Formal Operational Stage: Everything You Need to Know

This is the stage during which a person can take up logical reasoning and work vaguely with hypotheticals. Quoting Piaget, “this occurs from age eleven to adulthood.” This is the fourth and final stage of Piaget’s cognitive development theory. At this stage of development, thinking becomes more advanced and sophisticated. Individuals can think about theoretical and abstract concepts and utilize logic to suggest creative solutions to problems. Skills like systematic planning, deductive reasoning, and logical thought also emerge in this stage.

Piaget used different ways to test formal operational thought. Two popular tests explored the abstraction of thoughts and physical conceptualization.

Abstraction of ideas: In this experiment, Piaget asked kids to imagine where they’d like to position a third eye if they had one. Younger kids said they’d put the eye in their forehead’s middle. Older kids, however, came up with different creative ideas about where to position the eye and different ways it could be used. For instance, an eye at the back of the head could be useful for watching what’s happening behind. An eye in the middle of a hand would help look around corners.

Conceptualizing balance: In this experiment, kids of different ages were required to balance a scale by placing weights on both ends. To balance the scale, the kids needed to comprehend that both the distance from the center and the heaviness of the weights played a role. Younger kids around the ages of three and five couldn’t finish the task because they didn’t comprehend the concept of balance. 

Seven-year-olds knew they could balance the scale by hooking weights on both ends but failed to comprehend that the location of the weights was also important. By the age of ten, the children considered both weight and location but had to come up with the right answer using trial-and-error. It wasn’t until around age thirteen that kids could utilize logic to develop a hypothesis about the location of the weights to balance the scale and finish the task.

According to Piaget, deductive reasoning becomes important in the formal operational stage. Deductive logic requires utilizing a general principle to establish a specific outcome.

While kids tend to think very specifically and concretely in earlier stages, their capacity to think about abstract concepts appears in the formal operational stage. Rather than depending solely on earlier experiences, kids start to consider possible consequences and outcomes of actions. This kind of thinking is vital in long-term planning.

Choose your Reaction!