Abstract reasoning is perhaps what allows human beings to be as we know them today. Language, the ability to plan, and many other skills have to do with this side of our mind.
In this article we will see what is abstract reasoning, What are the areas of the brain that are most directly involved and how to train it.
What is abstract reasoning?
A definition of what abstract reasoning is might be as follows. It is the set of cognitive operations based on the reorganization of abstract concepts, carried out in order to produce new information in the form of a conclusion.
It is therefore a type of behavior of a private type (not easily observable by another person without the appropriate measuring instruments) in which the concepts with which one works are very abstract. However … What exactly does it mean that a concept is abstract? Let’s see.
Although we generally 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 of 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 kind of information that can be used to explain other situations.
For example, a baby is able to recognize by touch an object that he had previously only seen, untouched, because his memory of the image of it serves to create a mental representation of its three-dimensional shape. 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 way animals learn. For example, what happens when a predator smells a certain type of prey has to do with concepts: in this case, the representation is an organism with several characteristics, among which this particular smell and possibly the taste of its carn. Likewise, many living things are capable of think from the concept of quantity, Knowing that the unit is less than the torque, and so on.
However, neither the concepts babies think about nor those used by the vast majority of animals are in themselves abstract concepts. Because? Because they are not based on the abstract properties of objects, landscapes and living things that have been perceived through the senses.
These simple concepts give information about easily verifiable sensory characteristics, such as shape, color, texture or danger to oneself, but do not capture aspects. less linked to the earthly, Such as attitudes, the genus to which a species belongs, etc. Ultimately, it doesn’t rely on subtle properties that can be indirectly attributed to other things.
Different degrees of cognitive complexity
There are more abstract concepts than others, and for this very 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 a living being, but Platonic love is even more abstract, because it cannot even be represented. by a shape (in the case of the border, this shape could be a line) without taking a lot of concessions. So, reasoning from the idea of what a border is is not the same as using the ideas of the famous Greek philosopher.
In short, abstraction is a relative property. Basically, the abstract is what we do not perceive directly in itself, but at the same time we can see “embodied” in what surrounds us: sympathy, minimalism, rudeness, etc.
The usefulness of abstract reasoning
A greater capacity for abstract reasoning provides us with more options to adapt to change. After all, it is a skill 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, where a personal or organizational strength is discovered which enables the development of a new line of products or services. Also, you need to think about the logistics that will be used for this and see if it will be viable.
Later, we think about what kind of skills are needed to make this initiative thrive and recruit the right staff to work on it. In the later phases, the details related to the marketing are finalized, and it is necessary to create an image that conveys both the feelings that are to be expressed by what is offered and the philosophy of the company.
All of these steps require the development of well-detailed future plans, and use the language carefully and concepts related to mathematics to be able to create strategies and coordinate several people who will have to work in unison. In short, from a simple intuition, or a quick review of the type of products available in the market, we imagine a situation that we could reach and we began to mentally construct the type of situations that should occur for us. be able to achieve the goal.
Its neurological bases
Abstract reasoning is supported by all kinds of mental processes because it is so complex it needs the participation of a multitude of areas of the brain, Mainly from the cerebral cortex. However, some brain structures are more related to these types of operations than others.
The main parts of the brain related to abstract reasoning are the frontal lobes of the two cerebral hemispheres on the one hand and the associative cortex on the other hand.
The frontal lobe is a region of the nervous system that is responsible for making planning possible and to set medium and long term goals, something necessary to go beyond the impulses of the moment and therefore start to think about future situations, abstract concepts are therefore essential.
Second, it is the associative cortex that allows abstract concepts to exist. Its main function is to make the different impressions left by external stimuli (whether visual, auditory or any other sensory modality). they believe in the mental representation of qualities which can be attributed to several of these stimuli but which at the same time are not the stimulus itself. In short, abstract concepts are concepts of other concepts.
Together, these brain structures go a long way in explaining what made humans stand out from other animals. However, it should be remembered that abstract reasoning does not just 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
Here are some useful activities to get used to using abstract reasoning:
- Take part in the debates.
- Detect logical errors.
- practice mental arithmetic.
- Train in philosophy.
- Look for script holes in shows or movies.