Jean Piaget

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Piaget (1896-1980) was a highly influential psychologist who developed a theory of "The Child As Scientist" in an attempt to understand the processes underlying intellectual development. This approach was referred to as "Genetic epistemology".

Theory of Cognitive Development


His theory encapsulates the following elements:

  • Hierarchical stages leading to higher intellectual development in the child
  • Qualitative differences between the stages, implying that development is not simply a matter of a continuous growth.

Other aspects of his theory include the suggestions that:

  • All children pass through the stages in the same sequence
  • The stages are universal rather than culture-bound
  • Each stage invariably involves the elements of assimilation, accomodation and equilibration
  • There are changes to the building block of cognitive development, the schema.


There are four main stages in Piaget's theory:

  • Sensorimotor (0 - 2 years old)
Learning about the world through the senses and by doing things. There are six substages:
  • Exercising reflexes
  • Primary circular reactions
  • Secondary circular reactions
  • Co-ordinated secondary reactions
  • Tertiary circular reactions
  • New means through mental combinations
  • Preoperational ( 2 - 7 years old)
Mainly characterised by the development of internal imagery, symbolic thinking and language. There are two substages:
  • Preconceptual
  • Intuitive
  • Concrete operational ( 7 - 11 years old)
Child can perform logical operations, but only where the actual objects themselves are present.
  • Formal operational ( 11 years onwards)
Child can manipulate ideas or propositions.