Divergent and Convergent Thinking: How to Stimulate Them

Children need to use logic, ingenuity, and creativity. For that, it's key to develop divergent and convergent thinking. Learn more.
Divergent and Convergent Thinking: How to Stimulate Them
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 29 April, 2023

People like to classify themselves into different categories. For example, defining ourselves as sociable or reserved, energetic or calm, etc. This gives us a sense of order and control over our environment. However, these labels can limit the possibilities, especially if we receive them from childhood. In this article, we’ll tell you what divergent and convergent thinking are and why it’s important to stimulate both in children.

Think for a moment about your child: Do you think they’re a logical person and very capable of using reason? Or, on the contrary, do you consider them to be creative and unconventional? Possibly, the answer to this dichotomy has quickly come to your mind. But, in reality, a child doesn’t have to embody any of these categories and can learn to use both to their advantage in different contexts.

Divergent and convergent thinking

When we talk about thinking, we refer to that set of cognitive functions that allow us to understand, analyze, solve problems, or make decisions. Although it may not seem like it, thinking is also learned, and children look at the people around them and the instructions they’re given to do so. Now, are you aware of what kind of thinking you promote with your example and your guidelines?

Convergent thinking

In general terms, we can differentiate between two major cognitive processes. Convergent thinking is linear , logical, and structured thinking. It is part of what you already know, the data you already know and the ways of doing things that you have learned before. It is, for example, the one we teach children to do addition or subtraction or to complete a crossword puzzle.

Divergent thinking

A young boy lying on the floor, writing in a notebook.
Divergent thinking seeks originality and the ability to see beyond that which has been established. In addition, it values the quantity of ideas and answers regardless of their quality.

On the other hand, divergent thinking is creative, chaotic, and innovative. It urges one to imagine and think for oneself, to make different associations between data, and reach multiple and diverse conclusions. For example, it’s very useful for solving puzzles, creating a choreography, or building a toy with pieces or elements that have another use.

Both are useful in different contexts

As you can see, convergent and divergent thinking are different but complementary. Each is useful in different contexts and for different purposes. One relies heavily on reason and logic, while the other involves creativity and originality.

The role of schools and homes

It’s parents, educators, and other caring adults who are responsible for teaching children to think. But what kind of thinking do we promote? To answer this question, we can look at the findings of an interesting study. In 1968, George Land and Beth Jarman began a longitudinal study that assessed the creativity of a group of children as they grew up.

When these children were 5 years old, they were asked a simple question, “How many possible uses can you think of for a paperclip or safety pin?” Based on the answers, participants were rated as more or less skilled in divergent thinking. What was surprising was that, at age 5, 98% of the children were classified as geniuses in this regard. However, at age 10, only 30% retained the ability, and at age 15, only 12%.

What happened to the creativity, ingenuity, and originality of these children? Quite simply, they were educated. And they were brought up in a system that, even today, still favors convergent thinking and neglects divergent thinking. In other words, parents and schools often override children’s innovation and try to adapt them to logical and sequential thinking.

A young girl doing math on a blackboard.
Convergent thinking uses organized procedures and sequences and arrives at a single conclusion.

Demand in today’s world

This tendency isn’t due to bad intentions on the part of adults, but to the historical past that precedes us. In the industrial age, where jobs were routine and structured, convergent thinking was the most useful. However, today our children are part of a changing and uncertain world, so the working world will demand critical thinking, ingenuity, innovation, and vision beyond the conventional.

How to stimulate divergent and convergent thinking

From home and school, we can help teach children how to develop and use both types of thinking. To do this, we can use our example, but also games, activities, and various proposals. For example, convergent thinking is stimulated by activities such as solving mathematical problems, playing chess, board games, or building models.

On the other hand, divergent thinking is enhanced by creating paintings, drawings, choreographies, songs, and imaginary stories. Anything that involves letting the mind fly, without sticking to a structure and being open to all possibilities. Riddles and word games, brainstorming, debates, or crafts that involve giving a new use to an already known object can also be interesting.

In any case, it’s best to generate a balance between both types of thinking. In this way, children are shown that both are useful and can be used whenever necessary. However, as schools tend to focus more on promoting logical thinking, it may be possible to support divergent thinking at home by giving that extra boost to imagination and innovation.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.