The term convergent thinking is defined as the process of finding the single best solution to a problem or question, such as arriving at the answer to a multiple choice question or figuring out how to program your VCR. Coined by J. P. Guilford in 1950, convergent thinking is a process that seeks out the right or best possible solution from many possibilities. Some types of questions that require convergent thinking are multiple choice tests, logic puzzles, and text comprehension questions. Convergent thinking questions often require the subject to resolve, explain, identify, or define.
Convergent thinking is usually contrasted with divergent thinking, which is defined as searching for a variety of relevant solutions to problems that have many possible answers, such as when one is brainstorming for topics to write about for a poem. Some examples of questions that tap divergent thinking include predicting what may happen if the stock market crashes or imagining the possible outcomes of different marketing campaigns for a new product. Divergent thinking questions often require the subject to predict, imagine, compose, or create. Divergent thinking incorporates the ability to generate multiple ideas from a single starting point. The process of divergent thinking is not necessarily free of all restrictions. When writing a poem, one may follow the precise rules outlined for a sonnet or haiku and still engage in divergent thinking. Convergent thinking is usually tested by performance on tasks requiring analytic and reasoning skills, whereas tests that measure divergent thinking are thought to reflect creativity.
Developmentally, many educational psychologists believe that the current education system tends to emphasize convergent thinking over divergent thinking and that this emphasis encourages children to refine related skills and traits over others. Students are often encouraged to memorize facts and algorithms rather than to engage in creative projects. Most of the usual testing formats, such as multiple choice, true/false, and fill-in-the-blank questions are designed to reflect convergent thinking processes. Additionally, most standardized achievement tests also reflect convergent thinking. Recently, some researchers have advocated an approach to education that recognizes and encourages divergent thinking skills in addition to convergent thinking.
There are some personality differences between individuals that possess a more convergent thinking style versus those that possess a more divergent thinking style. Convergent thinkers tend to be more intolerant of ambiguity compared with divergent thinkers, and thus tend to be uncomfortable in areas that do not emphasize correct answers such as philosophy or art. Also, individuals with a convergent thinking style tend to be more introverted than divergent thinkers. Finally, convergent thinkers tend to have an external locus of control compared with divergent thinkers. Although these studies are correlational in nature, they provide an idea of individual differences associated with each thinking style.
In summary, convergent thinking is the process of finding the single best possible solution to a problem. It is contrasted with divergent thinking, which is defined as searching for a variety of answers to a single problem. Convergent thinking is emphasized throughout the life span; however, divergent thinking skills are also thought to be developmentally important.
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