Formal vs Concrete Operational

The formal operational and concrete operational stages are two parts of Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Both stages are used to describe a timeline in each individual's life when certain types of cognitive growth take place. In order to fully comprehend each stage, it's important to understand the differences between them. Before the formal and concrete operational stages of cognitive development, the preoperational stage exists. In Piaget's stage rankings, the formal operational stage is the final stage in cognitive development. These stages all allow for operational thinking, problem-solving, abstract reasoning, seriation, piagetian, object permanence, logical thinking, cognitive abilities, and developmental psychology skills to be taught and learned by younger children and people of younger years of age. These stages allow for abstract thought and abstract concepts to be used and learned for development in logical thoughts and operational thought within the child’s life.


One of the most fundamental differences between each stage is the age in which they occur. For example, the concrete operational stage usually occurs between the ages of 7 and 11 years. The formal operational stage occurs later from approximately the age of 11 until adulthood. As a result, the formal operational stage involves more complex cognitive development and ultimately transitions into the rest of a person's life. The first stage in a child’s life is the sensorimotor stage that allows child development in egocentrism and thought processes related to point of view and the perspective of others.

Type of Thinking

Another difference is the type of thinking an individual is capable of. For example, children in the concrete operational stage are just beginning to form rudimentary logic. During this time, they are learning to classify objects by their physical characteristics such as size and appearance. They are also learning to make inferences but still have difficulty with deductive reasoning. Children in the formal operational stage differ because they are able to perform abstract thinking and can create hypothetical situations in their mind. In turn, these children can make predictions for the future based on knowledge of the past. In the concrete operational stage, reversibility can also be used in thinking and development in young children.


When a child is in the concrete operational stage, he is capable of inductive reasoning. This means he can take a certain experience and relate it to a larger, more general principle. A child in the formal operational stage thinks differently because he can take a general principle and relate it to a certain experience. As a result, the mathematical abilities of a child in the formal operational stage are significantly more advanced than one in the concrete operational stage.

Overall Complexity

In addition, the overall thinking of a child in the formal operational stage is much more complex than a child in the concrete operational stage. Once a child progresses into the formal operational stage, he has already laid down the foundations of knowledge and is building on that knowledge. A child in the concrete operational stage of cognitive development differs because he is still learning the fundamentals and laying down the foundations for later on for life milestones in learning throughout middle childhood and into their lifespan of adult life.

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