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Piaget Theory of Cognitive Development

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Piaget Theory of Cognitive Development

Jean Piaget (1936) proposed the theory of cognitive development after conducting studies on children to observe how they acquire knowledge and intelligence. He concluded that cognitive development occurs via the interaction between natural abilities and environmental situations.

Children pass through four stages of cognitive development, irrespective of their culture and gender. The sequence of the four stages is in the same order for all children but might not be at the same rate, as some children might take longer to achieve a stage.

Application of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development

Three basic components of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development are:

  1. Schemas are mental representations of the world or objects around us that can be called small internal scripts based on our life experiences.

  2. The adaptation process is how learning and cognitive development occur. The child meets the situational demands by transitioning from one stage to another. The adaptation process is explained via assimilation, accommodation, and equilibrium.

    • Assimilation refers to using the existing schemas to understand new situations.

      A child who has seen clowns may believe that every bald man with some curly hair on the side of their head is a clown.

    • Accommodation is when existing schemes are altered according to the new situation.

      The father will explain to the child that any bald man with curly side hair may look like a clown, but unless he wears a clown costume or does silly things to make people laugh, he is not a clown. As a result, the child will adopt a new standard image of the clown.

    • Equilibrium refers to a balance between old and new information (assimilation and accommodation). Equilibrium helps in progressing between the stages of cognitive development.

  3. According to Piaget, there are four stages of development. We will discuss these below.

For further reference, Piaget’s theory of cognitive development can be cited in the Origins of intelligence in Children (1936).

Piaget’s stages of cognitive development

The four stages of Piaget’s cognitive development are:

Stages of cognitive development

Age (years)

Target goal

Sensor motor

02

Object permanence

Pre-operational

27

Symbolic thought

Concrete operational

711

Logical thought

Formally operational

11 +

Scientific thought

According to Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, a child can miss no stage. However, children may reach one stage to another at a different pace due to individual differences.

The sensorimotor stage (02)

  • Initially, infants learn about their environment by self-exploration through their senses and actions.

    A baby learns that if they shake a rattle, it makes a noise.

  • The infant has not learned and stored a mental picture of the existing world. They also lack object permanence (the knowledge that an object is still there even if you can’t see it).

At this stage, if you hide a toy the child was playing with, they will think that the toy has vanished or it no longer exists, meaning they have no object permanence.

  • The infant develops object permanence around the age of 7-8 months. The development of object permanence is dependent on schemas.

If a child has developed object permanence and you hide their toy, they will search for the toy.

The pre-operational stage (27 years)

  • The child can still not use reasoning and logic for problem-solving. At this stage, the child grasps the world as it appears to them, not as it really is.

  • The infants now represent themselves through certain verbal (speaking some words) and physical actions (building blocks).

  • The children can internally represent the world through language and mental visualisation.

  • General symbolic function develops in this stage and refers to representing objects that are not seen mentally.

    A child pretends to pour tea into a cup for their teddies having a tea party.

  • This stage gives birth to animism in children, making them think that non-animated objects also talk and have feelings like us.

    It is raining because the clouds are sad and crying.

  • Egocentrism develops in this stage as well, in which the child thinks that everyone around them experiences and feels from the same perspective as them.

Piaget Theory of Cognitive Development Animism StudySmarterPiaget theory of cognitive development, a child believes his teddy is alive and has feelings (animism), pixabay.com

The concrete operational stage (711 years)

  • This stage is a significant stage in cognitive development as the child starts to think logically and problem solves concrete events (events that can be perceived with the eye).

  • The concept of conservation develops at this stage. Conservation is the knowledge that something is still the same quantity even if appearance changes. If you have two cups of water of the same volume in the same kind of cups, then pour one cup into a taller, narrower container and ask a child which cup now has more water. Before this stage the child would answer that the taller, narrower cup has more water.

  • The concept of class inclusion develops. It is the ability to classify sub-categories of something under a higher category simultaneously.

    Before this stage, a child struggles to classify ‘cats’ and ‘dogs’ both under ‘animals’.

  • They can work out things with reason and logic in their heads without trying them out in the physical world.

  • Children at this stage tend to reason only on physically material things. They might feel too overwhelmed if asked to reason about abstract problems.

  • Children will now consider how other people feel and think, becoming less egocentric.

The formal operational stage (11+)

  • At 12 years old, children can use logic and scientific operation for abstract problems. For example, they can think hypothetically and plan for the future, thinking about issues that require theoretical and abstract reasoning (e.g., political/philosophical issues).

  • Children can also follow long arguments and actively respond without feeling too overwhelmed.

  • The difference between concrete and formal operation is that concrete operation is carried out on things that can be perceived only with the eye, whereas formal operations are performed on ideas (intangible objects).

  • Just the physicality of the event does not restrict formal operations.

Evaluation of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development

Here are the pros and cons of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development:

  • Importance of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development: many researchers after Piaget used his ideas for further research and began to understand the cognitive development of children better. His ideas have mainly benefited the field of education, such as discovery learning and brought practical ways of communicating well with children.

  • The inter-rated reliability of Piaget’s theory is low, as he conducted the study through naturalistic observation on his children (biased results) and interviews with adolescents. He didn’t have another observer working with him to confirm his findings, which could have increased the reliability of his conclusions.

  • Other researchers question the generalisability of his findings because the children were all European and from the elite class. Piaget’s results were based on a small sample of his children and children of his colleagues.

  • In Piaget’s theory, language is secondary to the action. Vygotsky (1978) argues (testing Piaget’s study) that the development of thought or reasoning goes in hand with language development. According to Vygotsky, reasoning has more links to communicating with other people than with the material world.

How does Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development compare to Piaget’s?

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is about how children acquire knowledge and intelligence. Children pass through four stages of cognitive development, irrespective of their culture and gender. In contrast, Vygotsky suggested that social and cultural factors play an essential role in a child’s cognitive development.

Piaget Theory of Cognitive Development - Key takeaways

  • Jean Piaget (1936) proposed the theory of cognitive development through his study of how they acquire knowledge and intelligence.

  • Cognitive development takes place via the interaction between natural abilities and environmental situations.

  • Children pass through four stages of cognitive development, irrespective of their culture and gender.

  • The four stages of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development are sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational and formal operational.

  • The sensorimotor stage aims to develop object permanence between 02 years old.

  • The main goal of the pre-operational stage is symbolic thought between 27 years old.

  • The main goal of the concrete operational stage is logical thought between 711 years old.

  • The main goal of the formal operational stage is scientific thought from age 11 onwards.

Frequently Asked Questions about Piaget Theory of Cognitive Development

Jean Piaget proposed the theory of cognitive development based on his studies on children, observing how they acquire knowledge and intelligence. The four stages of Piaget’s cognitive development theory are sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational and formal operational.

Piaget proposed his theory of cognitive development in 1936.

The three essential components are schemas (mental representations of the world or objects around us), the adaptation process (how cognitive development and learning occurs) and stages of development (the sensorimotor stage 0–2 years, the preoperational stage 2–7 years, the concrete operational stage 7–11 years, and formal operational stage 11+ years).

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is about how children acquire knowledge and intelligence. Children pass through four stages of cognitive development, irrespective of their culture and gender. In contrast, Vygotsky suggested that social and cultural factors play an essential role in a child’s cognitive development.

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development can be cited in the Origins of intelligence in Children (1936).

Final Piaget Theory of Cognitive Development Quiz

Question

When did Piaget propose his theory of cognitive development?

Show answer

Answer

In 1936.

Show question

Question

Cognitive development takes place with the interaction between________ and environmental situations.

Show answer

Answer

Natural abilities

Show question

Question

Children pass through four stages of cognitive development, irrespective of their _______ and gender.

Show answer

Answer

Culture

Show question

Question

The infant has no mental picture of the existing world, learned and stored in their memory. According to Piaget, which cognitive stage does this statement follow?

Show answer

Answer

Sensorimotor stage.

Show question

Question

Which stage gives birth to animism in children that makes them think non-animated objects also talk and have feelings like us?

Show answer

Answer

Pre-operational stage.

Show question

Question

Children at this stage tend to reason only on physically material things. According to Piaget, which cognitive stage does this statement follow?

Show answer

Answer

Concrete operational stage.

Show question

Question

Formal operations are not contingent on physical and perceptual constraints. According to Piaget, which cognitive stage does this statement follow?

Show answer

Answer

Formal operational stage.

Show question

Question

Concrete operation is carried out on _______, whereas formal operations are performed on ideas.

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Answer

Things

Show question

Question

In Piaget’s theory,  ______ is secondary to the action. 

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Answer

Language

Show question

Question

Piaget’s based his results on a small sample of his children and children of his colleagues, which is a _______ issue.

Show answer

Answer

Generalisability

Show question

Question

List down the stages of cognitive development described by Piaget (1936).

Show answer

Answer

The stages of development include the sensorimotor stage, the pre-operational stage, the concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage.

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Question

What are the pros of Piaget’s research (1936) to cognitive psychology?

Show answer

Answer

Many researchers after Piaget used his ideas for further research and began to understand the cognitive development of children better. His ideas have particularly benefited education, such as discovery learning and brought practical ways of communicating well with children.

Show question

Question

What are the cons of Piaget’s research (1936) to cognitive psychology?

Show answer

Answer

The inter-rated reliability of Piaget’s theory is low, as he conducted the study through naturalistic observation on his children (biased results) and interviews with adolescents. He didn’t have another observer working with him to confirm his findings, which could have increased the reliability of his findings.

Show question

Question

What is object permanence, according to Piaget (1936)?

Show answer

Answer

It means to believe in the existence of an object even if you can’t see it. For example, if a child has developed object permanence and you hide their toy from them, they will search for it.

Show question

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