The formal operational stage consists of the capacity to formulate systematic and falsifiable hypotheses, to arrive at a solution to a specific problem. In this stage, the person in the formal operational stage can reason against reality. This is, for instance, when they receive a statement from the environment and are asked to apply it as the basis of an argument, they can do so.
Piaget’s two-step model of cognitive development, which he called the operational stage of cognitive development, postulates that cognitive development occurs through three stages: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. In his model, the cognitive development of humans is governed by the two primary factors: the external environment (the stimuli one encounters) and internal factors (the beliefs one believes and the motivations one has to maintain those beliefs). According to Piaget, cognitive development occurs through the mediation of these two factors. He further implied that these two factors interact in a reciprocal manner, resulting in two types of development: conscious and unconscious development.
Children in the formal operational stage of cognitive development cannot understand abstract things easily. They are more linear in their thinking. As a result, children cannot solve problems that are complex in nature. However, this does not mean that they cannot solve simple problems. Once children enter into adolescence, their thinking shifts to a more mature stage.
For the first two years of their lives, children in the formal operational stage of cognitive development are unable to reason against reality. They are unable to establish the truth or falsity of what they have been taught. Thus, they lack the critical thinking skills that will help them in their later years when they can reason competently against what they have been taught.
However, when children reach the second year of their life, they can already do many things on their own. They can independently learn new things and develop abstract thought. This is because they already understand how the world works. When they enter into the concrete operational stage of adolescence, however, they begin to develop an abstract thought. When this happens, it means that they have developed their ability to reason, but they also have developed their capacity to be guided by abstract thought.
Piaget’s theory is based on the mirroring method in cognitive development. In this method, one mirrors another so that they can see how they behave, what they believe, and how they reason. According to Piaget, by closely watching his four stages of development, he can understand how the teenagers of today differ from those of yesterday. Specifically, he noted that adolescence brought about the changes in bodily and psychological structure, which were the outcome of the changes in the cognitive processes. The development of the cerebral functioning remained the same, but the aspects that change as people mature were replaced with the ones that remained.
As mentioned earlier, the first stage of cognitive development is associated with problem-solving, which is one of the most important prerequisites for the adolescents. As teenagers grow up, they tend to rely on information from the formal operational stage for the solutions to their problems. In the third stage of development, they will become able to think critically, and they will begin to have a grasp of how things work. At this stage, the teenagers will be able to solve problems analytically. They will also be able to communicate their thoughts clearly and independently, and will be capable of generating ideas and suggestions.