Piaget's theory of cognitive development

         When you talk about development theories in psychology and precisely cognitive development, the first name you will come across is Jean Piaget.

         Piaget is a psychologist who thinks that every person experience four stages of cognitive development during his childhood. But before talking about these stages we must talk about an important concept in his theory which is the concept of schemata. Schemata is the mental framework that helps us organize the information we receive from the world. And this actually leads us to the concept of adaptation. According to Piaget, we can see adaptation through two complementary processes, assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is the process of interpreting new information based on existing schemata. Accommodation on the other hand take place when the information we receive cannot be interpreted based on the existing schemata. So the process of accommodation modify the existing schemata to adapt to the new information.

        Now that we have explained these concepts let us go back to the stages of cognitive development. According to Piaget there are four stages of cognitive development. Sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage and last the formal operational stage.

        Sensorimotor stage is the first stage of cognitive development according to Piaget and it lasts the first two years. This stage is marked by primary and secondary circular reactions. While primary circular reactions are restricted to motions of the body, secondary circular reactions are directed toward manipulation of objects in the environment. You should also note that they are called circular because of the repetition of the behavior. Another interesting concept in this stage is object permanence. According to Piaget the infant in this phase of his life does not have object permanence. let me give you an example to make it more clear, if you take a child under two years old and grab the remote control in front of him and hide it under a certain cover the child will think that the remote control disappeared. We can use this idea to also explain the game of peekaboo, according to this concept this game makes the child happy manly because he thinks that you disappeared when you covered your face. Stupid but cute.

      The stage that comes after that is the preoperational phase. The preoperational phase starts at the age of two and ends approximately at the age of seven, in this stage the child overcome the problem of object permanence so the game of peekaboo will no longer impress a child at this age. However another thing that characterize this stage is centration. Centration is the tendency to be able to focus on only one aspect of a phenomenon. To show this Piaget executed an experiment were he showed children two identical beakers with the same amount of liquid and then asked them to choose the beaker with the most amount of liquid at this stage children can say that the two beakers have the same amount of liquid. The interesting part of this experiment is that Piaget took one beaker and poured it in a taller thinner beaker. Then he asked the children which beaker has the most amount of liquid. Here children at this stage choose the thinner beaker since they are still blocked because of the problem of centration and since they concentrated only on the shape of the beakers. Another concept that mark this stage is egocentrism. Children in this stage cannot take the perspective of others and cannot understand reciprocal relationships. In other words the child in this phase think about the world through himself, for example if a child in this stage is asked whether he has a brother or not he might say yes, but if you ask him does your brother has a brother he will probably say no since he cannot see the relationship from the perspective of his brother.

      The stage that comes after that is the concrete operational phase which starts at the age of seven and ends approximately at the age of eleven. In this stage children can master conservation and they also overcome the problem of egocentrism, so the child can take the perspectives of others into account, which leads the child to master another thing known as the theory of the mind. To explain this let me give you an example, let us imagine that you show children a video of a person "A" putting a candy on the table and then leaving, and a person "B" taking this candy and putting it in the drawer. Well in this case if  you ask children that are in the preoperational phase if person A comes back were will he look for the candy. The children in this phase will say he will look in the drawer despite the fact that the person A did not know that person B changed its place. But if you ask that same question to a child in the concrete operational phase he will say that the person A will look for the candy in the same place where he left it. Hence the child in the concrete operational phase understand the situation from other people's perspective. However despite that the child have limited understanding of abstract concepts.

The last stage is the formal operational stage. In this stage the child will have the ability to understand abstract thoughts and concepts, in other words the child in this stage starts thinking like scientists.


See Also:

Psychosexual development

Psychosocial development