The concrete operational stage is the third 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.
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.
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. This is a contrast to younger children who often believe that pouring the same amount of liquid into two cups means that there is more.
For example, imagine that you have two candy bars of the exact same size. You break one candy bar up into two equally sized pieces and the other candy bar up into four smaller but equally sized sections. A child who is in the concrete operational stage will understand that both candy bars are still the same amount, whereas a younger child will believe that the candy bar that has more pieces is larger than the one with only two pieces.
The concrete operational stage is also marked by decreases in egocentrism. 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.
In other words, kids are not only able to start thinking about how other people view and experience the world, they even start to use this type of information when making decisions or solving problems.
Observations About the Concrete Operational Stage
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 in 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.
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.
A Word From Verywell
The concrete operational stage of development marks critical shifts and advancements in how kids think. While their thinking still tends to be very concrete, children become much more logical and sophisticated in their thinking during this stage of development. While this is an important stage in and of itself, it also serves as an important transition between earlier stages of development and the coming stage where kids will learn how to think more abstractly and hypothetically.
Rathus, SA. Children and adolescence: Voyages in Development Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth; 2008.
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Concrete Operational Stage
Saul McLeod published 2010
The concrete operational stage is the third in Piaget's theory of cognitive development. This stage lasts around seven to eleven years of age, and is characterised by the development of organized and rationale thinking.
Piaget (1954a) considered the concrete stage a major turning point in the child's cognitive development, because it marks the beginning of logical or operational thought. The child is now mature enough to use logical thought or operations (i.e. rules) but can only apply logic to physical objects (hence concrete operational).
Children gain the abilities of conservation (number, area, volume, orientation) and reversibility. However, although children can solve problems in a logical fashion, they are typically not able to think abstractly or hypothetically.
Conservation is the understanding that something stays the same in quantity even though its appearance changes. To be more technical conservation is the ability to understand that redistributing material does not affect its mass, number, volume or length.
By around seven years the majority of children can conserve liquid (see video below), because they understand that when water is poured into a different shaped glass, the quantity of liquid remains the same, even though its appearance has changed. Five-year-old children would think that there was a different amount because the appearance has changed.
Conservation of number (see video below) develops soon after this. Piaget (1954b) set out a row of counters in front of the child and asked her/him to make another row the same as the first one. Piaget spread out his row of counters and asked the child if there were still the same number of counters.
Most children aged seven could answer this correctly, and Piaget concluded that this showed that by seven years of age children were able to conserve number.
Some forms of conservation (such as mass) as understood earlier than others (volume). Piaget used the term horizonal decalage to describe this (and other) developmental inconsistencies.
Critical Evaluation of Conservation Tasks
Several aspects of the conservation tasks have been criticized, for example that they fail to take account of the social context of the child's understanding.
Rose and Blank (1974) argued that when a child gives the wrong answer to a question, we repeat the question in order to hint that their first answer was wrong. This is what Piaget did by asking children the same question twice in the conservation experiments, before and after the transformation.
When Rose and Blank replicated this but asked the question only once, after the liquid had been poured, they found many more six-year-olds gave the correct answer. This shows children can conserve at a younger age than Piaget claimed.
Another feature of the conservation task which may interfere with children's under-standing is that the adult purposely alters the appearance of something, so the child thinks this alteration is important. McGarrigle and Donaldson (1974) devised a study of conservation of number in which the alteration was accidental.
When two identical rows of sweets were laid out and the child was satisfied there were the same number in each, a 'naughty teddy' appeared. Whilst playing around, teddy actually messed up one row of sweets. Once he was safely back in a box the children were asked if there were the same number of sweets.
The children were between four- and six-years-old, and more than half gave the correct answer. This suggests that, once again, Piaget's design prevented the children from showing that they can conserve at a younger age than he claimed.
Classification is the ability to identify the properties of categories, to relate categories or classes to one another, and to use categorical information to solve problems.
One component of classification skills is the ability to group objects according to some dimension that they share. The other ability to is order subgroups hierarchically, so that each new grouping will include all previous subgroups.
The cognitive operation of seriation involves the ability to mentally arrange items along a quantifiable dimension, such as height or weight.
Dasen (1994) showed that different cultures achieved different operations at different ages depending on their cultural context.
Dasen (1994) cites studies he conducted in remote parts of the central Australian desert with 8-14 year old Aborigines. He gave them conservation of liquid tasks and spatial awareness tasks. He found that the ability to conserve came later in the aboriginal children, between aged 10 and 13 ( as opposed to between 5 and 7, with Piaget’s Swiss sample).
However, he found that spatial awareness abilities developed earlier amongst the Aboriginal children than the Swiss children. Such a study demonstrates cognitive development is not purely dependent on maturation but on cultural factors too – spatial awareness is crucial for nomadic groups of people.
Greenfield (1966) that schooling influenced the acquisition of such concepts as conservation.
Dasen, P. (1994). Culture and cognitive development from a Piagetian perspective. In W .J. Lonner & R.S. Malpass (Eds.), Psychology and culture. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Greenfield, P. M. (1966). On culture and conservation. Studies in cognitive growth, 225-256.
McGarrigle, J., & Donaldson, M. (1974). Conservation accidents. Cognition, 3, 341-350.
Piaget, J. (1954a). The construction of reality in the child. (M. Cook, Trans.).
Piaget, J. (1954b). The child's conception of number. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 18(1), 76.
Piaget, J. (1968). Quantification, conservation, and nativism. Science, 162, 976-979.
Rose, S. A., & Blank, M. (1974). The potency of context in children's cognition: An illustration through conservation. Child development, 499-502.
How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2010). Concrete operational stage. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/concrete-operational.html