Changes in Cognitive Development During Adolescence

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  • 0:01 Adolescence
  • 1:24 Argument
  • 3:35 Egocentrism
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Adolescence is a period of great change. Changes in the way teenagers think can cause them to do things like argue with adults. Watch this lesson for more information on the cognitive changes that occur in adolescence.


Morgan is 15, and lately he's been driving his parents crazy. He used to be such a nice boy, but lately he's been arguing with them. It seems like everything they say to him is met with hostility. What's going on?

Morgan is in adolescence, or the time between childhood and adulthood that usually lasts from age 13 to age 20. During adolescence, a lot of things change. Morgan is rapidly changing physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually.

One of the major ways that adolescents change is through a process known as cognitive development, or growth in thinking skills. For example, when Morgan was 10 or 11, he couldn't understand things like analogies and metaphors. Now that he's a little older, he has reached a point in cognitive development that he's able to think abstractly, which makes understanding non-literal language possible.

It's not just children that Morgan thinks differently from, though. Even though he is growing cognitively, he is not as developed as adults. Many adolescents think very differently from both children and adults, which can lead to conflict. Let's look closer at some of the ways that adolescent cognition is different from adult cognition.


When Morgan was a little boy and would act up, his mother would say to him, 'If you don't behave, a 2-headed monster will get you!' As a kid, Morgan believed his mother and behaved to avoid the 2-headed monster.

But now that he's a little older, Morgan knows better. He doesn't believe in a 2-headed monster who will punish him for bad behavior.

Like Morgan, many adolescents find that they are able to think critically about the things that they see and hear. They look for discrepancies and constantly weigh things to evaluate whether they seem true or not. Morgan can think critically to realize that it's probably not true that a 2-headed monster will get him if he's bad.

However, Morgan's newfound ability to think critically means that he is critically evaluating the things others around him say, particularly adults. For the first time in his life, Morgan is able to really evaluate what others are telling him and question whether they are right or not. This can lead to arguments with adults, like his parents.

Not only do adolescents think critically, they also have developed argumentative skills as they develop cognitively. When he was a kid, Morgan might argue with his mother by simply stating his position. This is really common. Anyone who's ever argued with a kid knows the arguments they make. Often, all they'll say is, 'No!' over and over again because they can't express their point-of-view very well.

But as Morgan moves into his teenage years, he begins to learn how to craft an argument with evidence. Suddenly, he isn't arguing by simply saying, 'No,' anymore. Instead, he is able to offer support for his arguments. For example, when Morgan's mother said that he had to be home by nine, he argued with her passionately by saying that nine is too early, that all his friends don't have a curfew and that he'll be socially ostracized if he leaves that early.

So, the fact that adolescents are able to think critically and use argumentative skills means that they end up arguing a lot more often, especially with the adults in their lives.


Morgan's mom is really frustrated that he's arguing with her a lot, but she's even more frustrated that he doesn't seem to care about anyone but him. It's like he has no regard for anyone else's feelings or opinions at all.

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