Jean Piaget's Theory Of Cognitive Development

No theory of cognitive development has had more impact than that of Jean Piaget's stages of cognitive thinking. Jean Piaget, a swiss psychologists identified four stages in which children develop cognitively.

How we as human beings develop cognitively has been thoroughly researched. Theorists have suggested that children are incapable of understanding the world until they reach a particular stage of cognitive development. Cognitive development is the process whereby

a child's understanding of the world changes as a function of age and experience. Theories of cognitive development seek to explain the quantitative and qualitative intellectual abilities that occur during development.

No theory of cognitive development has had more impact than the cognitive stages presented by Jean Piaget. Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, suggested that children go through four separate stages in a fixed order that is universal in all children. Piaget declared that these stages differ not only in the quantity of information acquired at each, but also in the quality of knowledge and understanding at that stage. Piaget suggested that movement from one stage to the next occurred when the child reached an appropriate level of maturation and was exposed to relevant types of experiences. Without experience, children were assumed incapable of reaching their highest cognitive ability. Piaget's four stages are known as the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational,and formal operational stages.

The sensorimotor stage in a child is from birth to approximately two years. During this stage, a child has relatively little competence in representing the environment using images, language, or symbols. An infant has no awareness of objects or people that are not immediately present at a given moment. Piaget called this a lack of object permanence. Object permanence is the awareness that objects and people continue to exist even if they are out of sight. In infants, when a person hides, the infant has no knowledge that they are just out of sight. According to Piaget, this person or object that has disappeared is gone forever to the infant.

The preoperational stage is from the age of two to seven years. The most important development at this time is language. Children develop an internal representation of the world that allows them to describe people, events, and feelings.

Children at this time use symbols, they can pretend when driving their toy car across the couch that the couch is actually a bridge. Although the thinking of the child is more advanced than when it was in the sensorimotor stage, it is still qualitatively inferior to that of an adult. Children in the preoperational stage are characterized by what Piaget called egocentric thoughts. The world at this stage is viewed entirely from the child's own perspective. Thus a child's explanation to an adult can be uninformative.

Three-year-olds will generally hide their face when they are in trouble--even though they are in plain view, three-year-olds believe that their inability to see others also results in others' inability to see them. A child in the preoperational stage also lacks the principle of conservation. This is the knowledge that quantity is unrelated to the arrangement and physical appearance of objects. Children who have not passed this stage do not know that the amount, volume or length of an object does not change length when the shape of the configuration is changed. If you put two identical pieces of clay in front of a child, one rolled up in the shape of a ball, the other rolled into a snake, a child at this stage may say the snake piece is bigger because it is rolled out. Piaget declared that this is not mastered until the next stage of development. The concrete operational stage lasts from the age of seven to twelve years of age. The beginning of this stage is marked by the mastery of the principal of conservation.

Children develop the ability to think in a more logical manner and they begin to overcome some of the egocentric characteristics of the preoperational period. One of the major ideas learned in this stage is the idea of reversibility. This is the idea that some changes can be undone by reversing an earlier action. An example is the ball of clay that is rolled out into a snake piece of clay. Children at this stage understand that you can regain the ball of clay formation by rolling the piece of clay the other way. Children can even conceptualize the stage in their heads without having to see the action performed.

Children in the concrete operational stage have a better understanding of time and space. Children at this stage have limits to their abstract thinking, according to Piaget.

The formal operational stage begins in most people at age twelve and continues into adulthood. This stage produces a new kind of thinking that is abstract, formal, and logical. Thinking is no longer tied to events that can be observed. A child at this stage can think hypothetically and use logic to solve problems. It is thought that not all individuals reach this level of thinking. Most studies show only forty to sixty percent of American college students and adults fully achieve it. In developing countries where the technology is not as advanced as the United States, almost no one reaches the formal operational stage.

Contemporary theorists suggest that a better description of how children develop cognitively can be provided by approaches that do not employ concrete fixed stages. Research also has proven that children are not always consistent in their performance of tasks at each stage. Furthermore, developmental psychologists imply that cognitive development proceeds in a continuous fashion; they propose that such development is primarily quantitative, rather than qualitative.

Most developmental theorists have agreed that Piaget has provided us with an accurate account of age-related changes in cognitive development. Piaget's suggestion, that cognitive performance cannot be attained unless cognitive readiness is brought about by maturation and environmental stimuli, has been instrumental in determining the structure of educational curricula.

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