Neo-Piagetian Theories of Cognitive Development

By responding to the critiques levied against Jean Piaget's foundational theory of intellectual development, neo-Piagetian views of cognitive development evolved. Neo-Piagetian theories support three main ideas from Piaget's theory: (1) the scheme or psychological structure is the unit of cognitive analysis; (2) psychological structures change in quality over time; and (3) higher-order structures develop through the differentiation and coordination of lower-order ones.

What are Neo-Piagetian Theories of Cognitive Development?

The original intent of Piaget's hypothesis was to provide insight into the functioning of our brains. Thus, it was hoped that it might lead education toward the development of fresh approaches to teaching, especially in the STEM sectors. However, disillusionment with the theory spread quickly because many of Piaget's structural and developmental assumptions appeared to contradict empirical evidence. Multiple competing theories have emerged in recent years, each to improve Piaget's work while also addressing some of its weaknesses. On the other hand, many other models have been proposed simultaneously. Many of these models come from other epistemological traditions, such as cognitive/differential psychology and the socio-historical perspective.

The Theory of Juan Pascual Leone

To begin with, neo-Piagetian thinkers explained cognitive development along Piagetian stages by invoking information processing capability as the cause of both progressions from one stage to the next and individual differences in developmental pace. Juan Pascual-Leone initially proposed the concept. According to Pascual-Leone, there are two tiers to a person's mental processing. The Theory of Constructive Operators (TCO) explains this in detail.

The power of the mind is the first and most fundamental level. At this stage, the mechanisms at play dictate the range and kind of knowledge an individual can handle. Memory that can be used is called working memory, and it is the functional manifestation of intelligence. Working memory is typically measured in terms of the number of discrete units of information that a person can maintain in their mind at once. On the second level, there is actual thought. It includes our ideas and plans about the material, living, and social worlds and the symbols we use to refer to them (words, numbers, mental images). It also includes the arithmetic operations we can perform on numbers in our heads, the mental rotation we can perform on images in our heads, and so on.

The Theory of Graeme S Halford

In response to Case's notion of working memory's role in intellectual development, Graeme S. Halford has expressed several issues. The primary criticism is that various individuals may deal with the same issue but have distinct representations, leading to different analyses of the problem's goals and objectives. Therefore, executive functions cannot be used to measure mental capacity. Halford presented a new method of evaluating the cognitive load of problems; this approach is meant to shed light on the central role that processing plays in comprehension and problem resolution. The ability to completely understand the web of connections provides a minimal and complete definition of a given subject or situation.

Halford claims that structure mapping facilitates the development of this kind of understanding. People employ structure mapping, a form of analogous reasoning, to make sense of difficulties by fitting the problem's givens into a mental model or representation with which they are already familiar. The relational complexity of the structures involved determines the kinds of mappings that can be built between them. How many entities or dimensions are involved in a structure determines how relationally complicated it is. The complexity of a task increases in proportion to the number of dimensions that must be represented simultaneously to make sense of their interconnections.

The Theory of Kurt W Fischer

Fischer, like Case, contends that there is a structural repetition of four levels of development inside each major stage. At the most basic level of single sets, a person can develop skills that involve only a single sensory, representational, or abstract part of the tier in question. At the level of mappings, they can build skills with two elements mapped onto or coordinated with each other. These elements can be sensory, concrete, or abstract. Students can improve their skills at the system level by putting together two mappings from the sensorimotor, representational, or abstract levels. They can build skills at the systems-of-systems level by combining parts of two lower-level systems (sensorimotor, representational, or abstract).

The Theory of Michael Commons

Michael Commons' model of hierarchical complexity is a streamlined and improved version of Piaget's theory of cognitive development (MHC). Inferred task difficulty is evaluated using a single metric in the model. The MHC is a model that does not rely on the mind to explain how a person performs at different points in accomplishing a task. It details the stages associated with each of the 16 tiers of hierarchical complexity. This paradigm proposes that as we age, task sequences and task behaviors establish hierarchies that grow increasingly complicated rather than attributing these changes to the maturation of mental structures or schema.

By decoupling the work from the execution, the MHC improves both. Performance on a task ranked according to its degree of hierarchical complexity indicates the participant's developmental stage. The developmental changes observed, for instance, in an individual's performance of increasingly hierarchically complex tasks can be explained by the necessity of completing and practicing less hierarchically complicated tasks before acquiring more complex ones.

Paul van Geert: Dynamics System Theory

According to Paul van Geert, the maximum possible extension of a logistical process depends on three variables: its current state, its rate of development, and its expansion capacity. The status quo demonstrates a process's improvement potential, and its flexibility improves from its final state. Thus, the second parameter—the rate of change—multiplies the present value. This could be due to external pressures or personal impulses to improve. It resembles the interest rate on a savings account with no withdrawals. This metric measures the speed at which a skill matures. The final option, "limit," describes the extent of development. Working memory capacity helps develop cognitive processes in any field.


Neo-Piagetian Theory has a lot to offer instructors in the discipline. As a result, it is critical that we understand the research findings by Case, Demetriou, Pascal-Leone, and others who are not included in this study and that we perform additional investigations to evaluate the validity of the claimed structures in Turkish populations. This would help students use their learning processes and instructors develop them more efficiently. This research will undoubtedly fill a vacuum in the Turkish literature and offer significant information on cognitive development. A detailed assessment will also offer a better sense of our expertise in child development while providing a foreshadowing of potential future difficulties.

It will also be feasible to develop new evaluation tools based on relevant research findings. As Piaget said in his remark at the beginning of this article, neo-Piagetians largely disagreed with but did not contradict, his Theory. They primarily help to grasp the broad stages of cognitive growth and open the way to tracking actual knowledge in light of existing studies.

Updated on: 10-Apr-2023


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