Cognitive Development

Jean Piaget

Type of psychology: Developmental psychology Field of study: Cognitive development

Piaget, in one of the twentieth century's most influential development theories, proposed a sequence of maturational changes in thinking: From the sensorimotor responses of infancy, the child acquires symbols. Later, the child begins relating these symbols in such logical operations as categorizing and quantifying. In adolescence, abstract and hypothetical mental manipulations become possible.

Key concepts

• concrete operations stage

• conservation

• egocentric

• formal operations stage

• operations

• preoperational stage

• sensorimotor stage

Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss psychologist, generated the twentieth century's most influential and comprehensive theory of cognitive development. Piaget's theory describes how the maturing child's interactions with the environment result in predictable sequences of changes in certain crucial understandings of the world about him or her. Such changes occur in the child's comprehension of time and space, quantitative relationships, cause and effect, and even right and wrong. The child is always treated as an actor in his or her own development.

Advances result from the active desire to develop concepts, or schemata, which are sufficiently similar to the real world that this real world can be fitted or assimilated into these schemata. Schemata can be defined as any process of interpreting an object or event, including habitual responses, symbols, or mental manipulations. When a schema ("Cats smell nice") is sufficiently discrepant from reality ("That cat stinks"), the schema itself must be accommodated or altered ("That catlike creature is a skunk").

For children everywhere, neurologically based advances in mental capacity introduce new perceptions that make the old ways of construing reality unsatisfactory and compel a fundamentally new construction of reality— a new stage of development. Piaget conceptualizes four such stages: sensori-motor (in infancy), preoperational (the preschool child), concrete operational (the school-age child), and formal operational (adolescence and adulthood).

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