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  • Ernesto Locke

Dimensional and Categorical thinking: Which type are you?

Research shows that there are two widespread types of thinking: categorical and dimensional. Based on the type, one perceives the world in a completely different light. Significant effects on academic results and … have been observed based on the type of thinking. Read on and take our short quiz to figure out what type of thinker you are.

Do you believe that with enough effort, you could do everything? You might be a dimensional thinker.

Do you have trouble understanding prejudice? You might be a dimensional thinker. Do you know what you are good at and rely mostly on your intuition? Then you could be thinking categorically.

Categorical thinkers are people that like to make sense of things by compartmentalizing all new incoming information, fitting it into neat preexistent categories, or creating new ones. For a categorical thinker, the world is black & white, good & bad. Nothing in-between.

Dimensional thinkers, on the other hand, see that approach as limiting. They believe most things don’t fit into little neat categories. Their perception of new stimuli can be explained as a continuum, a scale ranging from light gray to dark gray. Where the categorical thinker sees either black or white, the dimensional thinker sees an ocean of gray.

Perhaps the best-known example of this dichotomy in practice is the thinkers’ views on mental illness.

If you ask two average people, one thinking along dimensions and the other one in categories, what is the mechanism of depression, you will get two different answers. The categorical thinker will tell you that you are either depressed or you are not depressed. You are anxious or you are not. You suffer from a bipolar disorder or you don’t. The dimensional thinker will explain that everyone is suffering from the for the mentioned condition to a degree. Today you might feel totally fine, a 1/10 on the depression scale, but a number of unpredictable circumstances can make you sink into the depths of despair, and tomorrow you are 10/10.

The dimensional/categorical theory has been studied worldwide, and the researchers have found that the ratio of dimensional to categorical thinkers is universal. Angola, Japan, India, or Germany, about half of the population shows a prevailing categorical cognition, with the other half thinking mainly in dimensions.

What are the benefits of each cognitive model? The scientific literature seems to favor the dimensional model, as it has been proven that dimensional thinkers are less likely to be prejudiced, less prone to believe dubious marketing tactics, and perform better academically. The benefits of categorical thinking are not as obvious as those of the dimensional variety. In the vast majority of studies on the topic, the rational thinker falls short of the categorical thinker, be it in test scores, open-mindedness, or the ability to see the bigger picture. However, it has been hypothesized that categorical thinkers (with their ability to briskly classify new information) are more decisive and have more confidence in their arguments.

In their study from 2005, Bråten and his Norwegian team found that children who think categorically (therefore seeing intelligence as a fixed trait) perform worse at exams than their dimensionally thinking classmates. The same study found that dimensional thinkers are also more focused on improving themselves then categorical thinkers, whose primary motivation is their social status. Luckily for those categorical thinkers who strive to change their worldview, their mindset is changeable, and a study from Thompson & Musket (Australia) shows that categorical students that went through a class explaining the modes of thinking improved their results significantly.

One of the first things that your child learns at Yopreneurs is how to see the bigger picture. Find out more about our programs at www.yopreneursacademy.com/courses. Now ask yourself, are you a dimensional thinker? Or do you see the world as a series of neat categories?

If you’re still not sure, fill in the short questionnaire below and find out. 1. The kind of person someone is, is something basic about them, and it can’t be changed very much.

2. People can do things differently, but the important parts of who they are can’t really be changed.

3. Everyone is a certain kind of person, and there’s not much that they can do to really change that.

Agree Disagree

2 “Agree” = Categorical 2 “Disagree” = Dimensional References

Hong, Y., Chiu, C., & Dweck, C. S. (1995). Implicit Theories of Intelligence/Efficacy, Agency, and Self-Esteem. The Springer Series in Social Clinical Psychology, 197. Weber, M. (1978). Economy and society: An outline of interpretive sociology. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.

Chiu, C. Y., Hong, Y. Y., & Dweck, C. S. (1997). Lay dispositionism and implicit theories of personality.Journal of personality and social psychology, 73(1), 19.

Kwon, J., Seo, Y., & Ko, D. (2016). Effective Luxury-Brand Advertising: The ES-IF Matching (Entity-Symbolic Versus Incremental-Functional) Model.Journal of Advertising, 45(4), 459–471. https://doi.org/10.1080/00913367.2016.1226995

Heslin, P., Latham, G., & Don Vandewalle, G. (2005). The Effect of Implicit Person Theory 35 | 4 4 on Performance Appraisals. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(5), 842–856. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.90.5.842

Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., & Dweck, C. (2007). Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development, 78(1), 246–263. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467- 8624.2007.00995.x Thompson, T., & Musket, S. (2005). Does priming for mastery goals improve the performance of students with an entity view of ability? British Journal of Educational Psychology, 75(3), 391–409. https://doi.org/10.1348/000709904X22700

Bråten, I., Strømsø, H., & Bråten, I. (2005). The relationship between epistemological beliefs, implicit theories of intelligence, and self-regulated learning among Norwegian postsecondary students. The British Journal of Educational Psychology, 75, 539–565. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/68844790/


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