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Formal Operational Stage

Jean Piaget remains one of the most influential thinkers in psychology and education. Central to his theories was his theory of cognitive development. Under this theory, Piaget suggested that the individual moves through four stages, sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational and formal operational. Formal operational stage occurs during adolescence, and involves the development of abstract thought. Unfortunately, not every individual develops into this stage

Formal Operational Stage

In the formal operational stage, the individual learns to develop assumptions that often are not grounded in reality, such as hypothetical deductive reasoning. Such “what-if” scenarios are often necessary, however, in higher levels of science and mathematics. Abstract thought, metacognition (thinking about thinking), and problem solving are the higher order thinking skills that emerge in the formal operational stage. Adolescents at this point in their development are moving from inductive to deductive reasoning.

Piaget and his colleagues developed experiments with which they sought to assess whether individuals had reached the formal operational stage. Classically, he had children balance a scale using different types of weights. Only in early adolescence could children understand the relationship between distance from the center of the scale and the heaviness of the weights. Another experiment was the “third eye problem,” in which children are asked where they would place an extra eye. Formal operational thinkers might place it on the hand, for example, in order to see around corners.

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