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.


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.

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.


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 differs because he is still learning the fundamentals and laying down the foundations for later on.