“The human brain is the most complex physical object known to us in the entire cosmos.” —Professor Owen Gingerich.

If you look at three sides of a solved Rubik’s cube and start guessing the color of the fourth side, you are an abstract thinker. When someone says every cloud has a silver lining and you start looking at the sky, then you are a concrete thinker.

Of course, nothing is so black and white. Human beings have evolved over the centuries. So have our brains, developing multiple abilities to look at things from varying perspectives. Everyone has the potential to understand things differently. Our thinking has been broadly categorized as creative, analytical, critical, linear, divergent, convergent, abstract and concrete.

Today we will delve into concrete and abstract thinking.


  1. What Are Concrete Thinking And Abstract Thinking?

  2. Difference Between Abstract And Concrete Thinking

  3. Abstract Vs. Concrete Thinking: Which Category Are You In?


What Are Concrete Thinking And Abstract Thinking?


Concrete thinking means thinking of something literally.

But, who is a concrete thinker?

A concrete thinker is a person who perceives information in physical form without thinking beyond words or actions. Children are the best example of concrete thinkers. They believe in what they see and trust the words they hear. For example, if you tell a child where his eyes and nose are, they will take your word for it without questioning you.

What is abstract thinking, and who is an abstract thinker?

Abstract thinking means understanding words, actions and the meaning behind them. If you can look beyond words and actions and relate to the emotions driving them, you’re an abstract thinker. As children grow up, they begin to understand their surroundings and perceive things not directly communicated to them. They start taking note of emotions, psychology and math.

When it comes to concrete and abstract thinking in kids, it is believed that most children develop abstract thinking during their teenage years, which is also the time they develop the ability of versatile thinking; for example – during teenage, they start to think of their career and where they fit-in, they start to form opinions about various social issues like what is correct and what practices should stop, they start to differentiate between different concepts.


Difference Between Abstract And Concrete Thinking


One of the commonly cited differences between concrete and abstract thinking is that a concrete thinker may find it difficult to empathize with others. On the other hand, abstract thinking paves the path for empathy, exploration and experimentation.

However, saying that concrete thinking is the initial stage of abstract thinking isn’t incorrect either. This is because an abstract thinker would also see, hear and observe the situation and surroundings before exploring multiple threads linked to it.

Another major difference between concrete thinking and abstract thinking is that explaining and understanding abstract thinking can be a little tricky, whereas with concrete thinkers, things are simpler.

Abstract thinking can be beneficial in problem-solving, reframing difficult concepts simply and understandably, solving patterns, improving aptitude and asking genuine and correct questions.

To understand the difference between abstract and concrete thinking, let us take the example of an engineer who wants to write code for a feature. He spends most of his time designing the strategy, thinking of possible customer expectations and corner cases for a perfect product. He spends much more time thinking than he does in writing it. This means he has an abstract way of thinking.  

We can compare abstract thinking vs. concrete thinking in a problem-solving situation. When someone leans toward concrete thinking, feels frustrated about work, deadlines, or a crucial task, abstract thinking can come to their rescue.

This balance between the two doesn’t come easy. But, with gradual implementation, it can be made a part of your routine.

Abstract Vs. Concrete Thinking: Which Category Are You In?


You might be an abstract thinker if:

  1. You think about tangential things not directly related to the task.
  2. You think about the possible outcomes.
  3. You think about the consequences of an action.
  4. You relate to someone or something in the way it demands.


You might be a concrete thinker if:

  1. You find it hard to empathize with others. Or if you find it difficult to understand a person’s tone, body language, or facial expressions.
  2. You lack imagination.
  3. You lack creativity.

There are exercises and learning methods that can improve your concrete or abstract  thinking. You can try to come up with theories about an incident, use metaphors and analogies to explain an occurrence and ask more questions. 

Brain exercises, building vocabulary, meditation, using all your senses, skill-sharing, learning a new language, listening to music, and dancing can also help expand your horizons and improve your thought processes.

To understand the difference between abstract and concrete thinking, let’s consider an example. There are times in every person’s life when they have to be strict. This is easy for a concrete thinker, whereas an abstract thinker might find it difficult as they always try to reason things out.

We can achieve best results by practicing hybrid or concrete abstract thinking, which will help us make more efficient decisions.

When it comes to concrete thinking and abstract thinking, it is believed that abstract thinkers are good problem-solvers, intelligent and can be creative in all forms of art. Concrete thinkers remain focused on immediate experiences, physical objects and exact interpretations. They are logical, clear and decisive. So, concrete vs. abstract thinking factor in when analyzing thought processes.

Want to know more about abstract thinking and concrete thinking?  Harappa’s  Inspiring Faculty Program will help you develop the thought process you need to move ahead in your career.

Related articles

Discover more from Harappa with a selection of trending blogs on the latest topics in online learning and career transformation