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Thinking

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Thinking

What is a thought? How do we think about something? Are there different types of thinking? Are there things that are too hard to think about?

  • What is thinking in psychology?
  • What are the different types of thinking?
  • What are some characteristics of thinking?
  • What are some examples of thinking in psychology?
  • How can we develop our thinking skills?

Definition of Thinking in Psychology

If you had to define thinking, how would you describe it?

Thinking in psychology is the process of consciously generating and manipulating thoughts and ideas in the mind.

Thinking is an essential process for humans. It allows us to solve problems, learn new information, understand concepts, and process our experiences. Thinking involves the entire process of learning, remembering, and organizing mentally to understand the information better and recall it later.

Types of Thinking in Psychology

There are three main types of thinking in psychology: creative, divergent, and symbolic.

Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is the ability to generate innovative, unconventional, or useful ideas. You might think that only artists or writers use creative thinking. Actually, there are so many ways to use creative thinking skills in business, technology, and education. Pretty much everyone uses creative thinking!

Research shows that creativity and intelligence are related to each other somehow, but there are also other factors involved in creativity. A person's imagination, environment, and personality can influence their creative thinking abilities.

Divergent Thinking

What about when we want to solve problems? When there are many possible answers to a solution, we rely on divergent thinking to help us choose the best solution, like trying to answer or solve an open-ended question. There are many things you could say in response, but you want to provide the best answer.

Children playing with blocks use divergent thinking skills to decide what and how to build. They can build many things with the blocks, but they have to decide what to make and which blocks they want to use. This is a very basic example of divergent thinking!

Thinking, a stack of colorful blocks in a child's hand, StudySmarterDivergent thinking, pixabay.com

Imagine you are an architect. A client hands you a list of building materials and house ideas and asks you to design and build a home using as many of those materials and ideas as possible. There are many possibilities, but you need to figure out what kind of blueprint and style options would best suit your client. Talk about using some advanced divergent thinking skills and creative thinking skills as well!

Symbolic Thinking

Imagine going to the nearest grocery store. Can you see it in your mind? Which streets or roads will you take to get there? Symbolic thinking is the ability to create mental representations of objects, places, events, or people in your mind. Young children do this often when they engage in imaginative play. They turn toys and playhouses into symbols of the real things. A baby doll becomes a real baby in the child's mind. A stuffed dog becomes a real dog!

Do you remember being able to create new worlds in your mind as you played? Babies younger than six months are unable to picture objects or people in their minds. If they can't see the object or person, it is like it doesn't exist! This is why peek-a-boo is so fun for babies. Symbolic thinking is important for adults, too. Many jobs, tasks, and other types of thinking require the ability to picture an example of something in our minds.

Characteristics of Thinking in Psychology

People with strong thinking skills tend to have several characteristics in common. An active imagination, a creative environment, and an adventurous or curious personality can influence our thinking abilities. Those who possess expertise in a particular field and intrinsic motivation also tend to have more developed thinking skills.

Expertise and Motivation

A creative environment can help facilitate higher thinking skills like creativity. Surrounding ourselves with people who challenge our ideas, support our thinking processes, and mentor or guide us in our creative thinking is a great way to further our thinking skills. Think of your thoughts as a garden: the right environment will provide the ideal conditions for your thoughts to grow.

Expertise refers to a thorough base or foundation of knowledge in a particular subject, topic, or field. It generally also refers to extensive experience in that particular subject or field. Together, expertise and experience provide the strongest and biggest foundation for building new ideas. A solid foundation is the best way to build a sturdy house of knowledge.

Those with intrinsic motivation are internally driven to pursue the answers to problems and questions. On the other side is extrinsic motivation, learning or working to fulfill external factors like project deadlines or scheduled daily routines. However, those who engage in deeper thinking processes are typically motivated by more than external rewards or consequences. They want to know the answer, finish the project, or solve the problem, even if there is no external motivation or reward.

Concepts and Prototypes

There are two other characteristics of thinking that are important in psychology - concept and prototype.

A concept is a mental category of similar objects, people, or events.

The concept of animals is a great example. There are so many different animals in the world, but we can fit them all into one mental category based on one similarity.

What about the concept of dogs? There are way fewer different types of dogs than there are different kinds of animals. How about a specific breed of dog, like Dalmatians or Rottweilers? Now the concept is even smaller.

What if we did away with mental concepts altogether and put everything into its category? We would need a new word for every single item in the world! Concepts help us keep things organized and quickly retrieve information.

Prototypes are representative items within each concept. They are basic mental examples of objects or people, like dogs, doctors, or police officers.

We compare new information to our prototype of the person, place, or thing, so we know how to categorize the new information mentally.

Thinking, infographic of the concept and prototype of a dog, StudySmarterConcept and Prototype, StudySmarter Original

Examples of Thinking in Psychology

Each time that we imagine, remember, solve a problem, or daydream, we are using thinking processes. As humans, we are constantly bombarded with information through our senses. How does this process work?

You are walking home, and you see a puppy. This information from your eyes will be sent through a specific process to the brain. Once it reaches the brain, you connect what you see to thoughts, emotions, and memories associated with the puppy. Maybe you had a puppy just like this one as a child. The brain can connect what you are experiencing right now with your past thoughts and emotions, like searching through a file cabinet of old information.

What about learning new information? What happens when we use divergent or critical thinking? Multiple research studies show that critical thinking skills are the best way to understand new concepts.

In one study, the researchers divided the participants into two groups. The first group simply rehearsed new information they were given. The second group was encouraged to ask questions to help them better understand the new material. Asking questions and trying to understand the answers is one example of critical thinking! Participants in the second group better understood the new information than group one, who had just rehearsed it for a while.

How to Develop Better Thinking Skills

Are there ways to become a better thinker? What can we do to help us develop critical thinking or creative thinking skills?

Improving Critical Thinking

There are seven steps that can help you improve your critical thinking skills about a particular topic:

  • Identify the problem

    • What problems do you notice? What is it that you are trying to understand? Try to approach this question from different perspectives.

  • Research

    • Gather data! Someone else has probably already asked this question or a very similar one. Gathering data will help you on your way to finding an answer.

  • Determine the relevance of yourdata

    • Is your data significant, accurate, and reliable? Does it help you answer your question?

  • Ask more questions

    • How does the information you have gathered so far help you better understand the topic?

  • Find the best solution

  • Share your findings

  • Analyze your conclusion

  • REPEAT!

Thinking - Key takeaways

  • Thinking in psychology is the process of consciously generating and manipulating thoughts and ideas in the mind.
  • There are three main types of thinking in psychology: creative thinking, divergent thinking, and symbolic thinking.
  • Creative thinking in psychology is the ability to generate innovative, unconventional, or useful ideas.
  • When there are many possible answers to a solution, we rely on divergent thinking to help us choose the best solution.
  • Symbolic thinking is the ability to create mental representations of objects, places, events, or people in your mind.

Frequently Asked Questions about Thinking

Thinking in psychology is the cognitive process of taking our thoughts and ideas and experiencing and manipulating them in our cognition.

Creative thinking in psychology is the ability to generate innovative, unconventional, or useful ideas.

Divergent thinking in psychology is narrowing down many possible solutions to reach the best possible. 

Symbolic thinking in psychology is the ability to think about events and objects without them being close to you.

Three types of thinking in psychology are creative, divergent, and symbolic thinking.

Final Thinking Quiz

Question

_____ is the mental abilities and activities that we associate with remembering, thinking, communicating, and knowing.

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Answer

Cognition

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Question

____ are mental groupings of events, similar objects, ideas, and people.


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Answer

Concepts

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Question

____ is simply a mental image or example of a concept.

A. Intuition

B. Creativity

C. Prototype


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Answer

C. Prototype

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Question

_____ is having an educational goal or a goal of learning and understanding.


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Answer

Critical thinking

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Question

Who proposed critical thinking?


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Answer

John Dewey

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Question

What are the three parts of the thinking process?

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Answer

Creativity, convergent thinking, and divergent thinking

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Question

_____ requires us to narrow the answer to the question down to one possible answer.

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Answer

Convergent thinking

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Question

_____ thinking - creative thinking seeks an answer in many different directions.


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Answer

Divergent

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Question

An ______ is a method or procedure that assures an answer or solution.


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Answer

algorithm

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_____ -  to suddenly without reason have the answer to a problem.


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Answer

Insight

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A ___ of thinking is approaching the solution to a problem the same way that we have had previous success with.

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Answer

mental set

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_____ - These are feelings and thoughts that are often considered unreasoned in why we have them.

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Answer

Intuition

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Question

___ is thinking about thinking.


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Answer

Metacognition 

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Question

Which type of thinking is mostly based on trial and error. 

A. Divergent thinking

B. Heuristic thinking

C. Critical thinking 

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Answer

B. Heuristic thinking

Show question

Question

_____ in psychology is the cognitive process of taking our thoughts and ideas and experiencing and manipulating them in our cognition.

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Answer

Thinking

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Question

A ____ is a mental group of objects, people, or events.


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Answer

concept

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Question

What are concepts made up of?

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Answer

Prototypes

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Question

____ is the ability to create new and valuable thoughts. Sometimes creative thinking can lead to innovations, unconventional, and useful ideas.

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Answer

Creativity

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Question

When there are many possible answers to a solution, we must rely on ____

thinking to help us come to the evolution.

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Answer

divergent

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Question

_____ thinking is the ability to think about events and objects without

them being close to you.

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Answer

symbolic

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Question

A creative environment can help most people facilitate higher thinking such as

____ thinking.

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Answer

creative

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Question

____ allows us to create a base or foundation of our knowledge. It creates space for ideas, phrases, objects, images like blocks to a foundation of a home.

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Answer

Expertise

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Question

There is also the necessity for ____. When we are interested and

challenged by questions, needing answers, and problems to the outside world, we are most likely able to reach for more information with intrinsic motivation.

Show answer

Answer

 intrinsic motivation.

Show question

Question

Imaginative thinking skills can go a long way in thinking. It allows us to recognize

possible patterns, make connections of thoughts and create new ideas.

Show answer

Answer

Imaginative thinking

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