Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

The Cognitive psychology refers to that broad and diverse range of psychological approaches which emphasize the structures and processes within the individual's mind that are said to play the major role in behavior: a psychology of the subject rather than of the object (Sampson, E.1981)[1] . The cognitive psychology propose that the person is always processing the external estimulus, so it the process of the stimulus what determine our behaviour rather than the stimulus.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a pioneer in the area of developmental psychology. He developed his work around the intellectual development of children. Piaget proposed that behavior is an adaptation to the environment and is controlled through mental organizations called schemes that the individual uses to represent the world and designate action. These schemes are categories of knowledge that help people to interprete and understand the world.

He proposed four different stages of Cognitive Development:[2]

1. Sensorimotor stage. This stage is from 0 to 2 years old: In this period learning is based on the senses (sensori) and doing things (motor.) The object permanence is one of the main characteristics of this stage. Children in this stage do not realize that object continue to exist even when they are not visible. For example, when a baby move and see his hand, he thinks that the hand do not exist any more when he is not able to see it.

2. Pre-operational stage: From 2 to 7 years old. In this stage the symbolic thought increases and the child develop self-awareness. However it is difficult for the child to see the world from another person viewpoint. Children in this period are egocentrics and they do not understand the idea of conservation, that it means any quantity remains the same, despite any physical distortions.

3. Concrete operational stage: From 7 to 11 years old. Children in this stage are able to manipulate ideas and concepts mentally and think about abstract principles.

4. Formal operational stage: From 11 years old to adulthood. In this stage, intelligence is demonstrated through the logical use of symbols related to abstract concepts. At the beginning of this period there is a return to egocentric thought.


    Sampson, E. (1981) Cognitive Psychology as Ideology. Clark University. Vol. 36, No. 7, 730-743
  2. ^ Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (2003). Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from