Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

Cognitive development theories describe the dynamic processes by which human minds develop and change from infancy throughout life. Memory, thinking, reasoning, spatial processing, problem-solving, language, and perception are all parts of cognition. In contrast to merely describing the capacities of children across years or children, adults, and aging populations, theories of cognitive development try to explain processes of change and hence development. Piaget's theory of cognitive development is one such theory.

What is Cognitive Development?

Cognitive development is a field that is integrated by certain fundamental ideas and concepts. However, it is a broad and varied field, particularly when it comes to cognitive development in early development. Cognitive development occurs at numerous stages during childhood. Thus, cognitive development examines the nature of development in light of how children develop conscious control over their thoughts and actions.

Who was Jean Piaget?

Jean Piaget, a well-known Swiss developmental psychologist, revolutionized how we view how children's minds grow. Jean Piaget was born in Neuchatel, Switzerland, on August 9, 1896, and passed away on September 17, 1980. He was a significant investigator, theorist, and researcher in developmental psychology and the investigation of human intellect. His father was passionate about writing about Neuchatel's history and medieval literature. Piaget absorbed from his father the importance of methodical work, even in little tasks. Although his mother was extremely bright, active, and compassionate, her neurotic temperament made family life difficult. Her mental state impacted his psychological studies, and he developed an interest in psychoanalysis and abnormal psychology. The Swiss academic Samuel Cornut served as Piaget's godfather and fostered a love of philosophy and epistemology during his adolescence.

What does Piaget's Theory Say?

According to Piaget's theory, people go through four phases of cognitive development as they actively construct their understanding of the world. This cognitive construction of the world is based on two processes: organization and adaptation. Adolescents organize their experiences to make sense of the world. For example, they distinguish between significant and less important ideas and link one notion to another. Along with organizing their observations and experiences, they also adapt, meeting the needs of a changing environment.

Major Themes of Piaget's Theories

The essence of Piaget's viewpoint is encapsulated in the next four concepts.

  • Constructivism is the most rational and convincing of the three potential epistemological positions about the source of knowledge (i.e., nativism, empiricism, and constructivism).

  • The progression of children's mental development can be regarded as a progression through four levels or stages of thought.

  • Structuralism and functionalism are the most practical and convincing counterarguments to the many epistemological positions about the nature of knowledge (such as behaviorism, connectionism, and structuralism).

  • Equilibration is the most important of the four factors (biological maturation, physical experience, social interaction, and equilibration) that explain the changes in mind that occur throughout time.The progression of children's mental development can be regarded as a progression through four levels or stages of thought.

Stages of Piaget’s Theory

Following are the four stages of Piaget’s theory

Piaget argued that there are four stages to a person's worldview development. Each stage has a distinct method of thinking and a different way of comprehending the world, and it is age-related. So, in accordance with Piaget, cognitive development differs qualitatively between developmental stages.

Sensorimotor Stage

According to Piaget, the newborn attempts to comprehend itself and the environment throughout the first 24 months by acquiring sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities. They progressively discover the connection between activities in the internal and exterior worlds. Object permeance is one of the stage's significant developments. Around eight months, a newborn acquires the concept that the item (including the primary caregiver) continues to exist even when they are not physically present.

Preoperational Stage

Piaget's second stage is the preoperational stage, which lasts from roughly 2 to 7 years of age. In this stage, children start to use words, pictures, and drawings to depict the world instead of just relating sensory information to bodily activity. However, according to Piaget, preschoolers cannot still carry out what he refers to as operations. These internalized mental acts let children perform tasks that they could previously only physically with their minds. For instance, you are doing a concrete operation if you envision joining two sticks together to check if they would be the same length as another stick without moving the sticks. Children exhibit egocentrism, or the incapacity of infants to think from the perspective of others, as well as animism, or the notion that inanimate objects possess some attributes of living creatures. They cannot also seriate or arrange items in an order and cannot comprehend comparison phrases. Finally, they lacked an understanding of the Principle of conservation, which states that some physical qualities of a thing stay intact even if the object's outer appearance changes.

Concrete Operational Stage

The third Piagetian stage is known as the concrete operational stage, lasting from roughly 7 to 11 years of age. Children may engage in activities involving objects at this stage, and they are also capable of applying logic to specific or concrete examples. For instance, because algebraic equations are too abstract for thinking at this stage of development, concrete operational thinkers find it difficult to visualize the techniques required to solve them. The child's capacity to reason, logical reasoning, and causality improve throughout this development period. They have a stronger grasp of spatial ideas and conservation. They also understand the concept of reversibility, which is the ability to undo physical changes by reversing the original action, and categorization, which includes seriation (the ability to arrange objects in order), transitive inference (the ability to recognize a relationship between two objects by knowing the relationship between each of them), and class inclusion (the ability to see the relationship between a whole and its parts).

Formal Operational Stage

Piaget's fourth and last stage is the formal operational stage, which begins between the ages of 11 and 15 and lasts through adulthood. At this point, people start to think more abstractly and logically as they go from concrete experiences. Adolescents create idealized scenarios as part of their transition to more abstract thought. They may consider the characteristics of the ideal parent and evaluate their parents against this benchmark. They start to consider future scenarios and get interested in what they might become. They become more methodical in their approach to problem-solving, formulating theories to explain why something is happening the way it is before testing these theories. They can construct hypotheses and think rationally about symbols, ideas, and propositions, known as hypothetico-deductive reasoning. This level completely comprehends inductive and deductive reasoning. Finally, thoughtful thinking emerges. It is the capacity to assess a method, concept, or solution from the outside to identify flaws or faults.


Despite the significant influence of Piaget's theories on developmental psychology, his ideas have not always been embraced without criticism. Piaget's hypothesis has some drawbacks, such as overestimating adolescents' potential and underestimating the infant. Piaget also overlooked the impact of social and cultural factors on children's cognitive and thinking growth. Furthermore, Piaget's theory has some ethical and biased issues with the methodological approach because he investigated his children. Nevertheless, Piaget's contributions, especially those related to the education of children and the integration of cognition into psychology, have had a tremendous impact on the field of child development.

Updated on: 15-Dec-2022


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