Jean Piaget: Cognitive Stage Theory

Posted: September 19, 2009 at 9:21 pm by
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piaget Jean Piaget: Cognitive Stage Theory

Departing from Freud and Psychoanalysis, Jean Piaget developed his own theories and focused on child development. A very intelligent man, Piaget wrote an estimated 40 books on child development and became well known as an expert. His Cognitive Stage Theory offers a more constructive look at childhood development than other professionals of his time. Piaget devised a theory which accounted for the abilities children held at different ages. This allowed researchers to devise a standard by which to measure children. Piaget’s Cognitive State Theory became well known, and is still used today.

Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget was born in Switzerland in 1896. His father, a historian, was highly intellectual whom Piaget emulated. As a child, Piaget was interested in many different topics, including: mechanics, seashells, birds, fossils, and mollusks. At the age of 10, he earned his first publication, an article on a partly albino sparrow. Piaget began his doctoral education in natural science at the age of 21, where he first became interested in psychology. Piaget met Simon Theodore, a pioneer in standardized testing, and worked in Alfred Binet’s laboratory in Paris. It was at this time he became interested in childhood development, and began to work on his theory. Piaget became well known, and was requested to give speeches throughout Europe. Piaget became wildly published and wrote over 40 books and 100 articles on child psychology until his death in 1980.

Cognitive Stage Theory

Piaget’s Cognitive Stage Theory was bold, as it classified childhood cognitive development into stages. Each stage is in a specific order, and cannot be skipped. Stages are universal, and are the same despite race, nationality and culture. In addition, each stage incorporates learning from previous stage.

  • Sensorimotor Period (Birth to 2 Years) – Newborns are made up of reflexes, which are modified with repeated. Newborns will begin to differentiate between objects such as the mother’s breast and a rattle. Around four months, primary circular reactions begin to occur, allowing the baby to expect rewards for repeating specific actions. Thumb sucking is an example of a primary circular reaction. Between four and eight months secondary circular reactions develop, which include modifications within the environment which provide rewards when repeated. Examples include shaking a rattle and hitting a ball. Near 8 to 12 months the baby begins to develop plans to get what they want. The baby can now devise a strategy in real time on how to achieve a current goal. Near 12 to 18 months, the baby begins to test their environment to determine how things work. Through trial and error, the baby begins to learn about the world. Near the end of this period, the child begins to think internally, and does not explain or display every thought or action. The most important skill obtained during the sensorimotor period is object permanence, which allows the baby to understand that an object exists while it is not visible. An infant will not search for an object that vanishes from their visual field, while a baby who has mastered object permanence will. A toy that rolls out of sight will no longer exist to a newborn. Once the baby has mastered object permanence, the baby is ready to move into the next stage.
  • Preoperational Period (2 to 7 years) – During this period the child begins to explore and understand the world. The world mainly consists of themselves in relation to everything else. The child is the center of their own universe, and is often incapable of understanding the viewpoints of others. Egocentrism is a main characteristic of this period, as the child will have difficulty understanding the situations of others. Rigidity of thought is another characteristic, where the child will often be unable to account for all aspects of a situation. An example of this is when a child pours water from one container into a different shaped container. The child will believe the volume of the water is different, while in fact it is still the same. In addition, children will be unable to reverse events mentally. Children in this stage also have difficulty thinking through events logically, and will often become sidetracked.
  • Concrete Operational Period (7 to 11 years) – The child now has the ability to preform operations; internalized mental actions that are part of an organized structure. A primary operation during this stage is conversion. Conversion occurs when water from one container is poured into similar, smaller containers. Even though the amount and dimension of the containers have changed, the amount of water has not. A child who has mastered conversion will understand this, and will state the volume has not changed. Logical thought has began, allowing the child to move closer to the formal operations stage.
  • Formal Operational Period (11 to 15 years) – This is the final stage of development, where logic and reason are employed. Now, the adolescent can form hypotheses and construct scientific experimentation to determine answers. This stage is critical for higher level thinking, and are in use extensively in science and math.

In Conclusion

Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Stage Theory provides a concrete view on child development, as each child moves through a series of stages. These stages are a standard in which all children develop, allowing for standardization. Piaget’s theory has influenced numerous child psychologists, and is still widely studied.

Source: Theories of Developmental Psychology by Patricia Miller.

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