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Concepts of Thinking

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Concepts of Thinking

What is thinking? How do we think with our brains? Our minds are endless puzzles of thoughts, problems, and solutions. How does all of this thinking work?

  • What are the concepts of thinking in psychology?
  • What is the definition of thinking in psychology?
  • What are some conceptual tools of thinking in psychology?
  • What are some examples and characteristics of thinking in psychology?

Concepts of Thinking in Psychology

Thinking is a broad topic, and there are different types, ways, and characteristics of thinking. At the center of this topic is what we call cognition.

Cognition is all of the mental abilities and activities associated with remembering, thinking, communicating, and knowing.

Concepts

How do we organize all of the information that we think about? We mentally organize information into categories. Concepts are mental groupings of events, similar objects, ideas, and people. Fruit is an example of a concept. There are many kinds of fruit that fit into that category in our minds. Even more specifically, the concept of yellow fruit probably makes you think of bananas and pineapples.

Grouping information into concepts gives our minds less work to do. Without organizing information this way, we would have to create a new word for everything! How do we create a concept in our minds? Creating a concept begins with a prototype!

Prototypes

Prototypes are simply representative mental images or examples of a concept. When we match a new item to a prototype, it creates a pathway of quick sorting for easier recall later on. When you think about fruits, what fruit comes to mind first? Is it an apple? If so, this is probably your fruit prototype! It tells you what qualifies as fruit and should get sorted into that category.

When we encounter an object that is new to us, we may need a new prototype. We might make an entirely new category in our mind for the object, or we can learn more about the object to see if we can fit it into an existing category. Maybe we change up our understanding of a concept and prototype completely to fit a new example!

Did you know that tomatoes are a fruit? Fruits contain flesh and seeds, and tomatoes fit this category perfectly. Cucumbers, avocados, olives, and corn are also fruits. Okra and string beans are technically fruits as well. Do your concept and prototype of fruit need changing to accommodate these food items?

Concepts of Thinking an infographic displaying a dog prototype and examples of dog concepts StudySmarterConcept and prototype, StudySmarter Original

The Definition of Thinking in Psychology

When we intentionally and carefully apply our thoughts to the world around us in order to understand, relate, and solve problems, our cognition turns into critical thinking. John Dewey (1910) introduced the term critical thinking and described it as the application of understanding. He also referred to critical thinking as reflective thinking or reflective thought.

John Dewey's Critical Thinking

John Dewey stated that critical or reflective thinking begins with wanting to solve a problem. Dewey says that finding an answer based on available data is the absolute essence of the scientific approach. Answering a question using the scientific approach requires creativity, intellectual honesty, and reliable judgment.

Intellectual honesty is problem-solving with an unbiased and honest attitude.

A researcher came to a conclusion about a study. Later the researcher reviews the study and realizes they made an error. If they are intellectually honest, they will acknowledge the error and correct the mistake.

Critical thinking requires a higher form of thought processing and refined cognitive abilities. Critical thinking requires skills such as conceptualization, interpretation, and analysis. How do we think critically? When we are taking a math test, for example, what cognitive tools or concepts can we use to answer the questions?

Concepts and Tools of Thinking in Psychology

Just like you need tools to build things in real life, we use cognitive tools to solve problems and understand new information.

Tools of Thinking in Bloom's Taxonomy

Benjamin Bloom (1956) came up with a hierarchy of cognitive tools called Bloom's taxonomy. It includes 6 levels of cognitive tools that move from simple to complex. These levels (in order) are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. If you want to know how well you understand a topic, see how many of Bloom's tools you can use as you think and talk about the topic.

Concepts of Thinking an infographic displaying the levels of Bloom's taxonomy StudySmarterBloom's Taxonomy, StudySmarter Original

Think of a subject or topic you know really well. We will use flowers as an example. What do you remember about flowers? What facts can you easily retrieve from your mind? How well do you understand flowers? Understanding can look like summarizing the parts of a flower, comparing different kinds of flowers, classifying flowers into groups, explaining how parts of a flower function, and interpreting scientific language about flowers.

Based on your understanding, you can apply your knowledge about flowers. If you are shown a specific flower, can you tell someone about it? Applying often involves analyzing as well. Can you tell different flowers apart, organize them, and attribute different functions to them? If you can apply and analyze a topic, you are ready to start evaluating it. Does what you have learned so far about flowers make sense?

Maybe you learned something early on about flowers that you now learn only applies to certain types of flowers. You critique textbooks that overgeneralize this aspect of flowers. The more you know about a topic like flowers, the more you can evaluate what other people say and write about them. Creating is the highest level of Bloom's taxonomy. With all your knowledge of flowers, can you make a realistic plan for a flower farm? Can you produce solutions to problems in flower farming? Can you generate new ways of keeping cut flowers fresh longer?

Concepts of Thinking a row of different kinds of flowers with picket signs StudySmarterFlower farm, pexels.com

We rely heavily on different kinds of thinking to find answers to many questions and problems in life. What are some examples of using different kinds of thinking in real life?

Algorithms

In science classes or math classes, we are taught algorithms to help us find solutions. An algorithm is a method or procedure for figuring out a solution to a problem. An example of this is PEMDAS or the order of operations in math. The answer to the math problem will be different depending on which order of operations you use to answer it! Algorithms guarantee a correct answer if they are used correctly.

Heuristic Thinking

A simpler type of thinking is called heuristic thinking. While this strategy is simple and quick, there is also a lot of room for error. You can think of heuristic thinking as a trial and error approach to solving problems.

You have to change a lightbulb in your house, but you don't know what kind of lightbulb to buy. You go to the store and purchase one that looks similar to the one at home. As you try the new lightbulb, you realize that it is not the correct type of lightbulb. You repeat the process of going to the store to search for one that looks like it will work. Eventually, you find one that works!

What happens if heuristic thinking fails to give you a solution? Often, we walk away from the problem and go about our day. As we take a test, we can move past the question we are unable to answer. Suddenly, without warning, an answer seems to just pop up in your mind! This is called insight, often referred to as an "Aha!" moment.

Characteristics of Thinking in Psychology

Mental sets, intuition, and metacognition are some characteristics of thinking in psychology. Do we approach a problem the same way each time? Do we follow a gut instinct or intuition to answer a question? What is metacognition?

A mental set means approaching the solution to a problem in the same way that we have in the past. It worked for us last time, so why not try it again? Does this approach or way of thinking always work for every kind of problem? No, but mental sets can still be beneficial as thinking shortcuts. If it is raining outside, we automatically take an umbrella with us because an umbrella proved useful in the past.

What about our intuition? These are thoughts or felt, gut senses that can be disconnected from reason or based on our emotions. Intuition means you just know what to do. When we need to act or problem-solve quickly, we can use intuition to come up with a solution. Often, our intuitions are rooted in heuristic thinking.

Metacognition is thinking about your thinking. It is how we plan, assess, and monitor our performance on a task, understanding of a certain subject, or solutions to problems. Metacognition helps a person reorder their thoughts about a particular task or problem. Learning, understanding, and other thinking strategies build up your cognitive abilities. Ultimately, they help you think more deeply about different topics and develop your metacognition.

Yesterday, Maddy and her boyfriend had a huge fight. They were both tired and emotionally reactive. Maddy is thinking about the fight today and realizes that she reacted based on her emotions and let her emotions guide her thoughts. She is thinking about her thinking, and she hopes to use what she learned from this fight to help her respond better in the future.

Concepts of Thinking - Key takeaways

  • Cognition is the mental abilities and activities that we associate with remembering, thinking, communicating, and knowing.
  • Concepts are mental groupings of events, similar objects, ideas, and people, and a prototype is simply a representative mental image or example of a concept.
  • John Dewey (1910) introduced the term critical thinking and described it as the application of understanding or reflective thinking.
  • The six levels of Bloom's taxonomy (in order) are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
  • Mental sets, intuition, and metacognition are some characteristics of thinking in psychology.

Frequently Asked Questions about Concepts of Thinking

The concept of critical thinking is using creativity, intellectual honesty, and reliable judgment in considering solutions to problems. 

The three types of thinking are algorithms, heuristic thinking, and critical thinking. 

The concept of critical thinking originated with John Dewey's theory. 

The tools of thinking in psychology according to Bloom's taxonomy are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

The thinking process in psychology is using mental sets, intuition, and metacognition. 

Final Concepts of Thinking Quiz

Question

Thinking is a massive concept and there are different types, ways, and characteristics of thinking. At the center of all of this is our ____. 

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cognition

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

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Cognition

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How do we organize all of the information that we think about?

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We begin to form concepts as our cognition grows.

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

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Concepts

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How do we create a concept in our minds? 

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With a prototype.

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A prototype is _____


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a representative mental image or example of a concept.

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Who introduced the theory and concepts of critical thinking?

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John Dewey

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_______________ is a way of problem-solving by having an unbiased and honest attitude when solving a problem or answering a question.

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Intellectual honesty

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True or False: Critical thinking requires a higher form of thought processing and cognitive abilities.


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True

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

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algorithm

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A simpler type of thinking is called _____. While this strategy is simple and quick, there is room for a lot of error while looking for a solution.

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heuristic thinking

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A ____ of thinking is approaching the solution to a problem in the same way that we have in the past to achieve success.

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mental set

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_____ is thinking about your thinking.

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Metacognition

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True or False? Metacognition is not the way that we plan, assess, and monitor our performance on a task, our understanding of a certain subject, or our solutions to problems.


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False

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What is intution?


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These are thoughts or "felt, gut senses" that are often considered unreasoned or emotion-based.

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What is not an example of a concept?

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Soccer

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What is the difference between a concept and a prototype?

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A concept is a category we put something into and a prototype is the mental image or example of the concept

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What would not be an example of a prototype of a fruit?

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Vegetable

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What is critical thinking?

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When someone applies what the understand to a new concept or situation

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According to Dewey, what was the important first step of critical and reflective thinking?

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Wanting to solve a problem

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Who proposed a taxonomy for thinking?

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Benjamin Bloom

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What is the order of the six levels of cognitive tools in thinking?

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Remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating

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Why is Bloom's Taxonomy important?

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It provides steps and tools to help someone increase their understanding of a subject

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What is the highest level of Bloom's taxonomy and why?

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Creating! It allows you to use your vast understanding of the topic and create using the information you know

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What is an example of a common algorithm?

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PEMDAS!

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What is more reliable, the use of an algorithm of heuristic thinking?

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Algorithm

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Why is metacognition important?

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It helps a person reorder their thoughts about a particular task or problem and build our thinking strategies

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What is not a characteristic of thinking?

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Insight

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What is the concept of critical thinking?

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The concept of critical thinking is using creativity, intellectual honesty, and reliable judgment in considering solutions to problems. 

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Where did the concept of critical thinking originate?

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The concept of critical thinking originated with John Dewey's theory

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