“Concepts” are mental representations that can refer to a variety of things, from concrete objects to abstract ideas.
Children start to develop concepts from an early age as packets of knowledge, known as mental schema, in our minds. This helps us to learn to create mental categories and differentiate between simple things like ‘dogs’ vs ‘cats’ and ‘tables’ vs ‘chairs’. As we grow older, our concepts or schema become more and more complex.
Below are some categories of concepts, which will help us sort our examples in this article.
- Concrete Concepts: “dog,” “tree,” “car”
- Abstract Concepts: “freedom,” “love,” “justice”
- Artificial Concepts: “triangle,” “square.”
- Self-Concept: “clever,” “capable,” “incapable”
- Theoretical Concepts: “gravity,” “electron,” “string theory”.
- Relational Concepts: “larger than,” “equal to,” “opposite.”
- Negative Concepts: “injustice,” “abyss”, “unhappy”
Let’s explore some examples from within each category.
Concrete concepts are concepts that refer to objects, events, or things that we can physically interact with or observe. Common nouns often fit into this category, because they’re concepts that we’ve created to refer to things.
- Apple: Red or green fruit; grows on trees.
- Bicycle: Two-wheeled, pedal-powered vehicle.
- Chair: Furniture for sitting; typically four legs.
- Dog: Domesticated canine; man’s best friend.
- Elephant: Large mammal; long trunk, tusks.
- Fork: Eating utensil; usually four prongs.
- Guitar: Stringed musical instrument; played with fingers.
- House: Building; primary human dwelling.
- Island: Land surrounded by water.
- Jacket: Outerwear; protects against cold.
- Kettle: Container; boils water.
- Lighthouse: Tall building; emits light for ships.
- Mountain: Elevated landform; higher than hill.
- Notebook: Bound paper; for writing.
- Oven: Appliance; cooks food with heat.
- Piano: Large musical instrument; keys produce sound.
- Quilt: Layered fabric; provides warmth.
- River: Flowing body of freshwater.
- Shoe: Footwear; protects feet.
- Television: Electronic device; displays video content.
Abstract concepts refer to ideas or notions that aren’t tangible but can be understood through thought and discussion.
- Love: Deep affection; emotional bond.
- Justice: Fairness; righteousness in action.
- Freedom: Absence of restraint; liberty.
- Truth: Reality; factual accuracy.
- Honor: Respect; high moral standards.
- Bravery: Courage in facing danger.
- Wisdom: Knowledge with insight; good judgment.
- Loyalty: Steadfastness; allegiance or commitment.
- Beauty: Aesthetic appeal; pleasing qualities.
- Morality: Principles of right and wrong.
- Hope: Expectation of positive outcomes.
- Faith: Belief without tangible proof.
- Guilt: Feeling of having done wrong.
- Joy: Intense happiness; delight.
- Envy: Desire for another’s possessions/qualities.
- Pride: Self-respect; satisfaction from achievements.
- Grief: Deep sorrow; mourning loss.
- Trust: Confidence in reliability.
- Time: Non-spatial continuum; past to future.
- Knowledge: Acquired information; understanding.
These are concepts that we form based on our experiences in the natural world. They often have a fuzzy boundary because nature is complex. For instance, our concept of “bird” might include the understanding that birds can fly, but not all birds fly (e.g., penguins).
- Rain: Water droplets from clouds.
- Sun: Star at center of solar system.
- Tree: Tall plant; trunk, branches, leaves.
- Ocean: Large body of saltwater.
- Bird: Feathered creature; usually can fly.
- Mountain: Elevated natural landform.
- Moon: Earth’s natural satellite; night light.
- Fish: Aquatic animal; gills, fins.
- Cloud: Visible mass of water droplets.
- Flower: Reproductive part of plants; colorful.
- Snow: Frozen water crystals; white flakes.
- Desert: Dry, sandy area; little rainfall.
- Volcano: Mountain; erupts lava, ash.
- Grass: Green plants; covers fields, lawns.
- Animal: Living organism; not plant.
- River: Flowing freshwater; streams to sea.
- Forest: Large area; dense trees.
- Stone: Solid mineral matter; rock.
- Wind: Moving air; natural phenomenon.
- Star: Luminous sphere; emits light, heat.
These are concepts that are defined by a specific set of characteristics. Mathematical and geometric figures like “triangle” or “square” are examples.
- Money: Medium of exchange; represents value.
- Internet: Global network; data exchange.
- Clock: Instrument; measures time.
- Law: Rules governing behavior; societal order.
- Book: Written or printed work; pages.
- Car: Motor vehicle; transportation.
- City: Large populated area; urban.
- Software: Programs; operate computers.
- Film: Moving pictures; storytelling medium.
- Skyscraper: Tall building; multiple floors.
- Airplane: Flying vehicle; transports people, goods.
- Plastic: Synthetic material; moldable.
- Medicine: Substance; treats or prevents diseases.
- Fashion: Prevailing style; clothing, behavior.
- Robot: Machine; performs tasks; often automated.
- Highway: Paved road; major routes.
- Telescope: Instrument; magnifies distant objects.
- Currency: System of money; specific region.
- Computer: Electronic device; processes data.
- Art: Human creative expression; various mediums.
This refers to how individuals perceive, believe, and regard themselves. It encompasses elements like self-esteem, self-worth, and the image one has of oneself.
- Self-esteem: Personal value; self-worth.
- Self-worth: Inner sense of value.
- Self-image: Mental picture of oneself.
- Self-confidence: Trust in one’s abilities.
- Self-awareness: Consciousness of one’s character.
- Self-identity: Understanding of who one is.
- Self-efficacy: Belief in one’s capability.
- Self-acceptance: Embracing oneself; flaws and all.
- Self-expression: Displaying one’s feelings, thoughts.
- Self-doubt: Lack of confidence; uncertainty.
- Self-respect: Regard for one’s own worth.
- Self-discipline: Control over impulses; self-regulation.
- Self-reliance: Dependence on one’s own abilities.
- Self-preservation: Instinct to protect oneself.
- Self-improvement: Act of bettering oneself.
- Self-deception: Convincing oneself of untruths.
- Self-reflection: Thinking about one’s actions, motives.
- Self-criticism: Evaluating one’s own faults.
- Self-sufficiency: Ability to sustain oneself.
- Self-love: Affection and care for oneself.
These are concepts that are not directly observable but are postulated to understand and explain phenomena. They are comon in academic and scientific research.
- Quantum Entanglement: Physics; particles linked regardless of distance.
- Black Hole: Astrophysics; gravitational pull, nothing escapes.
- Id, Ego, Superego: Psychology; Freud’s mind structure.
- Invisible Hand: Economics; self-regulating nature of markets.
- String Theory: Physics; universe made of vibrating strings.
- Natural Selection: Biology; survival and reproduction mechanism.
- Collective Unconscious: Psychology; Jung’s shared memory reservoir.
- Supply and Demand: Economics; market principle, price determination.
- Higgs Boson: Physics; particle giving others mass.
- Cultural Relativism: Anthropology; judging cultures by their standards.
- Dark Matter: Astrophysics; unseen mass, gravitational effects.
- Phenomenology: Philosophy; study of conscious experience.
- Plate Tectonics: Geology; Earth’s crust movement theory.
- Game Theory: Mathematics; models of strategic interaction.
- Operant Conditioning: Psychology; behavior modification via rewards/punishments.
- Big Bang Theory: Astrophysics; universe origin explanation.
- General Relativity: Physics; Einstein’s gravitational force theory.
- Social Contract: Philosophy; individuals’ agreement forming societies.
- Evolutionary Psychology: Psychology; evolution’s influence on human mind.
- Quantum Mechanics: Physics; behavior of particles at quantum level.
See Also: Examples of Theories
These are concepts that involve a relationship between different elements. Examples include “larger than,” “equal to,” or “opposite.”
- Above: Higher in position.
- Below: Lower in position.
- Inside: Contained within something.
- Outside: Not within something.
- Before: Prior in time or order.
- After: Following in time or sequence.
- Equal to: Same in value or amount.
- Opposite of: Contrary in position or direction.
- Part of: Component or piece.
- Whole: Complete or entire.
- Greater than: Exceeding in amount or degree.
- Less than: Not as much.
- Adjacent to: Next to or adjoining.
- Between: In the middle of two.
- Similar to: Almost the same.
- Different from: Not alike.
- Cause of: Reason for an effect.
- Effect of: Result of a cause.
- Parent of: One generation above.
- Child of: One generation below.
These are concepts understood in terms of what they are not. They are defined by their opposition to or absence of a certain property. For instance, “injustice” might be understood as the absence or opposite of justice.
Note: These concepts are not necessarily bad in the everyday term of ‘negative’, but simply, they are defined by the absence, lack, or opposition to another quality.
- Injustice: Absence of justice.
- Atheism: Absence of belief in deities.
- Invisibility: Not being visible.
- Inaudibility: Not being audible.
- Illiteracy: Absence of literacy or reading ability.
- Inequality: Not being equal.
- Unhappiness: Absence of happiness.
- Impotence: Lack of power or ability.
- Inactivity: Absence of action or activity.
- Insensitivity: Lack of sensitivity or feeling.
- Intolerance: Lack of tolerance or acceptance.
- Infertility: Absence of fertility or ability to reproduce.
- Insecurity: Absence of security or confidence.
- Unemployment: Absence of employment.
- Anarchy: Absence of government or order.
- Apathy: Lack of interest or emotion.
- Amorality: Absence of morality or moral sense.
- Asymmetry: Lack of symmetry or balance.
- Anomie: Lack of social norms or values.
- Abyss: Absence of ground or bottom.
But we can also see how concepts are shared by all of us.
You read through all the above words and understood what they referred to – that’s because you and I, as English language speakers, share both conceptual understanding and a common way of describing a range of ideas, things, entities, etc.
Our shared agreement about concepts like “freedom” and “love”, and shared words to refer to those concepts, are central to our ability to communicate and form a functioning society.
But, to complicate things further, socially-agreed upon concepts change over time. Perhaps most stark is our changing idea of marriage – from man married to woman exclusively, to any human marrying any other human.
In this sense, many social psychologists and sociologists understand that concepts are socially constructed. And that’s what we’ll talk about next. I’ll see you over on my article: What does ‘Social Construct’ Mean?
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]