Tag Archives: thinking

Convergent Thinking: The key to problem-solving

Imagine sitting in class shading the bubble on a multiple-choice test. You would not think that simple action has a whole lot to do with creativity, but when combined with divergent thinking, convergent thinking is an integral component of problem-solving. The thought process that goes into answering standard questions opens up a world of possibilities known as convergent thinking.

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What is Convergent Thinking?

While studying human creativity, psychologist Joy Paul Guilford first created the term as the opposite of divergent thinking.

When presented with a problem, it allows someone to arrive at a solution by analyzing the information available to them and later applying established rules and reasoning. It relies heavily on logic. Its purpose is to decrease the chance of ambiguity—seeking to bridge the gap between multiple interpretations. Ideally, it leads to one correct answer or method to solve a problem. Examples are IQ tests, standardized tests, math quizzes, and spelling tests.

Convergent VS. Divergent Thinking

Being linear and systematic, convergent thinking is straightforward. It filters ideas to a single solution. The process focuses on the questions, “why?” and “what’s best?”

Contrarily, divergent thinking is web-like—creating connections between ideas. Divergent thinking generates multiple ideas that are original, open to more than one solution, and unconcerned with the risks or limitations.

While different concepts, convergent and divergent thinking go hand-in-hand. Typically, we use divergent thinking to generate multiple ideas followed by convergent thinking to analyze and narrow down those ideas.  

Convergent Thinking and Brain Activity

Brain activity in convergent thinkers is unique. Such activity is measured by a test called an electroencephalogram (EEG). Electrodes on the scalp measure a person’s brain waves. It causes a distinct increase in Theta bands, which is a type of brain wave linked to learning, memory, and intuition.

Studies of patients with hippocampal damage suggest that the ability to apply convergent thinking is associated with the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory (Warren et al., 2016). Neurotransmitter systems that carry signals to brain cells are also involved. Convergent thinking function is greater when lower levels of dopamine—the chemical for arousal, thinking, and planning—are present in the nervous system.

Convergent Thinking and Personality

Thinking processes affect personality. Personality traits are categorized into 5 basic dimensions. This is known as the Big Five method.

The Big Five personality traits are:

  • Openness—Curious, imaginative, sensitive to inner feelings
  • Conscientiousness—Efficient, organized, and diligently hardworking
  • Extraversion—Enjoys interacting with the world, talkative, energetic
  • Agreeableness—Considerate and kind to others, optimistic of human nature
  • Neuroticism—Sensitive and nervous, likely to be moody, anxious, or depressed, easily angered

After assessing brain activity studies, researchers conclude that divergent thinking, with its emphasis on creativity, is specifically linked to the traits of openness and extraversion. It was not found to be affected by any of the core personality traits. However, cognition does affect mood. Convergent thinkers tend to display more negative moods than their divergent thinking counterparts.

Executive Function Skills For Convergent Thinking

Executive functions are cognitive skills that assist in goal formation and achievement. There are three main areas: working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. Like this type of thinking, we practice executive function skills in daily life. These skills have a predominant role in creativity.

Executive function skills include but are not limited to:

Attention and Initiation

Attention is an executive function characterized by staying focused on a task. Attention is especially important for it because narrowing down one best solution requires focus. Additionally, attention helps sustain initiation—the executive function responsible for beginning a task and finishing it to completion.

Inhibition

Inhibition is an executive function that utilizes attention and reasoning to control impulsive, automatic responses. To put it simply, inhibition is part of self-control. A lack of inhibition prevents the ability to discard partial or incorrect solutions. When a person does not have inhibition, it also impacts their attention. They cannot remain focused enough to stay on task. Thus, poor inhibitory control is a disadvantage for convergent thinking.

Shifting

Although divergent thinking is unconcerned with limitations, the ‘best’ solution determined by convergent thinking tasks cannot be deterred by extensive limitations. Shifting is the executive function that allows us to adjust to these situations as they change or as limitations arise. In it, focus must shift to narrow down the ideas that were generated during divergent thinking.

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Regulating Emotions

Depending on the task, the thinking process can be stressful. Studies conclude that both convergent and divergent thinking tasks induce mood swings (Chermahini et al., 2011). Regulating emotions is the ability to deal with feelings, which is essential in times of stress. With its focus on filtering ideas, convergent thinking demands the managing of emotions. One has to acknowledge what they are feeling and address those feelings to overcome barriers to the most suitable solution.

Organizing

Convergent thinking is structured. The executive function, organizing, provides that much-needed structure. Organizing entails planning and prioritizing—each of which is relevant in convergent thinking. It is the point in the thinking process when ideas come to life. One has to identify key priorities to achieve their goals.  

IQ Tests and Convergent Thinking

Intelligence is a major component of cognition and thinking. IQ, which stands for intelligence quotient, measures convergent thinking. Questions on standard IQ tests are a prime example of this type of thinking. They measure logic, reasoning, basic knowledge, and thought flow. Intelligence does not depend on creativity, but they do have a relationship. Indicative of intelligence, higher IQ scores provide a starting point to it carry out. Problem-solving increases in difficulty if intelligence is low. However, intelligence does not guarantee creativity. Arriving at a correct textbook answer to a problem does not guarantee the capacity to generate original ideas before delving into the convergent thinking process.

How To Explore Creativity with Convergent Thinking

Most assume only divergent thinking is associated with creativity, but that is incorrect. It is necessary for creativity too. According to the Geneplore model, creativity is a cycle consisting of the generation stage and the exploration stage. Divergent thinking is the generation of ideas and convergent thinking explores ideas to put them in motion.

These general guidelines are beneficial to enhance creativity with convergent thinking:

Be Original

Do not dismiss novelty ideas. While divergent thinking is the stage in which original ideas are generated, convergent thinking involves actually working with ideas. Creative ideas may initially seem impossible due to limitations but think deeper. They may be able to be revised or modified. Step out of the ‘norm’ to courageously approach new ideas others do not understand.

Ask Questions

Questions beginning with “what,” who,” “when,” or “where” are typically convergent thinking questions. Convergent questions are less complex, easy to formulate, and strategic in nature. Asking questions creates goals to strive towards. The questions structure the thinking process. They also determine which information is no longer relevant and should be discarded.

Practice Objectivity

Convergent thinking is an objective experience. After establishing clear goals, those goals become the basis for the thought process. Objectiveness is focal for the organization and planning. Guide all questions around the objectives. This ensures the overall solution is met competently and without excessive distraction.

Take Time

Although we all appreciate situations of instant gratification, arriving at the single best solution to a problem is not instantaneous. Be deliberate when practicing convergent thinking. Hasty decisions prematurely eliminate ideas that could have potentially been successful. If overwhelmed, take a break from the process and return later with a fresh perspective.   

Convergent Thinking In Education

As previously stated, convergent thinking is implemented throughout the tasks of daily life. It has been put to practical use in educational settings. When convergent thinking is implemented for educational purposes, it requires information to be provided from numerous sources. Teachers are wise to deliver rigid, well-defined information for convergent thinking—not unfocused, open-ended ideas subjected to change. Concepts and materials are then combined to conclude the correct answer.

Examples of convergent thinking in school are study materials like flashcards, rote memorization, and drill learning. Class discussions between students and the teacher also contribute to convergent learning, as it is an opportunity to filter out incorrect ideas.

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Techniques of convergent thinking in the classroom are:

Grouping

Problem-solving processes originate with many ideas generated during divergent thinking. In contrast, those ideas must be organized into groups for convergent thinking. Some of the ideas are likely to be similar. By combining like-ideas, grouping makes the data easier to find the most accurate solution to the problem. The like-ideas can be merged into a single comprehensive solution.

Outlining

Students benefit from outlining because it offers structure. Facts and information in excess get disorganized, so outlining prevents useful data from getting lost amongst what is non-useful. Outlining techniques ensure the gathered research is easier retrieved from working memory. This is similar to grouping, except with more structure. Examples of outlining include step by step lists, web maps, or reframing questions with multiple choice answers.

Filtering

Both outlining and grouping are vital to the technique known as filtering. Outlining and grouping present the information in an organized manner to filter or weed out ideas that offer no solution to the problem at hand. Students cannot ‘choose the best answer’ on their exam without methodically eliminate the incorrect answers first.

As with anything, practice makes perfect. Convergent thinking does not come effortlessly. It requires repetition to refine the process.

References

Akbari Chermahini, S., & Hommel, B. (2012). Creative mood swings: divergent and convergent thinking affect mood in opposite ways. Psychological research, 76(5), 634–640. doi:10.1007/s00426-011-0358-z

Warren, D. E., Kurczek, J., and Duff, M. C. 2016. What relates newspaper, definite, and clothing? An article describing deficits in convergent problem solving and creativity following hippocampal damage. Hippocampus 26(7):835–40. doi:10.1002/hipo.22591

Critical Thinking: How to Develop It at Home and at School

What is critical thinking? It’s a way of reasoning and questioning things to help us make better decisions. We’ll explain what critical thinking is and how you can improve it daily. You’ll also learn how to boost a child’s critical thinking at school! Andrea Garcia Cerdan explains below.

Critical thinking

What is critical thinking? It’s the ability to think clearly and rationally, and understand the logical connection between ideas. Critical thinking allows us to think independently and reflexively.

Thinking critically requires the ability to reason and learn actively, not passively. This means taking an active approach to learning information, rather than just letting the information reach you.

People with developed critical thinking skills question ideas and thoughts and don’t take everything they hear as fact. They work to get a rounded view of an argument or idea, research and thinking reasonably about each possibility, and welcome a contradictory view. They don’t see an argument as something negative, but rather a chance to grow and learn.

Characteristics of a critical thinker:

  • Understands the connections between ideas
  • Determines the importance of these ideas
  • Recognizes and creates valid arguments
  • Identifies inconsistencies and reasoning errors
  • Approaches problems consistently and systematically
  • Reflects on their own beliefs, thoughts, and values

Critical thinking is a great decision-making tool, but that doesn’t mean that we always have to think critically because not every decision is important. Think about it: you could think critically about whether you’re going to eat salmon or chicken, but probably not a life-changing decision. When you’re in one of these situations where you have to make a decision, it’s better to be intuitive than critical. You’ll save time and psychological resources that you could be using to solve another problem.

How can you boost critical thinking?

1.Don’t believe everything you hear

The first step to improving your critical thinking skills is to evaluate the information that you receive on a daily basis. Before doing something based on information that someone else told you, do your own research! Think about the problem and what possible solutions may be. Need some help coming up with answers? Maybe you want to improve your creative thinking as well! You have to decide for yourself what you want to do and what you believe is best, and evaluating all of the possibilities is a great way to do that.

2. Define you goals

What do you want to do? What’s your goal? How are you going to make it happen? Knowing what the goal is is an important part of creating a plan to get it done.

3. Research

We’re constantly being bombarded with information which can sometimes be overwhelming, but this constant information can actually help you make better decisions. When you’re faced with a problem or decision that you’re not sure about, look online, ask a forum, read a book, watch a documentary, or get in touch with someone who might be able to help you. Look at different opinions and arguments and look at it from all sides. The more information you have, the better prepared you’ll be to make a good decision.

4. Don’t assume that you’re always right

Everyone loves being right. It makes us feel like we know everything and can be a mood booster. But thinking that other arguments and ideas aren’t valid closes our eyes to other points of view. Your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs are just one possible solution, but there are other equally valid ideas that you should get to know and respect. Open your mind to other perspectives.

5. Don’t complicate things

There is a line of thinking that’s often used in scientific research when they’re trying to figure out which hypothesis is correct. It’s called Occam’s razor, and it’s the idea that when there is more than one possible answer, go with the simpler one until proven false.

6. Divide the problem into parts

When you’re faced with a difficult problem, try to break it up into smaller, more manageable parts. You’ll find it easier to evaluate and take on each different part of the puzzle on it’s own.

Developing Critical Thinking in the Classroom

One of the most important things that we can teach our children is showing them how to think, argue, research, and make their own ideas and opinions about diverse topics. Learning to do this as children will make it easier to do as adults, when the decisions and topics are more serious and have potentially serious consequences. Learning to how to question things and not believe every word they hear, read, see, etc. will help them make their own decisions in the future.

So, how can we help develop critical thinking skills at school?

1. Group work

Working as a team helps children learn to think. When they’re surrounded by classmates and have to work together to talk about their ideas and thoughts, not only will they be exposed to other ideas, but they’ll have a chance to form their own opinion.

2. Let them use their creativity

Creativity is a skill that we have since birth, but using it more helps us develop and strengthen it. Learning to use creativity to solve problems can help us come up with ideas that we might not have thought of before, which is why it’s so important to use in a classroom. Instead of giving kids instructions to something, let them try to figure out how to do it on their own. Give them space to problem solve and use different theories to get the job done without a specific plan.

3. Don’t run to their aid right away

Children will get used to having things done for them. If they try to do something and ask for help, you might be inclined to solve the problem for them, which will inhibit their ability to problem solve on their own. It’s better to let them struggle and think of the answer on their own rather then run in and save them right away. For example, if they’re having trouble with a math problem, ask them questions to help them figure it out on their own.

4. Have brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming is a great way to help develop critical thinking. It helps the child reason and see different possibilities and points of view. Ask them questions like: “What is the book about? or What do you think you’re going to learn in this chapter?

5. Compare and contrast

A great way to help students learn to think critically is to let them compare and contrast the information that they have available to them. It can be about anything-books, hobbies, favorite x. You can do the same thing with a pro and con list.

6. Ask them questions

Asking questions helps students reflect and apply what they’ve learned to a real situation, which will help them consolidate the information and create an informed response. You can ask things like: “Do you agree with this? Which option do you think is better? Explain why you think this happened. Try to avoid questions with a yes or no answer and make them think and develop a response.

7. Let them debate

Debated are a great tool to help students reflect and thinking about a topic and develop opinions about what they’re learning.

A good way to promote critical thinking is to let each child defend an opinion. Do you think we should have uniforms at school? Break the kids into groups or assign each one a side to take and let them debate.

The video below will give you some more great ideas to improve critical thinking. Check it out!

 

Did we leave you with questions? Leave us a comment below! 🙂

 

This article was originally written in Spanish by Andrea Garcia Cerdan

Why is it impossible to stop thinking?

Why is it impossible to stop thinking?

Constant thinking is what propelled us from being a favorite food on the savanna—and a species that nearly went extinct—to becoming the most accomplished life-form on this planet. Even in the modern world, our mind always churns to find hazards and opportunities in the data we derive from our surroundings, somewhat like a search engine server.

Our brain goes one step further, however, by also thinking proactively, a brain training task that takes even more mental processing. For these reasons, we benefit from having a brain that works around the clock, even if it means dealing with intrusive thoughts from time to time.