Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5c569c448b-6g96d Total loading time: 0.367 Render date: 2022-07-05T02:01:28.529Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

5 - Hypothetical Thinking in Adolescence: Its Nature, Development, and Applications

from Part I - Biological And Cognitive Perspective

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 October 2011

Eric Amsel
Weber State University
Eric Amsel
Weber State University, Utah
Judith Smetana
University of Rochester, New York
Get access


  1. It is the mark of an intelligent mind to be able to

  2. entertain an idea without necessarily accepting it.

  3. – Aristotle

Classic theories of human development characterize adolescence as a period of an awakening of new, powerful, and pervasive abilities and talents. Such was the claim of G. Stanley Hall (1904, cited in Grinder 1969, p. 358) who noted that “adolescence is ... the only point of departure for the superanthropoid that man is to become.” Similarly, Piaget (1972; Inhelder & Piaget, 1958) held that adolescence is the period in which new and powerful forms of reasoning emerge. These abilities and talents are so novel that both G. Stanley Hall (1904; and, see Grinder, 1969) and Jean Piaget (Piaget, 1972; Inhelder & Piaget, 1958) identify a context and a period of time for the nascent adult to cultivate these skills. These abilities are so encompassing that they are thought to result in fundamental changes in how teens think, forever transforming their views of themselves, others, and the world (Erikson, 1968; Kohlberg, 1984; Selman, 1980).

In this chapter, I explore hypothetical thinking as one of the novel, powerful, and pervasive achievements of adolescence that fundamentally impacts and alters them. Specifically, I examine the nature of hypothetical thinking, its process of development, and applications in the life of adolescents. Hypothetical thinking places a premium on what Aristotle cited as the mark of an intelligent mind – the ability to entertain an idea without necessarily accepting it. Central to hypothetical thinking is the ability to assume, suppose, or stipulate as true claims that may conflict with what is accepted as true about the world. The ability to treat ideas as if they were true is implicated in a variety of significant human endeavors, from systematically testing a hypothesis, logically reasoning about an argument, constructing a possible world, regretting one’s life choices, or reacting to a pretend enactment. These examples point to one of the most curious things about hypothetical reasoning. It is implicated in spontaneous and playful pursuits such as pretense, and in formal and serious intellectual activities such as logic or science.

Adolescent Vulnerabilities and Opportunities
Developmental and Constructivist Perspectives
, pp. 86 - 114
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Albertson, K.Shore, C. 2008 Holding in mind conflicting information: Pretending, working memory, and executive controlJournal of Cognition and Development 9 390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Amsel, E.Baird, T.Ashley, A. 2011 Misconceptions and conceptual change in undergraduate students’ understanding of psychology as a sciencePsychology Learning and Teaching 10 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Amsel, E.Bobadilla, W.Coch, D.Remy, R. 1996 Young children’s memory for the true and pretend identities of objects used in object-substitution pretenseDevelopmental Psychology 32 479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Amsel, E.Brock, S. 1996 The development of evidence evaluation skillsCognitive Development 11 523CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Amsel, E.Close, J.Sadler, E.Klaczynski, P. 2009 Awareness and irrationality: College students’ awareness of their irrational judgments on gambling tasksThe Journal of Psychology 143 293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Amsel, E.Cottrell, J.Sullivan, J.Bowden, T. 2005 Jacobs, J.Klaczynski, P.The development of judgment and decision-making in children and adolescenceMahwah, NJErlbaumGoogle Scholar
Amsel, E.Johnston, A. 2008 The role of imagination in conceptual changeNew York, NYGoogle Scholar
Amsel, E.Johnston, A.Alvarado, E.Kettering, J.Rankin, R.Ward, M. 2009 The effect of perspective on misconceptions in psychology: A test of conceptual change theoryThe Journal of Instructional Psychology 36 289Google Scholar
Amsel, E.Klaczynski, P. A.Johnston, A.Bench, S.Close, J.Sadler, E.Walker, R. 2008 A dual-process account of the development of scientific reasoning: The nature and development of metacognitive intercession skillsCognitive Development 23 452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Amsel, E.Smalley, J. 2000 Riggs, K.Mitchell, P.Children’s reasoning and the mindBrightonPsychology PressGoogle Scholar
Amsel, E.Trionfi, G.Campbell, R. 2005 Reasoning about make-believe and hypothetical suppositions: Towards a theory of belief-contravening reasoningCognitive Development 20 545CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beck, S. R.Crilly, M. 2009 Is understanding regret dependent on developments in counterfactual thinking?British Journal of Developmental Psychology 27 505CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Beck, S. R.Robinson, E. J.Carroll, D. J.Apperly, I. A. 2006 Children’s thinking about counterfactuals and future hypotheticals as possibilitiesChild Development 77 413CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bourchier, A.Davis, A. 2002 Children’s understanding of the pretence-reality distinction: A review of current theory and evidenceDevelopmental Science 5 397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Broughton, J. 1983 Lee, B.Noam, G.Developmental approaches to the selfNew YorkPlenumGoogle Scholar
Carruthers, P. 2002 Human creativity: Its evolution, its cognitive basis, and its connections with childhood pretenceBritish Journal for the Philosophy of Science 53 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dias, M. G.Harris, P. J. 1988 The effect of make-believe play on deductive reasoningBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology 6 207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dias, M. G.Harris, P. J. 1990 The influence of the imagination on reasoning in young childrenBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology 8 305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dimant, R. J.Bearison, D. J. 1991 Development of formal reasoning during successive peer interactionsDevelopmental Psychology 27 277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
English, L. D. 1993 Children’s strategies in solving two- and three-dimensional combinatorial problemsJournal for Research in Mathematics Education 24 255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Erikson, E. H. 1968 Identity, youth and crisisNew YorkNortonGoogle Scholar
Evans, J. St. B. T 2006 The heuristic-analytic theory of reasoning: Extension and evaluationPsychonomic Bulletin and Review 13 378CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Evans, J. St. B. T 2007 Hypothetical thinking: Dual processes in reasoning and judgmentNew YorkThe Psychology PressGoogle Scholar
Fischbein, EGazit, A 1988 Combinatorial problem solving capacity of childrenZ.D.M. International Reviews on Mathematical Education 5 1Google Scholar
Friedman, O.Leslie, A. M. 2007 The conceptual underpinnings of pretense: Pretending is not ‘behaving-as-if’Cognition 105 103CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gallagher, J. M.Reid, D. K. 1981 The learning theory of Piaget and InhelderMonterey, CABrooks/ColeGoogle Scholar
Gilovich, T.Medvec, V. 1995 The experience of regret: What, when, and whyPsychological Review 102 379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grinder, R. 1969 The concept of adolescence in the genetic psychology of G. Stanley HallChild Development 40 355CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Guajardo, N. R.Parker, J.Turley-Ames, K. J. 2009 Associations among false belief understanding, counterfactual reasoning, and executive functionThe British Journal of Developmental Psychology 27 681CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Guttentag, R.Ferrell, J 2004 Reality compared with its alternatives: Age differences in judgments of regret and reliefDevelopmental Psychology 40 764CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Guttentag, R.Ferrell, J 2008 Children’s understanding of anticipatory regret and disappointmentCognition and Emotion 22 815CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Harris, P. L. 2000 The work of the imaginationOxfordBlackwell.Google Scholar
Harris, P. L.Kavanaugh, R. D. 1993 Young children’s understanding of pretenseMonographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Harris, P. L.German, T.Mills, P. 1996 Children’s use of counterfactual thinking in causal reasoningCognition 61 233CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Inhelder, I.Piaget, J. 1958 The growth of logical thinkingNew YorkBasic Books.Google Scholar
Kahneman, D.Tversky, A. 1982 Kahneman, D.Slovic, P.Tversky, A.Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biasesNew YorkCambridge University PressCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kensley, M. 2003
Kohlberg, L. 1984 The psychology of moral developmentSan FranciscoHarper & Row.Google Scholar
Kuhn, D.Amsel, E.O’Loughlin, M. 1988 The development of scientific thinking skillsOrlando, FLAcademic PressGoogle Scholar
Kuhn, D. 2001 How do people know?Psychological Science 12 1CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kuhn, D. 2009 Lerner, R.M.Steinberg, L.Handbook of adolescent psychologyNew YorkJohn Wiley & SonsGoogle Scholar
Kuhn, D.Dean, Jr., D. 2004 Connecting scientific reasoning and causal inferenceJournal of Cognition and Development 5 261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Landsman, J. 1993 Regret: Persistence of the possibleNew YorkOxford University PressGoogle Scholar
Lehrer, R.Schauble, L. 2006 Damon, W.Lerner, R.Renninger, K. A.Sigel, I. E.Handbook of child psychology: Child psychology in practiceHoboken, NJJohn Wiley & SonsGoogle Scholar
Leslie, A. M. 1987 Pretense and representation: The origins of “theory of mind”Psychological Review 94 412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lillard, A.S. 2001 Pretend play as Twin Earth: A social-cognitive analysisDevelopmental Review 21 495CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Markovits, H.Vachon, R. 1989 Reasoning with contrary-to-fact propositionsJournal of Experimental Child Psychology 47 398CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
McCloy, R.Strange, P. 2009 Taatgen, N. A.van Rijn, H.Proceedings of the 31th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science SocietyAustin, TXCognitive Science SocietyGoogle Scholar
Moshman, D. 1998 Damon, W.Kuhn, D.Siegler, R.Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 2. Cognition, perception, and languageNew YorkWileyGoogle Scholar
Moshman, D. 2005 Adolescent psychological development: Rationality, morality, and identityMahwah, NJErlbaumGoogle Scholar
Mueller, U.Sokol, B.Overton, W. F. 1999 Developmental sequences in class reasoning and propositional reasoningJournal of Experimental Child Psychology 74 69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nichols, S.Stich, S. 2000 A cognitive theory of pretenseCognition 74 115CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Perner, J. 1991 Understanding the representational mindCambridge, MAMIT PressGoogle Scholar
Perner, J. 2000 Mitchell, P.Riggs, K.Children’s reasoning and the mindNew YorkPsychology PressGoogle Scholar
Perner, J.Baker, S.Hutton, D. 1994 Lewis, C.Mitchell, P.Children’s early understanding of mind: Origins and developmentHoveErlbaumGoogle Scholar
Piaget, J. 1962 Play, dreams, and imitation in childhoodNew YorkW.W. Norton & CoGoogle Scholar
Piaget, J. 1972 Intellectual evolution from adolescence to adulthoodHuman Development 15 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Piaget, J. 1987 Possibility and necessityMinneapolisUniversity of Minnesota PressGoogle Scholar
Rafetseder, E.Cristi-Vargas, R.Perner, J. 2010 Counterfactual reasoning: Developing a sense of “nearest possible world”Child Development 81 376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rescher, N. 1961 Belief-contravening suppositionsPhilosophic Review 70 176Google Scholar
Rescher, N. 1964 Hypothetical reasoningAmsterdamNorth-Holland PublishingGoogle Scholar
Richards, C. A.Sanderson, J. A. 1999 The role of imagination in facilitating deductive reasoning in 2-, 3- and 4-year-oldsCognition 72 1CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Riggs, K. J.Peterson, D. M. 2000 Mitchell, P.Riggs, K. J.Children’s reasoning and the mindHovePsychology PressGoogle Scholar
Riggs, K. J.Peterson, D. M.Robinson, E. J.Mitchell, P. 1998 Are errors in false belief tasks symptomatic of a broader difficulty with counterfactuality?Cognitive Development 13 73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Robarge, J.Flexer, B. 1979 Further examinations of formal operational reasoning abilitiesChild Development 50 478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Robarge, J.Flexer, B. 1980 Control of variables and propositional reasoning in early adolescenceThe Journal of Genetic Psychology 103 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Robinson, E. J.Beck, S. 2000 Mitchell, P.Riggs, K. J.Children’s reasoning and the mindNew YorkPsychology PressGoogle Scholar
Roese, N.Epstude, K.Fessel, F.Morrison, M.Smallman, R.Summerville, A. 2009 Repetitive regret, depression, and anxiety: Findings from a nationally representative surveyJournal of Social & Clinical Psychology 28 671CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ruffman, T.Perner, J.Olson, D. R.Doherty, M. 1993 Reflecting on scientifc thinking: Children’s understanding of the hypothesis-evidence relationChild Development 64 1617CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Saffrey, C.Ehrenberg, M. 2007 When thinking hurts: Attachment, rumination, and post-relationship adjustmentPersonal Relationships 14 351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schmidt, R.Van der Linden, M. 2009 The aftermath of rash action: Sleep-interfering counterfactual thoughts and emotionsEmotion 9 549CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Schulz, L. E.Baraff-Bonawitz, E. 2007 Serious fun: Preschoolers engage in more exploratory play when evidence is confoundedDevelopmental Psychology 43 1045CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Schulz, L. E.Gopnik, A.Glymour, C. 2007 Preschool children learn about causal structure from conditional interventionsDevelopmental Science 10 322CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Selman, R. 1980 The growth of interpersonal understandingNew YorkAcademic PressGoogle Scholar
Shtulman, A. 2009 The development of possibility judgment within and across domainsCognitve Development 24 293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shtulman, A.Carey, S. 2007 Improbable or impossible? How children reason about the possibility of extraordinary eventsChild Development 78 1015CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Skolnick, D.Bloom, P. 2006 What does Batman think about SpongeBob? Children’s understanding of the fantasy/fantasy distinctionCognition 101 9CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Stanovich, K. E.West, R. F. 2000 Individual differences in reasoning: Implications for the rationality debateBehavioral and Brain Sciences 23 645CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Weisberg, D. S.Bloom, P. 2009 Young children separate multiple pretend worldsDevelopmental Science 12 699CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
White, H. 1985 Breakdowns in combinatorial reasoning: The role of memoryJournal of 146 431Google Scholar
Woolley, J. D. 1995 The fictional mind: Young children’s understanding of pretense, imagination and dreamsDevelopmental Review 15 172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Woolley, J. D. 1997 Thinking about fantasy: Are children fundamentally different thinkers and believers from adults?Child Development 68 991CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Wyman, E.Rakoczy, H.Tomasello, M. 2009 Young children understand multiple pretend identities in their object playBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology 27 385CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Zeelenberg, M.Pieters, R. 2007 A theory of regret regulation 1.0Journal of Consumer Psychology 17 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zimmerman, C. 2000 The development of scientific reasoning skillsDevelopmental Review 20 99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zimmerman, C. 2007 The development of scientific thinking skills in elementary and middle schoolDevelopmental Review 27 172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cited by

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats