How to Improve Your Abstract Reasoning Skills
In this article, we will see what exactly abstract reasoning is, what are the areas of the brain most directly involved in it, and how to sharpen your abstract reasoning skills.
Abstract reasoning is possibly what allows human beings to be as we know them today. Language, the ability to make plans, and many other skills have to do with this facet of our mind.
What is abstract reasoning?
It is the set of cognitive operations based on the reorganization of abstract concepts, carried out to produce new information in the form of a conclusion. Thus, it is a type of private behaviour (it is not easily observable by another person without the appropriate measuring instruments) in which the concepts with which one works are highly abstract. Now, what exactly does it mean that a concept is abstract?
Although we normally associate the idea of ”concept” with the use of language, the truth is that non-human animals devoid of the ability to use language also think of using concepts as raw materials. A concept is, in short, a simple memory based on an experience, which leaves a type of information in the brain that can be used to explain other situations.
For example, a baby can recognize by touching an object that he had only seen before, not touched since his memory of the image of it serves to create a mental representation of its shape in three dimensions. This representation of the object, which comes through the visual sensory modality, but which serves to generate other types of representations, is a concept.
Something similar happens with the way of learning animals. 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 is that smell and possibly the taste of its meat.
However, neither the concepts with which babies think nor those used by most animals are themselves abstract. Why? Because they are not based on abstract properties of objects, landscapes, and living beings that have been perceived through the senses.
Such simple concepts give information on easily verifiable sensory characteristics, such as shape, colour, texture, or danger to oneself, but they do not inform about aspects less linked to the earthly, such as attitudes, and gender that a species belongs to, etc. Ultimately, it is not based on subtle properties that can be indirectly attributed to other things.
Different degrees of cognitive complexity
There are concepts more abstract than others, and for that 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 living being, but Platonic love is even more abstract because it cannot even be represented by a shape (in the case of the border, that shape could be a line) without taking too 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.
Ultimately, abstraction is a relative property. The abstract is that which we do not perceive directly, but which at the same time we can see “embodied” in what surrounds us: sympathy, minimalism, coarseness, etc.
The usefulness of abstract reasoning
A greater capacity for abstract reasoning provides us with a greater number of options by which to adapt to changes. After all, it is a skill closely related to intelligence.
Creating new information from sensory data is a task that is largely handled by abstract reasoning. Take, for example, the process by which a new business idea is discovered. First, an unmet need is discovered in a certain type of environment, or a personal or organizational strength is discovered that allows the development of a new line of products or services. In addition, you must think about the logistics that will be used for it and see if it will be viable. Later, you think about the kinds of skills that are needed to make this initiative thrive and recruit the right people to work on it. In later phases, the details related to marketing are finalized, and it is necessary to create an image that conveys both the feelings that must be expressed by what is offered and the philosophy of the company.
All these steps require making well-detailed plans, and carefully using the language and concepts related to mathematics 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 market, we imagine a situation that we could reach, and we begin to mentally construct the type of situations that should occur to achieve the objective.
Its neurological bases
Abstract reasoning relies on all kinds of mental processes, since being so complex requires the participation of a multitude of areas of the brain, especially the cerebral cortex. However, some brain structures are more related to these types of operations than others.
The main parts of the brain associated with 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 possible planning and setting goals in the medium and long term, something necessary to go beyond the impulses of the moment and, therefore, start thinking about future situations, for which abstract concepts are indispensable.
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 (be they visual, auditory, or from any other sensory modality) create the mental representation of qualities that we can attribute to several of these stimuli but that at the same time are not the stimulus in itself. Ultimately, abstract concepts are concepts of other concepts.
Together, these brain structures explain much of what has allowed humans to distinguish themselves from other animals. However, it must not be forgotten that abstract reasoning does not simply emanate from the brain but depends on learning. Exposing ourselves to stimulating situations is essential to improve our ability to adapt to change.
How to train it?
Here are some helpful activities to get used to using abstract reasoning:
- Participate in discussions.
- Detect logical fallacies.
- Practice mental math.
- Training in philosophy.
- Find script holes in series or movies.