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What is abstract reasoning and how to train it?

What is abstract reasoning and how to train it?

September 30, 2023

The abstract reasoning is, possibly, what allows the human being to be as we know it today. The language, the ability to make plans and many other skills have to do with this facet of our mind.

In this article we will see what exactly is abstract reasoning , which are the brain areas most directly involved in it, and how to train it.

  • Related article: "The 9 types of thought and their characteristics"

What is abstract reasoning?

A definition of what abstract reasoning is could be the following. This is the set of cognitive operations based on the reorganization of abstract concepts, carried out with the purpose of producing new information in the form of a conclusion.

Thus, it is a type of behavior of a private nature (it is not easily observable by another person without the appropriate measuring instruments) in which the concepts with which one works are highly abstract. However… What exactly does it mean that a concept is abstract? Let's see it

The abstract concepts

Although we normally associate the idea of ​​"concept" with the use of language, the truth is that non-human animals that lack the ability to use language also think using concepts as raw material. A concept is, in short, a more or less simple memory based on a past experience, which leaves in the brain a type of information that can be used to explain other situations .

For example, a baby is able to recognize by touch an object that before had only seen, untouched, since his memory of the image of it is used to create a mental representation of its shape in three dimensions. This representation of the object, which arrives through the visual sensory modality but which serves to generate other types of representations, is a concept.

Something similar happens with the learning mode of animals. For example, what happens when a predator smells a certain type of prey has to do with concepts: in this case, representation is an organism with several characteristics, among which is that particular smell and possibly the taste of its flesh. In the same way, many living beings are capable of think from the concept of quantity , knowing that the unit is less than the pair, etc.

However, neither the concepts with which babies think nor those that use the vast majority of animals are in themselves abstract concepts. Why? Because they are not based on abstract properties of objects, landscapes and living beings that have been perceived through the senses.

This kind of simple concepts give information about easily verified sensory characteristics, such as shape, color, texture or danger to oneself, but they do not inform about aspects less bound to the earthly , like the attitudes, the gender to which a species belongs, etc. In short, it is not based on subtle properties that can be attributed indirectly to other things.

Different degrees of cognitive complexity

There are more abstract concepts than others, and for that reason, there are abstract reasonings that are also more abstract than others.

For example, the concept of border is abstract because it does not tell us much about the physical properties of an object or living being, but Platonic love is even more abstract, because it can not even be represented by a form (in the case of the border, that form could be a line) without taking many concessions. Thus, reasoning from the idea of ​​what a border is is not the same as using the ideas of the famous Greek philosopher.

Definitely, Abstraction is a relative property . Basically, the abstract is what we do not directly perceive in ourselves, but at the same time we can see "incarnated" in what surrounds us: sympathy, minimalism, coarseness, etc.

The usefulness of abstract reasoning

A greater capacity for abstract reasoning provides us a greater number of options for adapting to changes . At the end of the day, it is an aptitude closely related to intelligence.

Creating new information from sensory data is a task that is largely responsible for abstract reasoning. Think, for example, of the process by which a new business idea is discovered.

First, an unmet need is discovered in a certain type of environment, or you discover a personal or organizational strength that allows you to develop a new line of products or services. In addition, we must think about the logistics that will be used for this, and see if it will be viable.

Later on, we think about the kind of skills that are necessary to make this initiative prosper and recruit the right personnel to work on it.In later phases the details related to marketing are finalized, and it is necessary to create an image that transmits both the sensations that must be expressed by what is offered and the philosophy of the company.

All these steps require making well-detailed future plans, and use the language carefully and the concepts linked to mathematics in order to create strategies and coordinate several people who will need to work in unison. In short, from a simple intuition, or a quick review of the type of products available in the marked we imagine a situation that could be reached and we began to mentally build the type of situations that should occur to achieve the goal.

Its neurological bases

Abstract reasoning is based on all kinds of mental processes, since being so complex needs the participation of many areas of the brain , especially of the cerebral cortex. However, there are some brain structures that are more related to this type of operations than others.

The main parts of the brain linked to abstract reasoning are the frontal lobes of the two cerebral hemispheres, on the one hand, and the associative cortex, on the other.

The frontal lobe is a region of the nervous system that is responsible for making planning possible and the establishment of medium and long-term goals, something necessary to go beyond the impulses of the moment and, therefore, start thinking about future situations, for which abstract concepts are indispensable.

Second, the associative cortex is what allows abstract concepts to exist. Its main function is to make the different impressions left by external stimuli (be they visual, auditory or any other sensory modality) they believe the mental representation of qualities that we can attribute to several of these stimuli but that at the same time they are not the stimulus in itself. In short, abstract concepts are concepts of other concepts.

Together, these brain structures explain much of what has allowed the human being to be distinguished from other animals. However, we must not forget that abstract reasoning does not simply emanate from the brain, but depends on learning. Exposing ourselves to stimulating situations is essential to improve our chances of adapting to change.

How to train it?

Here are some useful activities to get used to using abstract reasoning:

  • Participate in debates.
  • Detect logical fallacies.
  • To practice mental calculation .
  • Form in philosophy.
  • Search for script holes in series or movies.

Beginner’s Guide To The EPSO Abstract Reasoning Test (September 2023).

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