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Cognitive development in adolescence. Constructivist theories Piaget Vygotsky Neo-Piagetian theories R. Case Information processing theories R. Siegler. Piaget’s Theory Organismic theory : rooted in biological concepts about the development of organisms.

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cognitive development in adolescence
Cognitive development in adolescence
  • Constructivist theories
    • Piaget
    • Vygotsky
  • Neo-Piagetian theories
    • R. Case
  • Information processing theories
    • R. Siegler
Piaget’s Theory

Organismic theory: rooted in biological concepts about the development of organisms.

The organism is affected by, and affects, its environment.

The cognitive “organism” strives toward equilibrium: a balance between the dual processes of assimilation and accommodation.

Development proceeds through a fixed sequence of qualitatively distinct stages.

Adolescent thinking is fundamentally different from the thinking abilitiesof children--not simply more or better.

stages of cognitive development

(birth - 2 years)

Preoperational (2-7 years)

Concrete (7-11 years)

Formal (>11 years)

Sensation --> motor behavior

Use symbols to represent objects

Master logic, develop rational thinking

Develop abstract and hypothetical thinking

Stages of Cognitive Development
Effects of Adolescent Thought on Personality and Behavior

Idealistic Rebellion


Lack of creativity (due to pressures to conform)





forms of egocentric thinking lack of subject object differentiation




Unable to differentiate self from objects.

Unable to differentiate symbols from their referents.

Unable to differentiate thoughts from perceptions

Unable to differentiate own thoughts from thoughts of others.

Forms of Egocentric Thinking(lack of subject-object differentiation)
egocentrism in adolescence
Egocentrism in adolescence
  • Imaginary audience ideation
    • adolescent belief that there is an audience “out there” observing his/her actions
  • Personal fable
    • adolescent belief that s/he is a unique person, invulnerable to harm.
Cognitive Changes in Adolescence

Better able to think about what is possible, instead of limiting their thinking to what is real.

Better able to think about abstract concepts.

Begin thinking more often about the process of thinking itself.

Thinking tends to become multidimensional, rather than limited to a single issue.

More likely than children to see things as relative, rather than as absolute.

Thinking About Possibilities

Imagine four poker chips:one red, one blue, one yellow, and one

green. Make as many different combinations of chips, of any

number, as you can. Use R, B, Y, & G to record your answers.

Adolescents don’t need actual poker chips on hand to work out this problem. They can reason systematically in terms of what is possible.

Develop hypothetical (“if-then”) reasoning abilities.

Thinking About Abstract Concepts

ANALOGY: Sun: Moon: : Asleep : ?

a. Star

a. Bed

c. Awake

d. Night

Abstract thinking permits the application of advanced reasoning

and logical processes to social and ideological matters: faith,

politics, relationships, fairness, honesty, justice, friendships.

Thinking About Thinking: Metacognition

Better able to manage and to talk about, and explain, their own thinking.

Increased introspection, self-consciousness, and intellectualization.

Extreme self-absorption:

imaginary audience ideation

personal fable

Thinking in Multiple Dimensions

Can think about problems in multidimensional ways.

What were the causes of the Civil War?

Child: “to free the slaves.”

Adolescent: “states’ rights; freedom from oppressive central

government; slavery…”

Able to think about self in others in increasingly differentiated

ways: “shy, friendly, honest, ambitious, a little lazy…”

Relativistic Thinking

More likely to question others’ assertions and less likely to accept “facts” as absolute truths.

Belief that “everything is relative” tends to become overwhelming at times--so much so that adolescents tend to become skeptical about everything!

Cognitive Development of the Adolescent:

Helpful Hints for Teachers

Challenge students’ thinking by helping them to see things that

might not fit with their prior schema;

Challenge students to modify old schemas by presenting them with

information to form new schemas;

Concrete operational thinkers need to see what is being talked about

and they need lots of hands-on activities to grasp the concepts;

Be aware of students’ readiness and maturity level in dealing with

the physical, emotional, and social changes in their lives;

Remain flexible in expectations for middle schoolers because each student may be at a different stage of cognitive development;

Allow each student to progress at own rate of growth;

Plan learning activities that are appropriate for developing effective, concrete thinkers before moving on to more formal operational activities for students.

Provide a variety of approaches and examples to students because there are different cognitive levels among students in the classroom.

Implications for Teaching

Social interchange is more effective than authoritarian,

teacher-centered approaches to instruction.

Adolescent students need multiple opportunities to

observe, analyze possibilities, and draw inferences about

perceived relationships.

Discussions, problem-solving activities, and scientific

experiments encourage the development of formal thinking

and problem-solving skills.

Give explicit feedback and encouragement; allow time for

reasoning capacities to develop.

“The principal goal of education is to create [persons] who are

capable of doing new things--[people] who are creative,

inventive, and discoverers. The second goal of education is to

form minds which can be critical, can verify, and not accept

everything they are offered…We need pupils who are active,

who learn early to find out by themselves, partly by their own

spontaneous activity and partly through material we set up for

them; who learn early to tell what is verifiable and what is simply the first idea to come to them.”

-Piaget (1972)

Implications for Education

The first prerequisite for educating adolescents is to develop effective modes of communicating with them.

The second concept of education important for adolescents is the need to aid them in modifying their existing knowledge, while helping them learn new information.

Education must not dull adolescents’ eagerness to learn by overly rigid curricula that disrupt the student’s own rhythm and pace of learning.