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Cognitive Development

What is cognitive development?

Cognitive development refers to the development of the ability to think and reason. Children (6 to 12 years old) develop the ability to think in concrete ways (concrete operations) such as how to combine (addition), separate (subtract or divide), order (alphabetize and sort), and transform (change things such as 5 pennies = 1 nickel) objects and actions. They are called concrete because they are performed in the presence of the objects and events being thought about.

Adolescence marks the beginning development of more complex thinking processes (also called formal logical operations) including abstract thinking (thinking about possibilities), the ability to reason from known principles (form own new ideas or questions), the ability to consider many points of view according to varying criteria (compare or debate ideas or opinions), and the ability to think about the process of thinking.

What cognitive developmental changes occur during adolescence?

During adolescence (between 12 and 18 years of age), the developing teenager acquires the ability to think systematically about all logical relationships within a problem. The transition from concrete thinking to formal logical operations occurs over time. Each adolescent progresses at varying rates in developing his/her ability to think in more complex ways. Each adolescent develops his/her own view of the world. Some adolescents may be able to apply logical operations to school work long before they are able to apply them to personal dilemmas. When emotional issues arise, they often interfere with an adolescent's ability to think in more complex ways. The ability to consider possibilities, as well as facts, may influence decision making, in either positive or negative ways.

Some common indicators indicating a progression from more simple to more complex cognitive development include the following:

What encourages healthy cognitive development during adolescence?

The following suggestions will help to encourage positive and healthy cognitive development in the adolescent:

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Adolescent Medicine


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