Qualitative Differences in Adults’ Thinking
• What are the main points in Piaget’s theory of cognitive development?
• What evidence is there for continued cognitive development beyond formal operations?
• What is the role of both emotion and cognition in cognitive maturity?
ddie, a student at a local university, thought the test he had just taken in his math course was unfair because the instructors simply marked the answers to complex problems right or wrong. He complained that he deserved partial credit for knowing how to set up the problem and being able to figure out some of the steps.
Although Eddie did not know it, his argument parallels one in the intelligence literature—the debate on whether we should pay attention mainly to whether an answer is right or wrong or to how the person reasons the problem through. The psychometric approach we considered earlier does
not focus on the thinking processes that underlie intelligence; rather, psychometrics concentrates on interrelationships among answers to test questions. In contrast, cognitive-structural approaches focus on the ways in which people think; whether a particular answer is right or wrong is not very important.
We will consider two theories that represent cognitive-structural approaches. First, we will examine Piaget’s theory as a foundation for this approach. Second, we will explore the discussions concerning possible extensions of it, post-formal theory. Both these approaches postulate that intellectual changes are mainly qualitative, even though they differ on many points.