Postformal Thought in Cognitive Development

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  • 0:01 Postformal Thought
  • 1:18 Relativistic Thinking
  • 2:29 Dialectical Reasoning
  • 4:48 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.

How do people continue to develop in adulthood? Watch this lesson to discover how adults develop cognitively, including how they become postformal thinkers, and what relativistic thinking and dialectical reasoning involve.

Postformal Thought

Juliet just graduated college and is starting her first full-time job. She's excited, but also a little nervous. Not only does this job require all sorts of skills, she is also nervous because she's never had to work in a large corporation like this. It seems like everyone has their own views about things, and nobody agrees! Juliet is in the part of life known as early adulthood, which covers the period between adolescence and middle age, or approximately 20 to 40 years old.

For many years, psychologists believed that by the time you became an adult, you were fully developed. Especially when it came to cognition, or thought processes, people believed that there was really no more growing left to do. However, a growing number of psychologists now recognize that there are still new developments in cognition, even in early adulthood. These are collectively known as postformal thought, which has to do with understanding that contradictions exist in the world around us. Let's look closer at two hallmarks of postformal thought: relativistic thinking and dialectical reasoning.

Relativistic Thinking

One of the things that Juliet is finding difficult about her new job is that much of her job requires her to navigate complex social situations. One of her bosses is in constant disagreement with her other boss, and they use her as a go-between, which means that she has to persuade both parties that the other side is valid.

Relativistic thinking involves understanding that things are not always black and white, but relative. Think about a topic like the energy crisis. There's not a simple solution to this problem, and neither the proponents of natural gas nor the supporters of solar energy are wrong. They both have valid points.

Juliet's bosses disagree on everything. Sometimes, she agrees with one of her bosses, and other times, she agrees with the other boss. But either way, she always has to be able to see and respect the other side so that she can forge a peace between the two. This is the essence of relativistic thinking - being able to understand the other person's point of view, even if it contradicts yours.

Dialectical Reasoning

So Juliet's bosses don't get along, and she has to play peacemaker between them. But Juliet herself is finding some other social areas of her job challenging. For one thing, she's never worked in such a diverse place. She's surrounded by people from all over!

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