Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Adolescence (12–18)

What cognitive changes take place in adolescence?

According to Piaget, adolescents are capable of formal operational thought. Primarily, this means that adolescents can reason from the possible instead of just the concrete and the tangible. School-age children can explain the behavior of objects that are directly in front of them. However, they are not yet skilled at imagining the different possible actions of objects and then reasoning from these imagined possibilities. In contrast, adolescents can reason from the possible, or hypothetical, instead of just from the concrete or tangible. Consequently, adolescents are capable of abstract thought. They can reason in terms of verbal concepts, such as social justice, political conservatism, or religious doctrine.

Additionally, adolescents are capable of metacognition, which refers to the ability to think about thought, their own thought as well as that of others. Likewise, adolescents are capable of grasping the rules of logic as concepts in and of themselves. They can critique the logic of another person’s argument, a skill that was not available to them during the school-age period. This new logical ability is not always welcomed by parents faced with a child who is now capable of criticizing their reasoning. A two-year-old rebels by shouting, “No! No! No!” An eight-year-old pouts and cries, “That’s not fair!” But a sixteen-year-old can point out contradictions in their parents’ arguments.


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