Tap to Read ➤

The Concept of Concrete Thinking (With Examples)

Rashmi Sunder Mar 20, 2020
Our mental functions are constantly evolving with biological growth and environmental conditioning. Our process of thinking also takes shape, starting from an early age. We will provide you with the definition of concrete thinking, along with examples of the same.

Older and Wiser!

The concept of concrete thinking emerged when psychologist Jean Piaget formed his Theory of Cognitive Development, which described the intellectual development of people during different stages of growth.
Some of us are more creative, while others tend to be more logical. Some like to think outside the box, while others prefer to follow well-tested, assured methods. So, what is it that marks these differences in us? There are many factors that contribute to these differences; one major factor is development, and with that comes intellectual development.
Concrete thinking is essentially a part of every human, which is developed at a very early age, and over time, it is accompanied by the facets of abstract thinking. But what is the difference between the two, which one manifests at what age, and how does it affect our cognitive thinking? Let's find out the answers.

Piaget's Theory Of Cognitive Development

The Theory of Cognitive Development, formed by Jean Piaget, is a complex theory that revolves around the nature and development of human intelligence. Cognitive development is the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision-making from childhood through adolescence to adulthood.
It refers to how a person perceives, thinks, and gains understanding of the world and his surroundings through the interaction of biological and environmental factors.

Piaget's theory involves 4 stages of development, but for easy understanding, we focus on the 3rd stage―the Concrete Operational Stage.

This stage occurs between the ages of 7 - 11.
✿ At this time, the idea of object permanence develops in the child. Example: at an earlier stage, if a child was playing with a ball and you hid it, the child is unaware that it exists, even though he/she can't see it. At this stage though, they learn that an object continues to exist despite its position or lack of it.
✿ They become more logical with problem-solving, and at this stage, inductive reasoning is seen.

✿ Inductive reasoning is essentially the ability to take a specific idea, and based on inductions from the same, they arrive at a general conclusion. For example, the dogs we saw had a tail, so all dogs have a tail.
✿ This stage also brings the understanding of differences in the thoughts and perceptions of other people.

✿ They are able to group and classify objects, persons, or things based on shared characteristics.
✿ They recognize that even if the appearance changes, the quantity remains the same. This is called the conservation. If you pour a glass of water into another glass of different shape, the child can recognize that the amount of water is still the same.

✿ Decentering is the idea of dealing with multiple tasks rather than focusing on one, is seen in children.
✿ The idea of reversibility is also understood at this stage. For example, if a ball of clay is molded into a bird, they know that you can turn it back into a ball of clay.

✿ They can serialize objects and show transitivity, which is the ability to organize events or objects mentally.
In conclusion, we see that concrete thinking is a highly emerging process of thought that develops in the concrete operational stage. But what does concrete thinking mean exactly?

Concrete Thinking


Concrete thinking is characterized by the predominance of actual objects and events, and the absence of concepts and generalizations. It is literal thinking that is focused on the physical world. It is the opposite of abstract thinking. People engaged in concrete thinking are focused on facts in the here and now, physical objects, and literal definitions.
Concrete thinking eventually walks hand in hand with abstract thinking, but in some cases, either due to lack of development or some external injury, a person is stuck with only the concrete form of thinking.

Abstract Vs. Concrete Thinking

Whilst concrete thinkers focus on what is in front of them or the facts present to them, abstract thinkers can go beyond what is present and form conclusions and deductions. Abstract thinking is a level of thinking about things that are removed from the facts of the "here and now", and from specific examples of the things or concepts being thought about.
Now that you know what concrete thinking means, let us look at some examples to understand the concept better.

Concrete Thinking: Some Examples

Example 1

If you tell a person with concrete thinking that "A is greater than B, and B is greater than C", they can comprehend the logic. But if you ask them, "So is A greater than C?", they cannot comprehend the conclusion because his/her deductive knowledge is not well-developed.

Example 2

If you tell a child that it is time to go to bed, the kid will assume that as long as they avoid the bedroom, it is not bedtime yet. Thus, they attribute the abstract idea of bedtime with the concrete idea of the bedroom. This is a form of concrete thinking.

Example 3

"Emotions are like waves. You simply ride them up and down." If you were to say this to a concrete thinker, they would assume that it was a literal wave that had to be ridden up and down, and fail to realize that it is a metaphor.

Example 4

"People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." Here, you understand that a person with faults must not point their fingers at others, but to a concrete thinker, it means that glass can break, and thus people with glass houses must avoid throwing stones. Idioms, metaphors are a type of abstract thought, and are not understood by concrete thinkers.

Example 5

Abstract ideas like love, sadness, anger, and pain are understood in more concrete terms like mom and dad sharing a hug = love, crying = sadness, mum's scolding = anger and bruises = pain. But they cannot look deeper than what they have attributed to these ideas, and cannot understand that these words can have multiple meanings in different situations.
There are many such instances where concrete thinking may be seen. Most of us are able to use both facets of thought to deal with day-to-day problems. Others, due to genetic or environmental factors, cannot look at the world from above, and are only able to see what is right in front of them.
Nonetheless, concrete thinking is an important cognitive function that is a part of every human being's intellectual development and is used in different situations that call for it.