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Piaget and the Last 2 Stages of Cognitive Development

Piaget and the Last 2 Stages of Cognitive Development

Author: Erick Taggart

Recognize the concrete operational and formal operations stages of cognitive development.

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Hello, class. So today, we're going to be talking about the last two stages in the Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Now if you remember, Jean Piaget, a very famous figure in psychology, was a Swiss psychologist who in the 1920s developed these theories of cognitive growth and development. He talked about these four stages of cognitive development, which are steps that occur in order one after the other. So each child goes through the first one all the way through to the fourth one, the last one.

So let's take a look at the third stage of development. This stage is called the concrete operational stage. And this occurs between 7 and 11 years of age for a child. During this time, the child is able to begin to think logically about concrete events, ones that are very specific to them. Not abstract or hypothetical ideas that are harder for them to grasp right now.

So this is identified by several characteristics. One is that a child is able to understand conservation right now. Conservation means that there's a same amount of something, regardless of what kind of container or what it might be in. And these were identified by Piaget through experiments using liquids that were poured into two different containers. One was very long and narrow and one was very wide and shallow.

And so the same amount of liquid was put into both. Before this stage, the child wasn't able to tell that it was the same amount, but during this stage they can. Also, a child is able to at this stage understand reversibility, which is to say you could reverse certain actions and get the same results. For example, when you multiply 2 times 3, you get 6. Or if you multiply 3 times 2, you get 6 as well. The same answer.

Finally, at this stage, they are able to use inductive reasoning, which is to say that they can use a situation or a specific thing to come to a general rule about things. And this is as opposed to deductive reasoning, which they're not able to do at the third stage, which is to say they use a general rule to predict what's going to happen in a situation. And that's going to be coming in our next stage.

The final stage in Piaget's theory of cognitive development is the formal operational stage, which is from 11 years old all the way through adulthood. And this is when a person reaches full cognitive development. They get the full range of their cognitive abilities and their reasoning, which is to say they can now do deductive reasoning as we talked about. They're able to take a general rule and predict what's going to happen in the future.

This also means that they can create hypotheses, which goes along with that. A hypothesis is an educated guess of the outcome of a situation. So if I do this, then this will probably happen in someone. So they are able to use both deductive and inductive reasoning now.

They can also think abstractly at this point. They talk about ideas that aren't concrete, like freedom. And they can also plan for the future. So they can think about things that are coming further along that are a bit more abstract to think about.

And finally, they can start to develop empathy, which is to say really understanding what other people are thinking. And they become independent of themselves in that regard. So they can understand the people around them better.

Now while Piaget's theories are very influential in psychology, there is some criticism as to his methods. First, a lot of his research was based very much on anecdotal evidence, which is to say he looked at a very small group of children to come to these very broad conclusions about everybody. So it might not necessarily apply to everybody. In fact, a lot of his research was done on his own children and his observations of them at home. So it isn't necessarily which we would call experimentally understandable or experimentally tried out.

Also, Piaget tends to underestimate children's abilities, particularly in light of what we know now. A lot of children in the preoperational stage, which is to say before stage three and stage two, are better able to understand other people than we initially thought. So they're able to jump almost all the way to the fourth stage of development even at that young of an age.

And finally, the concept of normality that's applied to Piaget's theories in that children normally go through these stages at these set times isn't necessarily applicable to everybody. Not everybody goes through the same sorts of steps. So labelling kids as normal if they go through these or abnormal if they fall outside of those ranges could have negative effects on children, particularly when they're developing and they're that young and influential.

Terms to Know
Concrete Operational Stage

Ability to understand some concepts such as transformations and conservation but unable to understand hypothetical or abstract concepts.


The concept that weight, mass, and volume of matter can remain the same even if the shape or appearance of the container holding it changes.

Formal Operations Stage

​Use of hypothetical, abstract thoughts, symbols, and complex problem-solving.