Laughter is the sound of the collision of two frames of reference. Comedians are experts in abstract thinking. They observe the world around them and detect incongruities, absurdities, and outrages. And they build jokes out of the unexpected connections.
You use abstract thinking everyday when you create, speak figuratively, solve problems, understand concepts, analyze a situation, form a theory, or put stuff in perspective.
All pretty valuable, right?
When you understand concepts such as freedom or vulnerability, which aren’t directly tied to concrete physical objects and experiences, That is abstract thinking.
When you absorb information from your senses and make connections to the wider world, that is abstract reasoning.
When you are able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, that is empathizing, which is abstract thinking.
Abstract thinking is the ability to consider concepts beyond what we observe physically. Recognizing patterns, analyzing ideas, synthesizing information, solving problems, and creating things all involve abstract thinking.
The ability to think abstractly develops as we mature, and we can intentionally improve our abstract thinking ability by improvising and playing with puzzles, models, and language.
Striking a healthy balance between abstract and concrete thinking is important for maintaining good mental health and daily functioning.
When abstract thinking isn’t helpful
Sometimes the ability to imagine, predict, and make connections interferes with healthy functioning.
Take the cognitive distortion known as catastrophizing, for example. If you habitually imagine worse case scenarios, you might increase your anxiety or worsen depression symptoms.
Overgeneralization is another example. If you experience setbacks as proof that you’re a failure, your ability to generalize is reaching inaccurate and counterproductive conclusions. This kind of abstraction is common with anxiety and depression.
If you have anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then abstract thinking can become problematic. The good news is that research has found that using concrete thinking skills will improve crucial decision-making during bouts of depression or anxiety. Therapies and meditations focus on improving and positively skewing neurological pathways so that the brains normal negative bias is circumvented.
Empatharian can improve both abstract and concrete thinking skills, in specific ways, which we will discuss in our next blog post.