Early career

Piaget enrolled for a semester of postdoctoral study at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. While in

Zurich he also worked in Eugen Bleuler's psychiatric clinic. His curiosity about psychological issues, due in part to his mother's poor mental health, led him to the study of the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud and the analytical psychology of the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung. Piaget attended many of Jung's lectures, and he was particularly interested in Jung's emphasis on the human psyche's drive toward balance and wholeness, and on the individual's significance as the agent of his or her own maturation and individua-tion. During these years Piaget was reading psychology only in French and was not exposed to the contemporary writings of Max Wertheimer and Wolfgang Kohler, the Gestalt psychologists. He later told an interviewer that had he come across the Gestalt writings when he was 18 he might himself have become a Gestalt psychologist.

In 1919 Piaget moved to Paris, where he studied logic and abnormal psychology and lectured in psychology and philosophy at the Sorbonne. He found work as a research associate in the Simon-Binet experimental psychology laboratory. There Piaget worked with Theophile Simon in administering intelligence tests to French children at the École de la rue de la Grange-auxBelles a school for boys. Piaget's task was to standardize the French version of British psychologist Cyril Burt's intelligence test, noting what kind of errors children made as they answered a series of questions. Though he was not particularly challenged by the work of test administration and never completed the task of standardizing the test, in the process of his work he began to realize the qualitative differences in how children and adults think.

Piaget's work with these young children (ages five to eight years), was a turning point in his career, leading to his lifelong study of the origins, nature, and development of intelligence. Piaget believed this research into how children think was an essential source of information about the nature of knowledge itself. He was intrigued with the answers the children gave, even if those answers were considered wrong by the standards of the intelligence test he administered. It was the patterns of their responses that caught his attention. Children of the same age, he found, invariably came up with the same wrong answer to the test questions. Piaget began to explore the thinking processes of the children, making use of a technique of clinical interviewing he had learned during his work at Eugen Bleuler's psychiatric clinic in Paris. He was fascinated with the processes of children's reasoning and the unique psychological mechanisms at work as they construct, apply, and adapt their own theories of the world in a trial and error process leading to the acquisition of practical intelligence.

Piaget came to believe that children of all ages are interactive agents in their personal intellectual development. His experience with testing these French children led him to develop his own experimental working philosophy of how knowledge grows, which later evolved into his systematic theories of cognitive development known as genetic epistemology.

In 1921 Piaget published a paper in the Archives de Psychologie. In the paper, he claimed that logic is not an innate characteristic but is developed over time through interactive processes of self-regulation. Piaget believed that this adaptive process is common to all living things. He discounted the prevailing doctrines of innate ideas and environmental determinism. His published work drew the attention of other researchers and scholars, and at the age of 25, Jean Piaget was offered the position of research psychologist at the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute in Geneva (now Institut des Sciences de l'Education at the University of Geneva). The Institute was highly regarded for its programs of educational research. There Piaget studied children's language and reasoning processes, and began writing in earnest. He later became co-director of the Institute and produced five more books during his five-year tenure there.

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