The Characteristics and Advantages of Convergent Thinking

Convergent thinking uses logic, reason, and experience to provide the right solution quickly. Find out how it works, when you can use it, and its main advantages.
The Characteristics and Advantages of Convergent Thinking

Last update: 25 June, 2021

You’ve probably heard of divergent or creative thinking, but… what about convergent thinking? Do you know what it is? When to apply it? There are multiple ways of thinking, reflecting, and reaching more or less reliable conclusions. Thus, choosing the best one is, in itself, a skill that improves with experience.

Today, we’ll focus on convergent thinking, a type of thinking based on the logic that’ll help you solve problems with unique solutions. Read on to learn more about it.

“In tests of convergent thinking there’s almost always one conclusion or answer that’s regarded as unique, and thinking is to be channeled or controlled in the direction of that answer.”

-Kay Redfield Jamison-

What’s convergent thinking?

In 1967, the American psychologist Joy Paul Guilford proposed two new types of thinking (at the time): divergent and convergent.

He defined convergent thinking as the ability to give the right answer to a question by logically ordering the available information. In other words, it’s the ability to solve problems or answer questions without any creative ability.

An example of convergent thinking is when you do common math operations such as addition.

A woman doing math.

Thus, people follow established and habitual patterns for problem-solving through convergent thinking. They don’t “go beyond” through this type of thinking (as they’d do with divergent thinking) to apply a strategy they’ve used before, at least not in the same way as they previously used it.

In contrast, divergent thinking is a process of approaching or solving problems through the search for innovative strategies and solutions. This type of thinking is also known as creative or lateral. According to Guilford, innovation processes alternate both types of thinking. Also, one of its goals is to find more effective solutions.

How does convergent thinking work?

As you can see, one could say that convergent thinking is the antagonist to divergent (creative) thinking. A type of thinking that doesn’t focus on all the possibilities (even those that require more imagination) but seeks to find the most appropriate solution quickly and accurately.

To do so, humans use the information we believe will help us solve the problem but don’t imagine alternative or atypical scenarios, as it happens with divergent thinking. It’s a fairly narrow thinking process in this regard.

When’s it most useful?

Convergent thinking may seem more limiting because it isn’t imaginative or creative but can be useful in certain situations.

For example, you’d arrive at a single correct answer through a decision-making logical process in those situations in which there’s just one.

The characteristics of convergent thinking

This type of thinking usually gives you uncertain answers. In addition, it’s based on reason and logic, and you resort to any available information in order to find a quick precise answer with it.

In addition, convergent thinking is about the knowledge we already have. This is so because you use standardized data when you apply it.

Finally, you also use critical thinking through it. The kind based on information, prior knowledge, logic, statistics, and probabilities.

The advantages of convergent thinking

What are the advantages of using this type of thinking over another? Here are two of the most significant ones:

It’s perfect for problems that don’t require a better solution

Convergent thinking can help you make decisions. According to psychologist Oscar Castillero, decision-making encompasses all those processes through which a person selects one of the multiple possible options among those available. To do so, the person relies on a large number of factors surrounding the situation.

Using this type of thinking in everyday life is useful for most problems. Are you going to look at the map to get from home to work every day? Are you going to keep looking for a recipe to improve that stew that’s already quite tasty?

Thus, there are times when you don’t need better results and the solutions and strategies you already know will suffice. This is the arena in which convergent thinking gives you confidence and, thus, is the best choice.

A happy woman.

Uses few cognitive resources

Using strategies you already know saves mental energy. You’ve already explored these familiar paths, trails, or routes, so they’re predictable.

For instance, you know that turning on the heating will warm you up when you’re cold. Also, you know that stretching will relieve back pain. Think of it, you basically do these types of actions automatically.

Thus, this kind of thinking is light in its application, as people make many decisions every day without even being aware of it.

Learning and thinking

Convergent thinking can be useful in many cases. Thus, knowing its characteristics can help improve its use and effectiveness. There are many types of thinking, and the usefulness of each of them, the choice of which is better or worse will depend on circumstantial variables: the goal and the nature of the problem itself.

The important thing is to thoroughly analyze the context, to know the possibilities of response (and create them if they don’t exist, to power your imagination), to elaborate a plan of action, and execute it to reach the desired response. Although you’ll make thousands of mistakes, fortunately, you’ll learn from them. Keep in mind that experience is a demanding teacher; it first puts you to the test and then teaches you a lesson.

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Divergent Thinking: What It Is and How to Develop It
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Divergent Thinking: What It Is and How to Develop It

Though it is not often encouraged in schools, divergent thinking is a very special, important type of thinking that we should learn how cultivate.



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