Introduction to Cognitive Development in Adolescence

What you’ll learn to do: describe changes in cognitive development and moral reasoning during adolescence

Group of teens looking at and reading off of scenario cards as part of a training program

Here we learn about adolescent cognitive development. In adolescence, changes in the brain interact with experience, knowledge, and social demands and produce rapid cognitive growth. The changes in how adolescents think, reason, and understand can be even more dramatic than their obvious physical changes. This stage of cognitive development, termed by Piaget as the formal operational stage, marks a movement from the ability to think and reason logically only about concrete, visible events to an ability to also think logically about abstract concepts.

Adolescents are now able to analyze situations logically in terms of cause and effect and to entertain hypothetical situations and entertain what-if possibilities about the world. This higher-level thinking allows them to think about the future, evaluate alternatives, and set personal goals. Although there are marked individual differences in cognitive development among teens, these new capacities allow adolescents to engage in the kind of introspection and mature decision making that was previously beyond their cognitive capacity.