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Cognitive development in the child: the stage of formal operations from 11 years onwards

After addressing the first three stages of the Theory of cognitive development of the psychologist Jean Piaget: the sensorimotor stage (0-2 years), the preoperational stage (2-7 years) and that of concrete operations (7-11 years), we reached the fourth and last stage .

We are talking about the stage of formal operations, where the pre- adolescent’s thinking is already much more scientific , and therefore, can make more complex reasoning.

In addition, abstract thinking also comes, that is, the ability to think about aspects of reality that we cannot see or touch.

As a characteristic of abstract thought, we know that its content is not an element that we have in front of us, but that it is in the mind of the person. On the other hand, we also understand by abstract thought, that which allows us to reflect on the causes of phenomena.

But what else do we know about this last stage of cognitive development? What else characterizes it? How does a preteen (and future adolescent) think and how do they solve problems? Find out!

The stage of formal operations: 11 years and older

We are talking about the fourth and last stage of the Theory of cognitive development proposed by Jean Piaget: the stage of formal operations, which extends from 11/12 years onwards (that is, towards adulthood).

Formal thinking

At this stage, a type of thinking emerges that bears the same name: formal thinking. This thought is much more abstract than the previous ones (as for example, the concrete thought of the previous stage, the stage of concrete operations).

Tweens, from the age of 11, already use thinking much more logically, and can also think in more theoretical concepts.

A hypothetico-deductive thought

In addition, at this stage preadolescents already begin to use so-called hypothetical-deductive thinking (or reasoning), a type of reasoning that allows them to start thinking independently of traditional or learned beliefs.

That is, the pre-adolescent already analyzes the probabilities of events , understands that there are more likely events than others, and understands that there are inevitable events and other impossible ones.

How does the preadolescent come to conclusions at this stage?

The pre-adolescent of this stage no longer uses only physical and real objects to reach conclusions, but also thinks about hypothetical situations (which he imagines and constructs in his mind).

You can imagine different scenarios of reality , without needing to have something tangible (something you can see and touch) to reinforce it. In short: the preadolescent already has the ability to reason about more complex problems, and to seek solutions to them.

Characteristics of the stage of formal operations

We found three important characteristics in the formal operations stage, which define the way of thinking and solving problems of the preadolescent:

Problem solving: more strategies

One of the basic characteristics of this evolutionary stage is, as we have seen, a much more logical and reasoned (that is, more scientific) thinking.

Thanks to this, the pre-adolescent of this stage can solve more complex problems (and more effectively) through a more exhaustive analysis of them.

It also helps with the fact that you approach these problems in a more organized and systematic way (you are no longer limited to “trial and error”, which you can also use sometimes, but you make mental hypotheses about things, put them to the test, and so on. ).

Definitely; you can already imagine in your mind hypothetical scenarios of reality, wondering how things can evolve in each one of them. Thus, the strategies for solving problems are broadened , and they become less practical and more analytical and logical.

Hypothetical-deductive reasoning

Another fundamental characteristic of the stage of formal operations that Piaget raises is the appearance of hypothetical-deductive reasoning.

This type of reasoning does not come “out of nowhere”, but small glimpses of it are already observed, at the end of childhood, when the child begins to ask questions of the type “what would happen if …”.

Through hypothetical-deductive reasoning, the pre-adolescent is already capable, when solving problems or reflecting on reality, to think of solutions based on their abstract thoughts and on the hypotheses that have been raised about reality.

Example of this type of reasoning

An example of hypothetical-deductive reasoning would be; We observed that people who do not do sports on a regular basis perform less in physical education. The hypothesis is formulated: “people who do not practice sports on a regular basis, perform worse in physical education”.

To verify this, we identify people who do sports in class and those who do not, and we observe their behavior in physical education. This would be a very simple example, which can still become more complex, but it is to understand how this way of reasoning and thinking works.

Definitely; Through this reasoning, the preadolescent already reaches conclusions without requiring physical objects, since he uses his mind to reach them. Thus, he questions things, makes hypotheses, generates predictions and tries to answer his own questions.

Abstract thinking

The third essential characteristic of the formal operations stage is abstract thinking. As we saw in the previous article, that of concrete operations, the child solved problems through physical objects that he could observe; They “needed” them to understand situations and find solutions to problems.

On the other hand, with the arrival of abstract thinking, the preadolescent already works from ideas that are in his mind . That is, through abstract thinking; this way, you can think of hypothetical and abstract concepts without having to experiment directly with reality.

Final reflection

As we have seen, at this stage, the pre-adolescent already uses logic much more (which appeared in previous stages) to reach not only “physical” but also abstract conclusions , that is, they are not linked to situations that he has been able to verify from experimental or direct way “with your own hands”.

This thought is a mental strategy that is consolidated at this stage, and that, therefore, in a normative development, will be used by the adolescent and also by the adult throughout their lives.

Logically, you will also use previously learned strategies , depending on the situation you encounter, but at least you will have many more options when choosing which strategy works for you in each case.

Photos | Cover (pexels), Image 1 (pexels), Image 2 (pexels)

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