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Preoperational Thought

When we progress to higher levels of cognitive functioning, we do not spend all our time at these higher levels. Piaget himself once observed that he spent only a fraction of each day in formal operational thought processes. This suggests that even as adults, we do not entirely leave preoperational thought behind.

To help you understand preoperational thought processes in children, see if you can recognize examples or traces of preoperational thought in everyday adult behavior in the items below. Identify the characteristic of preoperational thought that it illustrates.

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1. Following an especially heated argument with an elderly relative, you shout that you would like nothing better than to have him get out of your life for good. Several days later your relative dies, leaving you to feel intensely guilty that you caused his death.

2. Your roommate complains that you are a sucker for deceptive packaging in the grocery store because you always choose taller bottles and cans over shorter, wider ones.

3. A friend from high school started an Internet business several years ago and has become one of the wealthiest, most successful entrepreneurs in the nation. Whenever you see her, you talk about her business ventures and fantasize about her material success, imagining her house, her car, her hired help. (“What must it be like to live in such luxury” is the way you put it.)

4. One day you learn that this same wealthy friend has become active in a community organization that serves the mentally retarded and their parents. You are told that her work with retarded children consumes most of her weekends and a substantial part of her income and that she lives in modest circumstances. You find this hard to believe, and you suspect that somehow she is profiting from her involvement.

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