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Jean Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development
Angela Oswalt, MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.
Jean Piaget is perhaps one of the most well-known and influential child development specialists. His work was first published during the 1920's, but his theory of cognitive development continues to influence contemporary researchers and clinicians. Piaget's identified five characteristic indicators of adolescent cognitive development and named them as follows: 1) formal operations, 2) hypothetico-deductive reasoning, 3) propositional thought, 4) the imaginary audience, and 5) the personal fable. A more detailed explanation of Piaget's theory can be found in the Child & Adolescent Overview article . Here we limit the discussion to portions of his theory directly related to cognitive development in adolescents. Formal operations

Piaget used the term "mental operations" to describe the mental ability to imagine a hypothetical situation and to be able to determine a likely outcome, without needing to actually observe or enact the scenario. This is commonly called a "What if--?" scenario. For instance, suppose a 7-10 year old child is asked, "What if there was a hungry dog in the kitchen and Mother dropped a hotdog on the floor. What do you think would happen?" Most children at this age will correctly guess that the dog ate the hotdog, particularly if they have any experience with dogs. Piaget called this type of mental operation a "concrete operation" because the mental operation represents a tangible, concrete circumstance that the child can easily imagine since it is anchored to things that can be seen and touched in the real world: It is concrete. According to Piaget, the adolescent years are remarkable because youth move beyond the limitations of concrete mental operations and develop the ability to think in a more abstract manner. Piaget used the term "formal operations" to describe this new ability. Formal operations refer to the ability to perform mental...
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