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  • Andree DeCastro

Are you advanced enough in your thinking to utilize post formal thought?

Don't get stuck on one viewpoint.

If you have taken a psychology class before on human development then you have for sure heard of Piaget's cognitive stages of development. Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who is known for his pioneering work in child psychology. Piaget developed four stages of cognitive development that contribute to the human thought process. The first stage is the sensorimotor stage, which begins from 0-2 years of age, when a baby develops the skill of object permanence.

Object permanence is knowing an object exists even when it is out of site.

Next is the pre-operational stage from 2-7 years of age. At the pre-operational stage, a child develops symbolic thinking and can complete a typical conservation task, which is the ability to recognize that there will be the same amount of fluid in a small cup if that fluid were to be poured into a large cup. Most children think because the large cup is bigger, there is more water even though the smaller cup held the same amount of water.

The age of about 7 - 12 years is known as the concrete operational stage of 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. The last stage Piaget theorized was based on the ages from 12- into adulthood. This last stage is know as the formal operational stage when people develop the ability to think abstractly and hypothetically. You can probably think back to your middle school days and remember the infamous science project where you had to create a hypothesis and test it. Unfortunately, many adults do not reach this stage of cognitive development.


Piaget made quite a remarkable discovery when it came to studying the minds of children and how they think. Researchers and psychologists today have added a post formal stage as a continuation of Piaget's theory of cognitive development. The knowledge you can gain from discovering post formal thought may unlock a whole new mindful potential.


Post formal thought is the ability to think in a way which an individual is able to reconcile contradictions. Post formal thought requires the ability to understand the philosophy of relativism, which is the idea that there are no absolute truths in the world, and what people believe is relative to their own experiences. So yes, your experiences will shape how you think. For example, at a young age you are living with your parents and most likely working a menial job, so being liberal is the way to go. As you progress through life, go to college, get a salary paying job, and make about $50,000 to $80,000 a year, you will begin paying more taxes. Based on your experiences in life, you either 1) Get angry with paying 40% of your taxes to the government to help people who can't help themselves (conservative thinking) or 2) Are okay with paying $32,000 to the government on that $80,000 you made because you are firm on your beliefs about helping others (liberal thinking). Which viewpoint is correct to you? There is no right answer. By thinking post formally you can see both sides of the situation and make a decision based on your own beliefs and values. Thinking post formally allows you to understand that everybody is different. This seeps into the idea that yes, life is relative to experiences and everyone has their own perspectives.


How can someone who uses the post formal thought process come up with answers to lead their life? The answer is in something called dialectic processing. Dialectic processing firstly involves coming up with a thesis, which is your starting point or your automatic idea (prejudice or bias) about a certain topic. Then there is the antithesis, a mechanism for change. In this part of the process you are able to change this prejudice/bias you have by considering opposing viewpoints. Lastly, synthesis is a progressional mechanism in which the answer to a certain topic is going to continuously be in progress due to multiple contradictions and viewpoints. There will always be a variety of considerations to your biases so there will never be a way to reach an ultimate solution to an answer. The main idea to dialectic thinking is to be in constant change with your thought process. This is how you gain experience in most aspects of life and become open to new experiences, or in other words, "woke."

It may sound like post formal thought means to contradict yourself and your beliefs. I believe that contradictions are real and it is important to not neglect the reality of such a phenomenon. For example, in the field of science, most scientific facts are constantly changing. I feel it is essential that we as humans learn how to fluctuate with that change.


If you find yourself arguing with people that you're right about every topic without considering their perspectives, then you are still stuck in the formal operational stage of development.

There is nothing wrong with this. It's not like utilizing post formal thought is going to make you a millionaire or the world's greatest politician. In fact politicians and activists have made huge impacts on society by being stuck on their beliefs. Politicians who are able to understand both political viewpoints and reconcile the contradictions on both sides are looked down upon by most people. This is due to the fact that a lot of people are stuck on defining their self as only liberal or as only conservative. Many people are unable to utilize post formal thought due to fear of losing a sense of pride in their beliefs. It's okay to let go of your beliefs and challenge them.


Just a suggestion: Try not to become stuck on one viewpoint. Remember there are 7 billion other viewpoints to consider.

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