Cognitive Differences between Children and Adults

By Dr. Kimberly Frank

Most psychologists understand cognitive development as a series of stages through which a person progresses as he or she ages. Thus, an adult may possess more advanced cognitive skills in areas such as problem solving, attention, and memory than a child, but both are continually learning and changing. Some psychologists argue that children actually have a greater cognitive capacity than adults, because they are often able to absorb larger amounts of information more quickly, such as a new language.

Cognitive functioning in children can be so different from that of adults that adults may have difficulty understanding the experiences and thought patterns of young children. For example, children may use transductive logic, which is the belief that if two things share a common characteristic, they must have other similarities as well. Children may also confuse the cause and effect relationship between two events or things, such as believing that a fire truck causes fires.

About the author: Dr. Kimberly Hammes Frank has been a practicing child and adolescent psychiatrist for over fifteen years. She has worked in both inpatient and outpatient mental health clinics and received the Outstanding Fellow Award in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry from the University of Nebraska in 1995. In part because of the cognitive changes that occur with aging, Dr. Kimberly Frank emphasizes an integrated approach to the psychiatric treatment of children and adolescents that incorporates biological, social, and psychological factors.