Concrete Operational Stage of Cognitive Development

Children in the concrete operational stage
The concrete operational stage is marked by the development of logic.. Nick David / Taxi / Getty Images

The concrete operational stage is the third in Piaget's theory of cognitive development. This period spans the time of middle childhood and is characterized by the development of logical thought. While kids at this age become more logical about concrete and specific things, they still struggle with abstract ideas.

Learn more about some of the key things that happen during the concrete operational stage.

Characteristics of the Concrete Operational Stage

The concrete operational stage begins around age seven and continues until approximately age eleven. During this time, children gain a better understanding of mental operations. Children begin thinking logically about concrete events, but have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical concepts.

Logic

Piaget determined that children in the concrete operational stage were fairly good at the use of inductive logic (inductive reasoning). Inductive logic involves going from a specific experience to a general principle. An example of inductive logic would be noticing that every time you are around a cat, you have itchy eyes, a runny nose, and a swollen throat. You might then reason from that experience that you are allergic to cats.

On the other hand, children at this age have difficulty using deductive logic, which involves using a general principle to determine the outcome of a specific event.

For example, a child might learn that A=B, and B=C, but might still struggle to understand that A=C.

Reversibility

One of the most important developments in this stage is an understanding of reversibility, or awareness that actions can be reversed. An example of this is being able to reverse the order of relationships between mental categories.

For example, a child might be able to recognize that his or her dog is a Labrador, that a Labrador is a dog, and that a dog is an animal.

Other Key Characteristics

Another key development at this stage is the understanding that when something changes in shape or appearance it is still the same, a concept known as conservation. Kids at this stage understand that if you break a candy bar up into smaller pieces it is still the same amount at when the candy was whole.

The concrete operational stage is also marked by egocentrism  disappearance. While children in the preceding stage of development (the preoperational stage) struggle to take the perspective of others, kids in the concrete stage are able to think about things the way that others see them. In Piaget's Three-Mountain Task, for example, children in the concrete operational stage can describe how a mountain scene would look to an observer seated opposite them.

Observations About the Concrete Operational Stage

Rathus (2008) suggests that one of the key characteristics of the concrete-operational stage is the ability to focus on many parts of a problem.

While kids in the preoperational stage of development tend to focus on just one aspect of a situation or problem, those in the concrete operational stage are able to engage is what is known as "decentration." They are able to concentrate on many aspects of a situation at the same time, which plays a critical role in the understanding of conservation.

Salkind (2004) also suggests that this stage of cognitive development also serves as an important transition between the preoperational and formal operational stages. Reversibility is an important step toward more advanced thinking, although at this stage it only applies to concrete situations. While kids at earlier stages of development are egocentric, those in the concrete operational stage become more sociocentric. In other words, they are able to understand that other people have their own thoughts. Kids at this point are aware that other people have unique perspectives, but they might not yet be able to guess exactly how or what that other person is experiencing. This growing ability to mentally manipulate information and think about the thoughts of others will play a critical role in the formal operational stage of development when logic and abstract thought become critical.

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    Sources

    Piaget, J. (1977). Gruber, H.E.; Voneche, J.J. eds. The essential Piaget. New York: Basic Books.

    Piaget, J. (1983). Piaget's theory. In P. Mussen (ed). Handbook of Child Psychology. 4th edition. Vol. 1. New York: Wiley.

    Rathus, S. A. (2008). Children and adolescence: Voyages in Development Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

    Salkind, N. J. (2004). An introduction to theories of human development. Thousand oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

    Santrock, John W. (2008). A topical approach to life-span development (4 ed.). New York City: McGraw-Hill.

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