The 9 Types of Thinking and Their Characteristics

Analytical, creative, and concrete are just some of the types of thinking. Find out what other ways of thinking are, along with their characteristics.
The 9 Types of Thinking and Their Characteristics

Written by Daniela Andarcia, 24 June, 2021

Last update: 24 June, 2021

Although it’s common to refer to the cognitive processes that are related to the intellect as thoughts, the reality is that it’s usually a bit more complex. The fact is that human beings use many different types of thinking.

When you make a decision, do a calculation, or reflect on a particular topic, logical processes are activated and involve different parts of the brain. Find out what thoughts are, what the different types are, and their characteristics.

What is thought?

Thought is defined as the ability of the individual to develop ideas about the environment, others and even about themselves. This also includes the formation of memories and beliefs, which relate to each other.

Similarly, it’s linked to a series of abstract mental processes which can be voluntary or involuntary. However, these processes aren’t considered entirely “pure”, as they are in some way “colored” by emotions and feelings.

Types of thinking

There’s no doubt that thought is made up of a series of rather complex processes. Fortunately, classifying them by type can serve as a tool to better understand the human mind. Let’s look at each of these types of thinking in detail.

1. Analytical thinking

The types of thinking are very different.
This type of thinking allows conflict resolution.

Analytical thinking is one that allows you to divide a problem into smaller parts that you then identify, categorize and analyze in order to reach a solution. Although it’s usually used when solving mathematical problems or scientific approaches, it can also be useful for making decisions, and solving conflicts, among other things.

What are the characteristics of analytical thinking?

The main characteristics of this type of thinking are the following:

  • It’s based on evidence and not on emotions.
  • It questions what, how and why.
  • A methodology is followed and the details are analyzed.
  • It encourages the development of investigative skills, as well as the logical organization of ideas and thoughts.
  • Divide the problem into small parts that allow you to understand its structure, how they’re related to each other, and if they’re relevant or not.

2. Creative thinking

According to Maltese writer and psychologist Edward Bono, “Creative thinking is not a mythical talent. It is a skill that can be practiced and nurtured”.

In that sense, we can say that it refers to the faculty of conceiving new and innovative ideas capable of breaking with the established norms. In contrast to the previous type of thinking, it involves unusual or unconventional ways of approaching and finding a solution to a problem.

Likewise, there’s scientific evidence that this ability should be awakened and enhanced during the years of schooling.

What are its characteristics?

People with this type of thinking can be characterized by the following aspects:

  • Seeking to create something new
  • Challenging established principles
  • Focusing on the possibilities and not the probabilities
  • Rejecting the obvious alternatives and taking risks
  • Being flexible and elaborating with precision.

3. Critical thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to analyze and evaluate the information that exists on a subject, and then to clarify whether it’s truthful and thus form a judgment about it.

It dismisses the assumptions and allows us to discern if what they’re telling us is true or not. This is carried out through the use of deduction (conclusions based on the available facts), induction (deductions based on a generalization), and abduction (most probable conclusion).

A study published in Cambridge University Press found that critical thinking could be more useful to improve our lives, whether at work or on a personal level, than having a high IQ.

Critical thinking characteristics

Among the most outstanding characteristics of this way of thinking are the following:

  • Being analytical and thoughtful
  • Being wary of rumors and information of dubious origin.
  • Forming your own criteria and avoiding echoing others
  • Wondering what, how, and why
  • Being able to differentiate reason from emotion
  • Frequently questioning their beliefs and those of others
  • Building your own knowledge

4. Concrete thinking

Concrete thinking is based on what can be seen, heard and felt in the present. It’s also called literal thinking, as it focuses on physical objects and exact interpretations.

There’s scientific evidence that states that this type of thinking can be beneficial to empower some people. Research published in Behavior Therapy showed that it can reduce the number of intrusive memories in people with jobs that expose them to traumatic episodes.

What are the characteristics of concrete thinking?

The characteristics of this type of thinking are as follows:

  • It focuses on what the senses perceive in the here and now.
  • As it’s focused on the present, it uses very little mental processing.

5. Abstract thinking

Abstract thinking is the ability to understand real concepts that aren’t related to experiences and physical objects, such as love, morals, and hope.

In the same way, it allows us to absorb information from our senses and associate it with the world in general. It’s often said that humorists are experts in this type of thinking, as they observe their surroundings, detecting incongruities and absurdities, which they turn into jokes with surprising associations.

Improvising, solving puzzles, and using figurative language are some easy ways to improve abstract thinking. It has also been shown that people with professions related to science promote this way of thinking when carrying out art or crafts projects.

Something similar happens with optical illusions. A study published in the Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education found that using art and photographs with optical illusions can serve as training for students to help them see things in different ways. This trait is key in abstract thinking.

Main characteristics of abstract thinking

These people stand out for the following:

  • Focusing on real concepts, but not ones associated with physical objects or experiences.
  • Allowing you to think abstractly and, therefore, to create ideas that aren’t concrete.
  • Stimulating imagination, creation, and innovation.
  • Promoting deep reflection.
  • Being flexible and encouraging discussion.

6. Divergent thinking

The types of divergent thoughts.
People who think this way may find it easier to work in a team.

Divergent thinking, also known as lateral thinking, is a cognitive process that allows you to generate creative ideas through the exploration of many possible solutions. You can gather data and facts from various sources and then apply logic, solve the problem, and make decisions.

Now, although it’s true that it starts from one common point, it then moves in many directions that allow it to consider many different aspects and perspectives.

However, a study published in The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine found that it can deteriorate with age and that children between 10 and 15 years of age stand out the most in this type of thinking.

What are its characteristics?

Some characteristics of divergent thinking are the following:

  • Promoting creativity and originality
  • Moving in different directions to find the best solution
  • Offering new ways to solve problems or approaches

7. Convergent thinking

Unlike the previous one, convergent thinking unites several perspectives and, in an organized and logical way, is able to obtain a single answer. Generally, this focuses on a finite number of solutions rather than multiple ones.

In addition to this, it doesn’t require creativity, and so it might not be the best choice when it comes to solving complex problems that require innovation. Ultimately, convergent thinking uses established procedures, along with memory, to arrive at the correct answer.

Characteristics of convergent thinking

Convergent thinking tends to have the following characteristics:

  • Seeking to find the correct answer to a problem
  • Using a specific and conventional method
  • Approaching problems logically

8. Sequential thinking

This way of thinking refers to the ability to process information in an orderly and linear fashion. It’s a step-by-step progression, where the answer of one step must be obtained in order to continue.

What are their characteristics?

In general, these are the characteristics of sequential thinking:

  • It’s based on logic
  • It emphasizes the methodology
  • It seeks to find a solution to a problem
  • The elements that make up the problem are analyzed
  • It doesn’t create any unexpected responses.

9. Holistic thinking

In contrast to the previous one, holistic thinking allows you to see the big picture and recognize the connections that exist between the components that make up a system. Because of this, the process goes in different directions in order to understand and detect the patterns of the system.

Main characteristics of holistic thinking

The following stand out:

  • It helps you to obtain an overview of a complex system
  • It analyzes reality globally
  • The system is broken down into individual details

The different types of thinking: innate capacities that you need to develop

Thought is the individual ability to develop ideas. It’s linked to a series of often abstract cognitive processes that can be both voluntary and involuntary.

These processes are what are known as types of thinking and, in general, include analytical, creative, critical, concrete, abstract, divergent, convergent, sequential and holistic.

It might interest you...
5 Benefits of Being Bilingual for Your Brain
Muy Salud
Read it in Muy Salud
5 Benefits of Being Bilingual for Your Brain

Science has been studying for years how being bilingual affects us, at the brain level. In this article we talk about 5 benefits of being bilingual...



  • Sternberg, R. J. (2006). The Nature of Creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 18(1), 87–98. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326934crj1801_10 (Retraction published 2020, Creativity Research Journal, 32[2], 200)
  • Halpern, D., & Butler, H. (2018). Is Critical Thinking a Better Model of Intelligence? In R. Sternberg (Ed.), The Nature of Human Intelligence (pp. 183-196). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316817049.013
  • White, R., & Wild, J. (2016). “Why” or “How”: The Effect of Concrete Versus Abstract Processing on Intrusive Memories Following Analogue Trauma. Behavior therapy, 47(3), 404–415. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beth.2016.02.004
  • Root-Bernstein, R., Van Dyke, M., Peruski, A., & Root-Bernstein, M. (2019). Correlation between tools for thinking; arts, crafts, and design avocations; and scientific achievement among STEMM professionals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(6), 1910–1917. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807189116
  • Marintcheva B. (2013). Looking for the forest and the trees : exercises to provoke abstract thinking. Journal of microbiology & biology education, 14(1), 127–128. https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.535
  • Abbasi K. (2011). A riot of divergent thinking. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 104(10), 391. https://doi.org/10.1258/jrsm.2011.11k038