Formal operational thinking — the ability to think about the thinking process — allows a person to investigate a problem in a systematic manner. …
The formal operational person will imagine the possibilities before they begin. They have the cognitive ability to imagine them all, hold them in awareness, and compare them. …
But you can probably see why not everyone develops this type of cognitive ability — it can be complicated. The more difficult questions on IQ tests can only be answered using formal operational thinking, for instance.
Formal operational thinking allows one to think logically and abstractly, to use imaginative “as if” thinking, to “think about thinking,” to understand shades of gray, and, additionally, to understand abstract concepts such as love, integrity, or freedom.
Only about 30% of adults develop formal operational cognitive abilities.
Part of the shift to formal operational thinking involves a significant identity change: a mature ego begins to emerge.
From article: How you make sense of your world… more secrets of living, part 3, By Bill Harris, Centerpointe Research Institute.
Image from book: Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer.