Piaget's Formal Operational Stage: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Piaget's Stages of Development
  • 0:35 Stages 1-3
  • 1:55 Formal Operational…
  • 3:15 Example 1: Arguing a Position
  • 3:50 Example 2: Making Decisions
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica McCallister
The following lesson provides a definition and examples of Piaget's formal operational stage of cognitive development. A quiz is also provided to assess your understanding of the topic.

Piaget's Stages of Development

According to psychologist Jean Piaget, there are four stages of development associated with cognitive growth. Jean Piaget was a psychologist who studied cognitive development and formed a theory based on his observations of human growth. Jean Piaget identified these four stages as follows: sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational. Of the four stages, this lesson will focus on the fourth, or formal operational stage. To more fully understand the formal operational stage of cognitive development, a short discussion of the other stages will be helpful.

Stages One to Three

The first stage is the sensorimotor stage and lasts from birth to 24 months. This is the stage where a baby develops basic cognitive (thinking) skills, such as associating movements with actions and behaviors, learns how to mimic other people, and eventually begins demonstrating make-believe play.

The second stage of cognitive development is called the pre-operational stage and is demonstrated from two to seven years of age. This stage includes quite a bit of different developmental characteristics. For example, during this stage, children will begin to think in more concrete ways, use symbolic thinking, demonstrate imagination and intuition, and will use grammar as a way to explain a point of view. They may begin to argue concepts as well at this age and strive to explore their surroundings.

The third stage of cognitive development is called concrete operational and is demonstrated from around 7 to 11 years of age. During this period of cognitive growth, the child/young teen will begin to think more logically about concepts and orders of operations. During this stage, the child/teen will be able to start making sense of directions and instructions, associate consequences with actions (more fully and logically than the preceding two stages), and will be able to demonstrate the ability to empathize with others.

Now that we have briefly discussed the first three stages of cognitive development, let's take a closer look at the final stage, known as the formal operational stage.

Stage Four: The Formal Operational Stage of Development

As mentioned earlier, there are four stages of cognitive development. The final stage is known as the formal operational stage and is present when someone reaches about the age of 12 and continues into adulthood.

During this stage, the individual will demonstrate the ability to critically analyze situations, taking into consideration reasoning and argument. This stage is also characterized by being able to demonstrate the ability to think in more abstract terms. For example, instead of realizing that there are consequences to actions, such as getting in trouble or being grounded because of yelling at a parent, a person in this stage will begin to realize that consequences are a result of not following directions. More importantly, they will begin to realize that consequences may also result in moral and ethical issues, such as distrust, emotional instability, and dishonor.

Additionally, during the formal operational stage of cognitive development, one will begin to draw conclusions based on forming a hypothesis about or the testing of situations. One may also develop a sense of egocentrism - building opinions based off a right/wrong philosophy - and one may also demonstrate ability to plan situations.

Let's take a look at examples of some situations demonstrating the formal operational stage of cognitive development.

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