Formal Operational and Post-Formal Operational Thinking

Formal and post-formal operational stages are phases in cognitive development. The formal operational stage is the last cognitive stage proposed by Piaget in his theory of development. This stage is mainly characterized by abstract thinking and the use of logic (Miller, 2018). On the other hand, post-operational thinking is an extension of Piaget’s theory that was developed by scholars after him. It is characterized by practicality, dialectic thinking, openness to contradiction or ambiguity, and individualism (Wynn et al., 2019). People can fall under either formal and post-formal operational stages or a combination of the two.

Carrie is my thirty-eight-year-old sister who had to make decisions in three major areas: moving from Eagan to Lakeville, buying a home, and getting a dog. From her responses, Carrie can best be described as a post-formal operationalist. All of her decisions relied on dialectic thinking, which refers to the ability to accommodate contradictory ideas (Veraksa, 2019). By drafting pros and cons lists for all the decisions she needed to make, Carrie demonstrated an awareness of the complexity of issues. For instance, before making the decision to move, she considered the fact that moving would be difficult for the children since it would mean transferring schools but would also provide them with a good upbringing.

In addition to dialectic thought, Carrie’s decisions were influenced by past experience and situational constraints. These are key characteristics of the post-formal operational cognitive developmental stage (Wynn et al., 2019). For instance, when deciding whether or not to get a dog, she based this decision on her experience with pets. She also considered whether her relatives could help her in taking care of the dog. Although Carrie consulted other people, this does not mean she is a formal operationalist. Instead, she asked her relatives to help her in making a decision because her decision on whether to get the dog directly relied on whether or not her relatives would help in dog sitting. Therefore, Carrie’s decision-making process displays all the characteristics of the post-formal operational stage.

Jasmine is my fifteen-year-old niece whose three main decisions entailed getting a job, picking sports to play, and choosing classes. The first decision, whether or not to get a job, was based on formal operational thinking. Jasmine had no experience with working and relied on abstract thinking and logic to reach a conclusion (Babakr et al., 2019). Thinking about how getting a job would affect her job is an example of abstract thinking. Additionally, her pros and cons list mostly focused on the pros, especially making money. She did not consider the disadvantages, which shows that dialectic thought is yet to develop. Another aspect of Jasmine’s decision-making that point to her being a formal operationalist is her tendency to consult people who have no bearing on her decision (Miller, 2018). For instance, it is her mother who found the job and researched the benefits, which are the most important aspects of the job. Jasmine also based her decision on what sport to play on what her family and friends wanted for her. Although her thinking is relatively developed, Jasmine is still a formal operationalist.

Since Carrie is already a post-formal operationalist, there is no other stage to which she can progress. However, Jasmine shows signs progressing from the formal to post-formal operational stage. For instance, she reevaluated her decision on the classes taken and considered taking a different language class. This indicates that she has gained valuable experience to help her decision-making process. It also demonstrates an appreciation of the complexity of decision-making and the need to weigh conflicting ideas to arrive at a conclusion. Overall, interviewing my sister and niece helped me get a deeper insight of the different cognitive developmental stages.


Babakr, Z. H., Mohamedamin, P., & Kakamad, K. (2019). Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory: Critical review. Education Quarterly Reviews, 2(3), 517-524. Web.

Miller, P. F. (2018). Young adults, dilemmas and decision making: The perspective from psychology. In Dilemmas and Decisions (pp. 77-93). Brill Sense. Web.

Veraksa, N. E. (2019). Dialectical thinking: Logics and psychology. Cultural-Historical Psychology, 15(3), 4-12. Web.

Wynn Sr, C. T., Ray, H., & Liu, L. (2019). The relationship between metacognitive reflection, pbl, and postformal thinking among first-year learning community students. Learning Communities: Research & Practice, 7(2). Web.

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PsychologyWriting. (2023, September 12). Formal Operational and Post-Formal Operational Thinking. Retrieved from


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"Formal Operational and Post-Formal Operational Thinking." PsychologyWriting, 12 Sept. 2023,


PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'Formal Operational and Post-Formal Operational Thinking'. 12 September.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Formal Operational and Post-Formal Operational Thinking." September 12, 2023.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Formal Operational and Post-Formal Operational Thinking." September 12, 2023.


PsychologyWriting. "Formal Operational and Post-Formal Operational Thinking." September 12, 2023.