What is Piaget’s stage of cognitive development that emerges between ages 12 and 16?

In this post we are going to answer the question ‘’What is Piaget’s stage of cognitive development that emerges between ages 12 and 16?’’ We will explain to you how the logic of a child who is starting at this stage works, what his vision of the world is like and what problems he is capable of solving.

What is Piaget’s stage of cognitive development that emerges between ages 12 and 16?

The stage of cognitive development that emerges between ages 12 and 16 is the formal operations stage.

If anything can be said about the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, it is that he completely revolutionized the theories of child development and the concept of intelligence that was held until then.

With his developmental theory, he questioned that children were less competent thinkers than adults or that they were shaped at the mercy of the environment, as was thought until the 1940s.

In this way, Piaget demonstrated through ingenious experiments that infantile thought forms were not inferior to those of adults, but totally different.

Using his developmental theory, he described infants as “little scientists” who actively operate with the environment, experimenting and modifying their thinking based on their findings.

For Piaget, children build a series of mental representations of the world according to their maturation stage.

As they interact with the environment, they observe the discrepancies between this mental map that they possess and the reality they perceive. This allows them to gradually modify this conception.

What is the formal operations stage?

The stage of formal operations is the last of the four stages proposed by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget in his Theory of Cognitive Development, the other three being the stages of the sensorimotor, preoperational and concrete operation.

Formal operational thinking manifests itself from the age of 12, covering up to adulthood, characterized by the fact that children, now almost adolescents, have a more abstract vision and a more logical use of thought. They can think about theoretical concepts.

It is during this stage that the individual can handle hypothetical-deductive thinking, so characteristic of the scientific method.

The child is no longer chained to physical and real objects in order to reach conclusions, but can now think about hypothetical situations, imagining all kinds of scenarios without having a graphic or palpable representation of them. Thus the adolescent can reason about more complex problems.

Characteristics of this stage of development

This stage, which, as we have already mentioned, has its beginnings between the ages of 11 and 12 and lasts until after adolescence, has the following characteristics.

1. Hypothetical-deductive reasoning

Another name that Piaget gave to this stage was “hypothetico-deductive reasoning”, since this type of reasoning is essential during this period of development. Children can think of solutions based on abstract ideas and hypotheses.

This is observable by seeing how frequently in late childhood and early adolescence questions like “what if …”

Through these hypothetical approaches, young people can reach many conclusions without having to rely on physical objects or visual aids. These ages are presented with a gigantic world of possibilities to solve all kinds of problems. This gives them the ability to think scientifically, pose hypotheses, generate predictions and try to answer questions.

2. Troubleshooting

As we have commented, it is at these ages that more scientific and thoughtful thinking is acquired. The individual has a greater capacity to approach problems in a more systematic and organized way, ceasing to be limited to the strategy of trial and error. He now poses in his mind hypothetical scenarios in which he wonders how things could evolve.

Although the trial and error technique can be of help, obtaining benefits and conclusions through it, having other problem-solving strategies significantly expand the knowledge and experience of the young person. Problems are solved with less practical methods, using logic that the individual did not have before.

3. Abstract thinking

The previous stage, that is to say, that of the concrete operations, the problems were necessarily solved having objects at hand, in order to understand the situation and how to solve it.

In contrast, in the formal operations stage, children can work from ideas found only in their heads. That is, they can think of hypothetical and abstract concepts without having to experience them directly before.

Difference between the stage of concrete operations and that of formal ones

It is possible to see even if a child is in the concrete operations stage or the formal operations stage by asking them the following:

If Ana is taller than her friend Luisa hers, and Luisa is taller than her friend Carmen, who of all of them is taller?

Children who are in the stage of concrete operations need some type of visual support to be able to understand this exercise, such as a drawing or dolls that represent Anne, Louise and Carmen and, thus, to be able to find out who is the tallest of the three.

In addition, according to Piaget, children at these ages have no problem ordering objects based on characteristics such as length, size, weight, or number (seriation), but they do find it more difficult with tasks in which they have to order persons.

This does not happen in older children and adolescents, who are already in the stage of formal operations. If you ask them who is the tallest of the three, without having to draw these three girls, they will know how to answer the exercise.

They will analyze the sentence, understanding that if Anne> Louise and Louise> Carmen, therefore, Anne> Louise> Carmen. It is not so difficult for them to do serialization activities regardless of whether what they have to order are objects or people.

Piaget’s experiments

Piaget carried out a series of experiments to be able to verify the hypothetical-deductive reasoning that he attributed to children older than 11 years.

The simplest and most known to verify this was the famous “third eye problem”. In this experiment, children and adolescents were asked if they had the option of having a third eye, where they would place it.

Most 9-year-olds said they would put it on their forehead, right on top of the other two. However, when asked to children 11 years and older, they gave very creative answers, choosing other parts of the body to place the third eye.

A very common answer was to place that eye in the palm of the hand, to be able to see what was behind the corners without having to lean too much, and the other was to have that eye on the nape or behind the head, to be able to see who was behind following us.

Another well-known experiment, carried out together with his colleague Bärbel Inhelder in 1958, was the pendulum experiment. This consisted of presenting the children with a pendulum, and they were asked which or what they believed were the factors that influence its oscillation speed: length of the rope, the weight of the pendulum and the force with which it is propelled.

The experimental subjects had to go testing to see if they discovered which of these three variables was the one that changed the speed of movement, measuring this speed in how many oscillations it made per minute.

The idea was that they should isolate different factors to see which of them was correct, with only the length being the correct answer, since the shorter it is, the faster the pendulum will move.

Younger children, who were still in the concrete operational stage, tried to solve this activity by manipulating several variables, often at random.

On the other hand, the older ones, who were already in the stage of formal operations, intuited that it was the length of the rope that made the pendulum, regardless of its weight or force applied to it, move faster.

Criticisms of Piaget

While the findings made by Piaget and Inhelder were useful, as was the case with their claims regarding the other three stages proposed in their Theory of Cognitive Development, the stage of formal operations was also the subject of experiments to refute what was claimed. knew about her.

In 1979 Robert Siegler carried out an experiment in which he presented several children with a balance beam. In it, he was placing several disks at each end of the center of balance, and he was changing the number of disks or moving them along the beam, asking his experimental subjects to predict where the balance would tip.

Siegler studied the responses given by the 5-year-olds, seeing that his cognitive development followed the same sequence that Piaget had proposed with his Theory of Cognitive Development, especially in relation to the pendulum experiment.

As the children got older, they took more into account the interaction between the weight of these discs and the distance from the center, and that it was these variables that allowed them to successfully predict the equilibrium point.

However, the surprise came when he did this experiment with adolescents between 13 and 17 years old. 

Contrary to what Piaget had observed, at these ages there were still some problems with hypothetic-deductive thinking, some of them having trouble knowing which way the balance would tip.

This led Siegler to suppose that this type of thinking, rather than dependent on the maturational stage, would depend on the interest of the individual in science, its educational context and ease of abstraction.

FAQS: what is piaget’s stage of cognitive development that emerges between ages 12 and 16?

What are the 4 stages of Piaget’s cognitive development?

Piaget was a phase theorist who divided cognitive development into four major stages: sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, stage of concrete operations and stage of formal operations, each of which represents the transition to a more complex and abstract form of know.

What is Piaget’s preoperational stage?

The preoperational stage is the second stage in Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. This stage begins around the age of two and lasts until about the age of seven. During this stage, children begin to participate in symbolic play and learn to manipulate symbols.

Which of Piaget’s stages is associated with adolescence quizlet?

The formal operational stage, which begins during adolescence and continues into adulthood.

What is cognitive development explain the stages of cognitive development?

Cognitive development is the process by which a person is acquiring knowledge about his surroundings and thus developing his intelligence and abilities. It starts from birth and lasts through childhood and adolescence. Which is divided into the sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, stage of concrete operations and stage of formal operations

What is Piaget’s final stage of cognitive development?

The stage of formal operations.

In this post we answered the question ‘’What is Piaget’s stage of cognitive development that emerges between ages 12 and 16?’’ We explained to you how the logic of a child who is starting at this stage works, what his vision of the world is like and what problems he is capable of solving.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!


Inhelder, B., & Piaget, J. (1958). Adolescent thinking.

Piaget, J. (1970). Science of education and the psychology of the child. Trans. D. Coltman.

Schaffer, H. R. (1988). Child Psychology: the future. In S. Chess & A. Thomas (eds), Annual Progress in Child Psychiatry and Child Development. NY: Brunner/Mazel.

Siegler, R. S. & Richards, D. (1979). Development of time, speed and distance concepts. Developmental Psychology, 15, 288-298.