Understanding Cognitive Development- The Formal Operational Stage: As part four of our cognitive development series, we will discuss the final stage of Piaget’s theory: the formal operational stage.
The Formal Operational Stage
The formal operational stage begins around the age of twelve and lasts well into adulthood. During this time, the development of abstract thought and hypothetical reasoning emerges in both adolescents and adults.
Deductive reasoning, systematic planning, and logical thought are some important skills that emerge during the formal operational stage.
The ‘Third Eye Problem’ Experiment
Piaget designed a test called the ‘third eye problem’ to examine the creative and abstract thinking of adolescents. Piaget asked children of different ages where they would place a hypothetical third eye on the human body. Younger children mostly imagined the third eye in the middle of their forehead, while older children came up with several creative ideas. Some suggested an eye in the middle of a hand, as it would be useful to see around corners or even an eye in the back of one’s head, to see behind you.
Piaget considered deductive reasoning to be a hallmark of the formal operational stage. Deductive reasoning, which is sometimes referred to as top-down logic, uses a general principle to deduce a specific conclusion. Scientists and mathematicians often use deductive reasoning when working with hypothetical situations and concepts.
Instead of basing their thoughts on previous experiences, adolescents begin to consider the possible outcomes of certain situations.
Adolescents develop metacognition, which allows them to consider their own thoughts and the thoughts of others. Additionally, kids often ask “what if” questions when considering the various outcomes of a given situation.