Jean Piaget's Theory and Stages of Cognitive Development

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Jean Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Tables of Content:

1. Who is Jean Piaget?
2. His Contribution In Psychology and Cognitive Development
3. Piaget's steps of cognitive development theory
4. Components of Piaget's Cognitive Theory
5. Piaget Cognitive Process
6. Piaget Stages of Development
7. A brief summary of all the four stages
8. A detailed explanation of all the four-stage
9. Meaning of following key terms
- Cognitive Development
- Schema
- Assimilation
- Accommodation
- Equilibrium
- Metacognition
- Object Permanence
- Hypothetical Reasoning
10. Experiments of Jean Piaget with examples
11.Criticism of Piaget's Theory
12. How to apply Piaget's view in the Classroom
13. Educational Implications
14.Strenght's of Piaget's Theory
15. Downloadable PPT and PDF Notes

Biography, Early Life and History of Jean Piaget : 

Jean Piaget (1896 - 1980) was a Swiss Biologist who later turned into a cognitive and child psychologist. He is well known for providing a stage theory of cognitive development for explaining the development of thinking in human beings from infancy to adulthood.

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He was so keen and interested in the study of cognitive and child psychology that he along with his wife devoted almost the years of their early married life in studying the cognitive development of their own three children by making them the subject of their laboratory studies. As a result, today Jean Piaget theory of cognitive Development has no parallel in the history of research in the field of developmental, cognitive and child psychology.

Jean Piaget Contribution in Psychology:

For years many sociologists and psychologists conducted various studies on cognitive development. Jean Piaget was one of the most important and influential people in the field of developmental psychology.

Piaget believed that humans are unique in comparison to animals because they have the ability to do " Abstract Symbolic Reasoning".

Study of Cognitive Development:

Historically, the Cognitive Development of the children has been studied in a  variety of ways. The most well known and influential theory of cognitive development is the theory of Jean Piaget (1896-1980). Piaget's theory first published in 1952.

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Piaget Envisioned children knowledge as composed of schemas. Schemas are the basic units of knowledge used to organize past experiences and serve as a basis for understanding new ones.

According to Piaget, people have an innate need to understand how the world works and to find order structure and predictability in their existence. This need is called the drive for equilibrium or a state of balance. It is the cornerstone of Piaget's Theory. The ways of thinking change as the equilibrium is changed because of new experiences.

---> According to Piaget, children pass through four stages. These four stages of Piaget's theory always occur in the same order, and each builds on what was learned in the previous stage.

Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development:

Cognitive development is the way the kids learn and process all information they get from their surroundings. Cognitive development involves mental imagery, language, thinking, memory development, reasoning, and problems solving.

Piaget in his theory of cognitive or mental development has used the following two steps or activities i.e.

1. Organization
2. Adaptation

1. Adaptation: Children have an inborn tendency of adjusting to their environment. This tendency is called Adaptation.

According to Piaget, adaptation has two subprocesses.

a. Assimilation
b. Accommodation

1. Assimilation: Assimilation is a process in which the child takes the help of earlier leaned strategies or mental process. Assimilation describes how Humans perceives & adapt to new information. Assimilation occurs when humans are faced with new or we can say unfamiliar information and refer to previously leaned information in order to make sense of it.

2. Accommodation: Accommodation is the process which occurs when the pre-leaned strategies or mental processes are not workable when a child faces a new problem, then cognitive disequilibrium is created, and the child starts his efforts to remove that disequilibrium, both the processes of assimilation and accommodation. So accommodation is the process of taking new information, an altering one's own pre-existing schemas in order to fit in the new information.

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Basic Components of Piaget's Cognitive Theory:

1. Schemas: Piaget called Schemas the basic building block of intelligent behavior, a way of organizing knowledge. A schema is a set of linked mental representations of the world, which we use to understand & to respond to situations.

Piaget believed that inborn babies have some innate schemas. These schemas of neonatal are the cognitive structures underlying innate reflexes. For example - Babis have a sucking reflex, which is triggered by something touching the baby's lips. That is How Piaget assumed that the baby has a "sucking schema".

2. The process that enables the transition from one stage to another:

Process of Cognitive Development

According to Jean Piaget, intellectual growth is the process of adaptation or we can say adjustment to the world.  And This happens through Assimilation and accommodation.

--> Assimilation: Assimilation is using an existing schema ( Knowlege ) to deal with a new situation.

--> Accommodation: Accommodation happens when the existing schema (knowledge) does not work and needs to be changed to deal wit ha new situation.

--> Equilibrium: Equilibrium occurs when the child's schema can deal with most new information through assimilation. However, an unpleasant stage of disequilibrium occurs when new information cannot be filled into existing schemas ( assimilation)

Assimilation -> Equilibrium -> New Situation -> Disequilirbium -> Accomodation

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Meaning of Cognitive Development:

Cognitive Development is the developmental process by which an infant child becomes an intelligent person by acquiring knowledge with growth & improving his or her ability to think, learn, reason and abstract.

Cognitive Development Definition:

The term "Cognition" has been derived from the Latin word "cognoscere" which means "to know" or to Conceptualize. So the Cognition is related to the use of Knowlege.

Cognitive Development Refers to how a person perceives, thinks & gain an understanding of their world through the interaction of genetic and the learned factors. The main areas of Cognitive Development are information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development, and memory.

In Science Cognition refers to mental process and these processes include attention, remembering, understanding the language, producing and making decisions.

Piaget Stages:

There are four stages of development in Piaget Theory:

1. Sensorimotor Stage
2. Pre-operational Stage
3. Concrete Operational Stage
4. Formal Operational Stage

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Brief Overview of All the four stages of Cognitive Development:

Major Accomplishments
Sensory-motor Stage ( Birth to 2 Years)
- Formation of the concepts of “ Object Permanence”
- The gradual progression from reflexive behavior
Pre-operational Stage ( 2 to 7 Years)
- The rapid increase in language ability.
- Using symbols to represent objects in the world.
- Children don’t understand concepts like conservation and reversibility.
- Thinking remains egocentric and centered.
- Ability to think logically on concrete material.
- New abilities include the use of operations that are reversible, creation and classification.
- Thinking is decentred and problem-solving is less restricted by geocentrism.
- Abstract Thinking is not possible.
Formal Operational Stage ( 11+ Years)
- Solve abstract and hypothetical problems.
- Problems can be solved using systematic experiments.

Sensorimotor Stage ( From Birth to  2 years age): Piaget's Sensorimotor Stage

In Piaget's theory, the sensorimotor stage is the first stage. It is the period when infants "think" by means of their senses and motor actions. Infants or newborns continually touch, manipulate, look, listen to, and even bite and chew objects. According to Piaget, this action of children allows them to learn about the world. The infant actions allow the child to represent objects and events. A toy animal maybe just a confusing array of sensations at first, but by looking, feeling and manipulating it repeatedly, the infant child gradually organizes his / her sensations and actions into a stable concept, toy animal. The representation acquires a permanence lacking in the individual experiences of the object, which are changing constantly. Because the representation is stable, and the child "Knows" or at least he/she believes that toy animal exists even if the actual toy animal is temporarily out of sight.

Piaget called this sense of stability Object Permancae.

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Object Permanence Meaning: It is a belief that objects exist whether or not they are actually present. This is one of the major achievement of sensorimotor development and marks a qualitative transformation in how to order infants to think about experience as compared to the younger infants of 6 Month.

It is hard to now what infants are thinking but Piaget devised several experiments that suggest that infant does indeed represent objects even without being able to talk.

Example / Experiment: In his one experiment he simply hid a toy animal in a blanket. Piaget found that doing so constantly prompts older infants to search for the object, but fails to prompt younger infants.

The Preoperational Stage ( 2 to 7 Age): Piaget Preoperational Stage

In the preoperational stage, children use their new ability to represent objects in a wide variety of activities, but it was not fully logical.

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One of the most important examples of this kind of cognition is Dramatic Play, the improvised make-believe of preschool children.

Example:  Emma Holds a plastic Banana to her ear and says: " Hellow, Mam? Can you bring me my babydoll? Ok! " Then she hangs up the banana and purs tea for Robin into an invisible cup. Robin giggles at the sight of all of this and exclaims "Ring! Oh, Rahul, the Phone is ringing again! You better answer it". And on it goes.

In a way, children immersed to make belief seem" mentally insane", But they are not truly insane. Although Rahul and Robin always know that the banana is still a banana and not really a telephone; they are just merely representing it as a telephone. Both Rahul and Robin are thinking on two levels at once. One imagination and the other realistic. This dual processing of experiences makes dramatic play an early example of the metacognition.

Metacognition Meaning: 
It is a highly desirable skill for the students to succeed in school, One that teachers often encourage. Teachers of young children always make some time & space in their classrooms for dramatic plays, and sometimes they even participate in themselves to help to develop the play further.

The Concrete Operational Stage ( Age 7-11): Piaget's Concrete Operational Stage:

As children continue into elementary school, they become capable to represent ideas and events more flexibly and logically. Their rules of thinking are still basic but they will be able to solve problems more systematically than before.

For example -  in a concrete operational stage of Piaget's theory, a child may unconsciously follow the rule; " If nothing is added or taken away, then the amount of something stays the same". It is a simple principle which helps children to understand certain arithmetic tasks, like adding or subtracting zero from number. Piaget called this period the concrete operational stage because children usually mentally "operate" on concrete objects & events. They are not yet able to operate systematically about representations of objects and events.

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Concrete Operational stage is different from the pre-operational stage in two ways:

1. Reversibility
2. Decenter

1. Reversibility: It is the ability to think about the steps of a process in any order.

2. Decenter: It is the focus on more than one feature of a problem at a time.

--> In the real classroom reversibility and decentration often happen together.

The best example of the joint presence of reversibility and decentration is Piaget's experiments with conservation, the belief that an amount or quantity stays the same even if it changes apparent size or shape.

Experiment: Imagine two identical balls made of clay. any child from preoperational or concrete operational will agree that the two indeed have the same amount of clay in them because they look the same. But if you know squish one ball into a long, thin "Hot dog", the preoperational child is likely to say that the amount of that ball has changed -- either because it is long or because it is thinner,. The concrete operational child will not make this mistake, because of the new cognition skills of reversibility and decentration. For him, the amount is the same because "you could squish it back into a ball again (reversibility) and because "it may be longer, but it is also thinner"(Decentration).

The development of various Concrete operational skills supports the students in doing many basic academic tasks.

Formal Operational Stage ( Age 11+): Piaget's Formal Operational Stage:

The formal operational stage is the last stage in Piaget Theory. In this stage, the child becomes able to reason out not only about tangible objects and events but also about hypothetical or abstract ones. It is the period when the individual can "Operate" on "Forms" or representations. With students at this level, the teacher can pose hypothetical and problems.

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for Example  "What if the world has never discovered Train ?. To answer such a question, students must use hypothetical reasoning.

Hypothetical Reasoning:
Hypothetical Reasoning is the reasoning in which the students must manipulate ideas that vary in several ways at once, and do so entirely in the minds.

Formal Operational Stage of Cognitive Development Example:

A young child is presented with a simple pendulum to which different amounts of weight can be hung. (Inhelder and Piaget, 1958). The experiment of Piaget asks: "What determines how fast the pendulum swings: the length of the string holding it, the weight attached to it, or the distance that is pulled to the side?" The young person is not allowed to solve his problem by trial and error with the material themselves but must reason a way to the solution mentally. To do so systematically, he or she must imagine varying each factor separately, while also imagine the other factors that are held constant. This type of thinking requires facility at manipulation mental representation of the relevant objects and actions - precisely the skill that defines formal operations.

Criticism of Piaget's Theory:

There are many negative points and demerits of Jean Piaget Cognitive Theory. Some of them are:

1. Piaget's theory may have underestimated the abilities of young children.
2. Piaget's theory fails to consider cultural differences.
3. Piaget's ideas of the broad stage of development that affect all types of tasks are now questioned. For eg - Progression to concrete operation doesn't occur all at once. Children's logical abilities strong depend on past experiences and are more dependent o knowledge in a specific area.

The weakness of Piaget's theory:

- Progress to the formal operational stage is not guaranteed in Piaget's theory.
- biased interpretation of events
- concept of schemas is not compatible with the theories of Briner and Vygotsky.
- Explained only cognitive development

- According to him, cognitive development has a specific order. This fact is also not true.

How to apply Piaget's view in the Classroom:

1. The teacher should provide concrete and personalized examples.
2. The teacher must ask students to question sand involve them in the discussion.
3. The teacher should interact with the students.

Educational Implications of Piaget Theory and Stage of Cognitive or Mental Development:

Piaget did not make any specific educational recommendations. Because he is more interested in understanding  Children's thinking. He believed that the main goal of education should be to help children learn how to learn and that education should"from not furnish" the minds of students.

Following are the educational implications of Piaget Theory:

1. Teachers should use concrete operational teaching strategies and materials.
2. Give students some opportunity to explore many hypothetical questions.
3. Give students some opportunities to solve various problems and reason scientifically.
4. Whenever possible, teach some broad concepts, and not just facts, using materials and ideas relevant to the student's lives.
5 The teacher should focus on the process of children's thinking, not just its products.
6 The teacher should recognize the crucial role of children's self-initiated, active involvement in learning activities.
7 de-emphasis on practices aimed at making children adult-like their thinking.
8 Acceptance of individual differences in the developmental process.

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Strenght's of Piaget's Theory:

- He changes How people viewed the child'  world and their methods of studying children.
- His ideas have been of practical use in understanding and communication with children, particularly in the field of education.
- According to Piaget's Principle, the abstract thinking of children is affected by their education.

Piaget Theory PPT and PDF:

The topics which are covered in the PPT are given below. 

Topics Covered in the PPT and PDF are:
  1. Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
  2. Background
  3. Constructivism
  4. Constructivism
  5. Piaget & Learning
  6. Equilibration
  7.  Assimilation
  8. Accommodation
  9. Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development
  10. Piaget’s Development
  11. Piaget & Education
  12. Limitations of Piaget’s Theory


How to reference this article:
Pooja.A,. Piaget's Theory. Retrieved from

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