form. There is no such thing as the number 3. You and I understand that these are three absolutely identical units, and the name was developed to simplify it.

As people evolved, they began to use terms that essentially did not exist. For example, language is a set of sounds, letters and words. But you can’t touch them, and the alphabet itself was invented only so that we could formulate our own thoughts, transmit and receive information. This allowed individuals to communicate with each other.

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An abstract-logical thought process is necessary in the presence of some certainty or, as mentioned above, a dead end. When something that exists in reality is revealed, there is a need to give an explanation for it.

Is it possible to develop abstract thinking, how and how long will it take?

How to develop abstract thinking and is it even possible to do this? Yes, you can. Methods exist. However, this is not a quick process. According to various estimates, it will take from several months to a year to achieve high-quality results. It is easiest to develop such abilities in adults. Children don’t have much sense; you need to wait for the final formation of logical abilities and only then start. That is, during the teenage years. Techniques:

  1. Oral exercises. Reasoning on specific topics with conclusions and others. They also allow you to develop a verbal style of mental activity.
  2. Solving logical problems. As much as possible. Preferably with a gradual increase in complexity and a clear description of the process of thinking. Guesswork and simple coincidences must be excluded.
  3. Writing essays on specific topics. Expressing arguments for, against, one’s own position and conclusions on the issue. This allows you to develop not only abstract, but also critical thinking.

Types of Abstractions

To understand what abstract thinking means, it is worth understanding the units of patterns, their varieties and purposes. There are only six of them:

  • Isolating – helps highlight those elements that are emphasized.
  • Constructivization – expresses “blurry” objects in a clearer form.
  • Actual infinity – establishes infinite components as finite.
  • Generalizing – cuts off the personal characteristics of the object and concentrates on its general characteristics.
  • Primitive-sensual - highlights some properties and traits and avoids others.
  • Idealizing - changes the real description to an ideal template that hides all the shortcomings.

In addition, there is a classification by task:

  • Formal - phenomena are considered through specific external manifestations, without which they would not exist.
  • Substantive – elements that can exist independently are highlighted.

Using all abstractions and the possibilities they present, a person isolates from reality what he physically cannot see, hear or feel. But the generalized patterns of what is happening are conveyed to us through speech by parents, teachers or educators. With this wealth of knowledge, we do not have to explain already known truths every time they happen. But here it is worth mentioning the other side of the issue.

Forms of abstract thinking

During the thought process, the individual has at his disposal a mass of various information, as well as the experience he received during development in this matter. As already noted, there are a huge number of phenomena in the world that are not subject to the human organs of vision, hearing and touch (and some of them are not at all). But since they are present in our lives and we know about them, they must have a certain structure. I will describe the types of thoughts.


It is used when there is a need for confirmation and denial. It is divided into simple and complex. Here is the first type - “the dog barks.” It is expressed specifically and has only one meaning. But here’s a more complicated thought: “The child is crying because he wasn’t given candy.” It consists of several narrative structures.

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In addition, reasoning can be true or false. True ones allow us to consider the real picture and, as a rule, they lack a subjective assessment of what happened. And the latter become incorrect in the case when a person shows his interest in this subject and begins to rely on personal preferences and views, and not on what is really happening.


It is formulated using 2 or more judgments. That is, in fact, this is a more complex consideration. It includes a premise (initial reasoning), a conclusion and a conclusion. And all this is achieved in a logical way. Let’s give an example: “All women are beautiful. Masha is a female representative. So she's beautiful." From the two premises we created a new hypothesis.


This is a thought that conveys a generalized property of different objects. Their characteristics can be anything. But a prerequisite is their similarity. After all, this is the only way to combine them into one category.

I will describe a word like “car”. It comes in passenger cars, trucks, and hatchbacks. All cars have different colors, functions and shapes. But the presence of wheels, seats, and an engine allows us to call all the options in one word.

People learn this skill from a very early age. When a mother says “dog” to a child, the child immediately imagines a barking animal with four legs, ears and a tail. But they come in different breeds, colors, etc. But the unifying characteristics make it possible to include all dogs under this concept.

Definition from philosophy

In philosophy, there are two categories that indicate the stages of knowledge of reality: abstract and concrete. The differences between them are easiest to understand intuitively using the example of the relationship between the concepts “man” and “Socrates”. The first is the most general category, devoid of details and details. Socrates is a specific person. Thus, abstract is the most generalized object that cannot be touched.

Abstract objects are a very interesting subject of study for many philosophers because they point out problems with some popular theories. They are interested in the question: if an object is abstract and not present in space, then how do people know about it and even influence their emotions?

Abstract picture

Moreover, philosophy is generally a science of abstractions, because it studies the most general features of the universe. What does “abstract” mean in everyday consciousness? An ordinary person defines this term as something unrealistic and vague.

An abstract concept is a term that cannot be expressed visually directly, only through symbols, actions or a situation. For example, the word “distract” can only be depicted through a drawing that shows one person trying to say something to a colleague working at a computer.

Synonyms for this word, depending on the situation, can be “abstract”, “blurred”, “unrealistic”, “ideal” and so on. Each of these concepts corresponds to a specific context in which abstraction appears.

Concept of abstraction

Abstraction is a mental operation as a result of which a specific object becomes generalized. This is a broad definition. For example, as a result of abstraction, the following chain is created: smartphone - telephone - equipment - electronics. As a result, a concept appears that cannot be touched, seen or otherwise experienced. Electronics does not exist in object form. But this does not prevent a person from understanding the meaning of this word. As a result of abstraction, abstract ideas and expressions appear. These are mental constructs that describe real-life phenomena.

Abstraction is a necessary component of learning

In a narrower sense, it consists in highlighting one or more features against the background of all others. To generalize the concept of “smartphone” to “electronics”, it is necessary to highlight an abstract feature - powered by electricity and make an abstract concept based on it.

Abstraction can also be a method of scientific knowledge. It allows you to form a hypothesis and then confirm it. This operation makes it possible to analyze abstract things. This could be crime in society, economic growth, etc.

Examples of how to think abstractly

One of the brightest, perhaps, are the exact scientific fields: mathematics, chemistry, geometry, physics. Such reflections are called fundamental to them. Scientists do not see or feel numbers, figures and chemical elements as such, but they know how to operate with them: count, measure, combine.

Or take the concept of “life”. What it is? Many philosophers have sought the answer to this question. Essentially, this is the existence of a body where consciousness is placed. But we still won’t be able to say clearly about this concept.

This type also occurs when a person thinks about the future. We will never know for sure what will happen to us tomorrow, in a month or a year. But we tend to make plans, dream or set goals and go towards achieving them. Human activity has a certain direction. We are unlikely to be able to change some things, but such thinking helps us develop a strategy and go towards what we want. In other words, this reality does not yet exist, but we are trying to do everything so that it is in accordance with our ideas.

It is impossible not to mention such a property as idealization. Many people imagine reality and the individuals living in it as ideal. A well-known stereotype is to wait for the “prince.”

It is worth touching on examples of deceptive judgments. The first thing that comes to mind again concerns the topic of relationships. Some female representatives confidently claim that all guys are bad.

But such a conclusion is based solely on subjective opinion. If a girl is unlucky with her chosen one, and he offended or deceived her, this does not mean that everyone is like that. But in this case, men are spoken of as a specific category with their own characteristics, and therefore the traits that one of them has are attributed to all.

There are many similar examples, but they all prove that abstract thinking is of great importance in our everyday thought process. Of course, each person manifests it differently and there will always be something that needs to be developed. And if you don’t know where to start, then I will help you take the first steps in self-improvement; to do this, you just need to sign up for my personal consultation.

Who is an abstract person

Pyromaniac - what does it mean?

An abstract person is a personality that a person has drawn for himself in his imagination. It may not exist in the real world. For example, when a girl imagines the guy of her dreams, she draws an abstract prince on a white horse. Another option is to idealize someone. If a person falls in love, he experiences these feelings in relation to an abstract image, and not to a real person. That’s why so many people say over time: “He/she has changed so much.” In fact, the person is what he was. It’s just that an abstract character has turned into a concrete one.

Such a person may be the image of an ideal person to be equal to. When people say, “I want to be goal-oriented, rich,” they are painting an abstract image of how they want to see themselves in the future.

Why is it necessary to develop these skills?

This type begins to develop in a child from an early age. Every child loved to fantasize and daydream as a child, imagining things that are unlikely to happen. This is the very thinking when we abstracted from reality.

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At school, this skill contributed to the study of exact fields of science (the same geometry). At university, the ability was also useful in solving numerous abstract problems. And finally, at work we distribute responsibilities, group them according to specific characteristics, cope with difficulties and often even find some connection between them. We do the same thing when we think about the meaning of our own lives.

There are quite a few areas where this property plays a major role. This is a philosophical teaching, and writing, and psychology. Another advantage is that we can dream, plan for the future, talk about religion or joke. And this list can be continued endlessly.

Such reflections allow us to remain developed and intelligent. We see what formally does not exist, and we know how to study the phenomena of reality. Therefore, the importance of this improvement cannot be overestimated - this is how we increase intelligence, achieve success both at work and in personal life, and use simple methods for this.


Abstraction in psychology is such a focus of a person’s attention on a particular situation in which he perceives it from a third position, that is, without participating in it, being above it.

Abstraction sets the general direction, helps to formulate the goal more correctly , discard unimportant factors in the situation, concentrating on more important nuances.

Insufficient ability to disengage from a situation can lead to stress, feelings of moral dissatisfaction, low self-esteem and problems with communication.

How to learn to abstract?

Using not very complex psychological techniques, you can learn to abstract from what may prevent you from setting your own goals and achieving them:

From society

A long stay in the same society can negatively affect a person as an individual - gradually the social norms of this society, thinking patterns and perception of certain situations enter his life. This reduces the flexibility of behavior and response in various situations.

In order to distance yourself from society, try staying alone longer. At the same time, try not to remember your surroundings. Focus on your own desires.

Choose the activity that you prefer - a walk in the forest, picking mushrooms, fishing, meditation, reading a book - one that does not require the presence of another person nearby.

Change your type of activity - new experiences will force you to break away from your usual patterns and switch to your own perception.

From a person

Some people, despite not being perceived as unpleasant by us, can significantly influence our worldview.

At the same time, our own ideas and desires may be superimposed on the desires of this person.

In order to abstract yourself from a specific person, you can temporarily change your social circle .

It is advisable that new acquaintances sympathize with you, and communication brings pleasant emotions.

Analyze how this person differs from your new acquaintances and identify the differences. You can also be alone doing your favorite thing.

From unpleasant people

It happens that you have to be in the company of people you don’t like, and you can’t avoid it – for example, at work. At the same time, the actions or behavior of these people may interfere with concentration on the task at hand.

In order to disengage from them, do not try to exclude them from your attention, do not perceive their speech as something that can be stopped, but imagine that it is background noise that can disappear on its own.

For example, you may often not hear the ticking of a clock or not think about what is happening on the screen of a TV that is always on.


Here are a few exercises to help improve your skills. But they may change for different ages, so we will consider them separately.

In children

During this period, such thinking progresses automatically. But parents have the power to create more favorable conditions. It is advisable to start training from the first years of a baby’s life, since at this time his brain is just beginning to form and grow. The main goal at this stage is to broaden your horizons as much as possible.

Here's what you can do for this:

  1. Spread paint on a piece of paper to make a stain. Make a picture out of it with your child. Give him room for imagination and let him voice his own idea.
  2. Come up with words or names together. For example, choose an illustration and give it some unusual names. It can be anything: nature, flora and fauna.
  3. Take up home theater performances. Together with your child, create costumes from scrap items and various props, arrange rehearsals, and improvise. Shadow theater is also quite effective.

At the same time, solve puzzles and all sorts of puzzles. Teach your child the rules of playing chess or checkers, and assemble a mosaic. Most likely, the first steps in this matter will not be easy, but in the future the thought process will progress much faster.

In adults

In this case, abstract-logical thinking is improved in more complex ways than in childhood. But it still remains possible. The reason is that this skill has already been formed, and knowledge is much more difficult to comprehend. But you can do exercises to increase your creativity:

  1. Lie down comfortably and close your eyes. Your task is to clearly and in detail imagine all the people with whom you communicated that day. Scroll in your head what they were wearing, their voice, gestures and facial expressions. At the same time, think about your feelings and sensations received during communication.
  2. Now start imagining different emotions: sadness, happiness, anxiety, sympathy. At the same time, do not assign them to a specific object, but create an imaginary image for each state.
  3. Then come up with silhouettes of intangible phenomena or terms. Observe your own associations, track the symbols that arise.

In addition, you can take up drawing, solve the same puzzles, or read thematic literature.

Abstract-logical thinking as the highest form of the thought process

Human thinking is the result of a long evolution; it has gone through several stages in its development. Abstract thinking today is considered its highest form. Perhaps this is not the last stage in the development of human cognitive processes, but so far other, more advanced forms of mental activity are unknown.

Three stages of thinking development

The formation of abstract thinking is a process of development and complication of cognitive activity. Its main patterns are characteristic of both anthropogenesis (the development of humanity) and ontogenesis (the development of a child). In both cases, thinking goes through three stages, increasingly increasing the degree of abstraction or abstraction.

  1. This form of cognitive processes begins its journey with visual and effective thinking. It is specific in nature and associated with objective activity. In fact, it is carried out only in the process of manipulating objects, and abstract reflection is impossible for it.
  2. The second stage of development is figurative thinking, which is characterized by operations with sensory images. It can already be abstract and is the basis for the process of creating new images, that is, imagination. At this stage, both generalization and systematization appear, but still imaginative thinking is limited to direct, concrete experience.
  3. The possibility of overcoming the framework of concreteness appears only at the stage of abstract thinking. It is this type of mental activity that allows one to achieve a high level of generalization and operate not with images, but with abstract signs - concepts. Therefore, abstract thinking is also called conceptual thinking.

Imaginative thinking is divergent in nature, that is, it resembles circles diverging in different directions from a stone thrown into a lake - the central image. It is quite chaotic, the images intertwine, interact, and evoke associations. In contrast, abstract thinking is linear; thoughts in it are arranged in a certain sequence, subject to a strict law. The laws of abstract thinking were discovered back in Antiquity and combined into a special field of knowledge called logic. Therefore, abstract thinking is also called logical.

Abstract Thinking Tools

If figurative thinking operates with images, then abstract thinking operates with concepts. Words are his main tool, and this type of thinking exists in speech form. It is the verbal formulation of thoughts that allows you to build them logically and consistently.

Words organize and facilitate thinking. If you don’t understand something, try to talk through the problem, or even better, explain it to someone. And believe me, in the process of this explanation you yourself will understand even a very complex issue. And if there is no one willing to listen to your reasoning, then explain to your reflection in the mirror. This is even better and more effective, since the reflection does not interrupt, and you also don’t have to be shy in your expressions.

Clarity and clarity of speech directly affects mental activity and vice versa - a well-formulated statement presupposes its comprehension and internal elaboration. Therefore, abstract thinking is sometimes called inner speech, which, although it also uses words, is still different from ordinary, auditory speech:

  • it consists not only of words, but also includes images and emotions;
  • internal speech is more chaotic and broken, especially if a person does not try to specifically organize his thinking;
  • it is condensed, when some words are skipped and attention is focused on key, significant concepts.

Inner speech resembles the statements of a small child 2-3 years old. Children at this age also designate only key concepts; the rest of their minds are occupied by images that they have not yet learned to name in words. For example, as soon as a baby wakes up, he joyfully exclaims: “Bye-bye – woman!” Translated into “adult” language, this means: “It’s great that while I was sleeping, my grandmother came to us.”

Fragmentation and conciseness of internal speech is one of the obstacles to the clarity of abstract logical thinking. Therefore, it is necessary to train not only external, but also internal speech, achieving the most accurate mental formulations in the process of solving complex problems. Such ordered internal speech is also called internal pronunciation.

The use of words in thinking is a manifestation of the sign function of consciousness - that which distinguishes it from the primitive thinking of animals. Each word is a sign, that is, an abstraction associated with a real object or phenomenon with meaning. Marshak has a poem “Cat House”, and there is this phrase: “This is a chair - they sit on it, this is a table - they eat at it.” This is a very good illustration of meaning - the connection of a word with an object. This connection exists only in a person’s head; in reality, the combination of sounds “table” has nothing to do with the real object. In another language, a completely different combination of sounds is endowed with this meaning.

Establishing such connections, and even more so operating in the mind not with concrete images, but with abstract signs - words, numbers, formulas - is a very complex mental process. Therefore, people master it gradually until adolescence, and even then not all and not to the fullest extent.

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