Mentalizing solutions to problems


When we reason about a problem, we tend to use a simple and useful outline most of the time. This way of thinking is what is known as linear thinking.

Next we will see the details of this mental process to know the characteristics and types of final thought , and to know when we usually resort to this model.

What is linear thinking?

Linear thinking, also called vertical thinking, is a problem-solving method commonly used by the human mind . This way of facing the intellectual challenge requires several conditions.

First of all, as is logical, we must select the stimulus on which we are going to reason. In addition, we will be analytical regarding the variables of the problem in question. Finally, another of the fundamental characteristics of linear thinking is that it is sequential. This scheme is based on the conscious and rational approach about the stimulus on which one is working.

The term linear or vertical thinking was coined by the psychologist Edward de Bono, in 1970 , when he wrote about what would be the opposition to this concept, lateral thinking. We will talk about it later. In his publications, de Bono distinguishes between linear and critical thinking because, although they have similarities, linear thinking implies that the person uses the method to find a solution to the problem.

When we apply this way of reasoning, we automatically select the relevant information for the resolution process, ignoring everything that is not useful to us. The object is to find the answer that fits the most satisfactorily, once the sequence of thought has been carried out and the problem has been analyzed.

What is the practical application of linear thinking? As many as we can imagine. It is evident that the possibilities of human thought are infinite, therefore, the application of one of its methods will also be, by definition.

How to learn to use linear thinking

Author Paul Sloane developed a famous method for children to develop and optimize their linear thinking . This system is that of situation puzzles. It is a series of exercises in which a problem is always posed and then a series of solutions.

The point is that some of these solutions will be impossible, others will be possible and one in particular will be the most correct of all. All are shown to the child and he must decide which one he chooses. This exercise has a double function. On the one hand, the participant is developing the skill, not only in linear but also lateral thinking .

But in addition, the evaluator, who can be the teacher or another professional, can verify in a graphic and simple way what is the predominant type of thinking in the child. These tests are designed to be used with children from 4 years of age, since it is the age at which they discover that not all thoughts are always true and when they begin to use induction in their reasoning.

Therefore, it is then that they are enabled to perform a sequential thought process, as required for linear thinking. According to Sloane, applying this type of exercise from an early age helps to mature the thinking methods, provides both emotional and social stability to the child, helps him to reduce his aggressiveness and has a positive impact on his academic life .

Types of linear thinking (and their characteristics)

We already know the characteristics of this mental process and the way in which it can be stimulated. Now we will try to discover the differences between the different types of linear thinking that we can find.

We have seen that all linear thinking requires a process of analysis to then establish a series of steps in the procedure in which no mistakes can be made. But within this framework, we find the following types.

1. Natural thinking

The first type of linear thinking that we are going to know is natural thinking. This way of reasoning is characterized by appearing spontaneously . It is an impulsive way of thinking and therefore no type of operation is used during it.

2. Logical thinking

The next modality that we find is logical thinking. This form of linear thinking establishes a sequence of reasoning in which the individual faces disjunctive questions, in which he has to answer affirmatively or negatively to each question that arises , with the aim of finding a logical solution to the problem that arises has raised.

3. Mathematical thinking

Finally, we have mathematical thinking. This is a more complex form of linear thinking and, in contrast to natural thinking, it bases its entire operation on the use of mathematical elements such as rules, symbols and even different algorithms.

How to measure linear thinking

All the types of linear thinking that we have seen develop in human beings during the school stage, continuously, since it is the moment when people learn to reason logically. Now ... how do you investigate this kind of psychological processes?

Of course, not all people make the same use of linear thinking . We have already commented on the existence of other modes of reasoning, such as lateral thinking, for example. To be able to assess the degree to which a person makes use of this way of thinking. We are going to review some of the tests that have been designed for this purpose.

1. Myers-Briggs type indicator

The Myers-Briggs test, or MBTI, studies the way in which an individual receives stimuli from their environment and makes the relevant decisions based on it . To achieve this objective, it uses four axes that are then combined with each other, giving rise to a grid with different possibilities that indicates in which of them the subject who has performed the test is located exactly.

The axes that the MBTI uses and through which we can infer the degree to which it uses linear thinking are, firstly, extraversion and introversion, then intuition and sensation, thirdly, feeling and thinking, and finally, perceiving or judge. The axis that would have the most weight for the question at hand is that of intuition-sensation. Subjects who score higher in sensation will be more likely to use vertical thinking.

2. Learning and thinking styles

Another very useful tool for evaluating the strength with which a person uses linear thinking is that of learning and thinking styles, also called SO-LAT. Through the results of said test, the evaluator can obtain information about whether the processes used by the subject are holistic or, on the contrary, analytical .

It would be, in fact, those of an analytical type that would allow us to infer that the individual is more given to using linear thought processes compared to other modalities.

3. Profile of linear and non-linear thinking style

The tests we have seen so far serve to give some insight into the use of linear thinking, but they are not expressly designed tools for this task. So a group of researchers, led by Charles Vance, decided in 2007 to create a test that would evaluate exactly this question. This is how they designed the LNTSP, or Linear or Nonlinear Thinking Style Profile.

This tool is a Likert scale questionnaire made up of 74 items , thanks to which the evaluators can obtain results that indicate the degree to which the subject is more inclined to make use of linear thinking or if, on the contrary, they have a greater tendency to take advantage of the resources offered by non-linear thinking, such as lateral thinking.

Linear thinking vs. lateral thinking

We have mentioned lateral thinking several times, which would be a different way of reasoning from the one that characterizes linear thinking. Lateral thinking, on the other hand, introduces a creative component into the reasoning system that breaks with the rigidity of the scheme . It is a way of thinking that is not always based on logic, but requires imagination and the creation of mental scenarios in search of a solution.

The term lateral thinking, like linear thinking, comes from the publications of the aforementioned author, Edward de Bono. It is a concept that has gained enormous popularity, although it has also received some criticism. Some of the detractors of this approach affirm that it is not a scientific concept, but a pseudoscientific one.

In any case, it would be the other end of the continuum between linear and non-linear thought, an axis in which all human beings move, although each one has a greater tendency to habitually locate at a specific point on said continuum.

When we reason about a problem, we tend to use a simple and useful outline most of the time. This way of thinking is what is known as linear thinking.

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