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Piaget

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Piaget

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist and genetic epistemologist most famous for his theory of cognitive development, which examines how children develop intellectually throughout childhood. Piaget believed that the way children think is fundamentally different from the way adults think. This theory was pretty ground-breaking at the time as, before Piaget, people often thought of children as 'mini adults'.

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that examines the nature, origin, and limitations of human knowledge. It is often referred to as 'the theory of knowledge'. Genetic epistemology is mainly interested in the origins of human knowledge and was established by Piaget in the 1950s.

Jean Piaget and language acquisition

Piaget's theory was influential in the field of language acquisition and helped to directly link language learning with intellectual development. Piaget suggested that language and cognitive skills are directly related, and that stronger language skills lead to stronger cognitive skills. Additionally, Piaget's theory of cognitive development remains influential in language teaching today.

In 1936, Piaget was the first psychologist to undertake a systematic study on children's cognitive development. His findings, alongside his theory of cognitive development, played a significant role in establishing developmental psychology.

Developmental psychology is a branch of psychology concerned with the changes in cognitive, motivational, psychophysiological, and social functioning that occur during a lifetime.

Thanks to his ground-breaking work and contributions to the field of education, Piaget is also considered the pioneer of the Constructivist theory, otherwise known as constructivism.

Constructivism states that learners are active in their learning process rather than passive and actively construct their knowledge of the world based on their own experiences, interactions, ideas, and previous understandings of the world.

Jean Piaget biography

NameJean-William Fritz Piaget
BornAugust 9th, 1896 - Switzerland.
DiedSeptember 16th, 1980 - Switzerland.
Career
  • Intelligence test developer at the Binet Institute
  • PhD in zoology from the University of Neuchâtel
  • Professor at the University of Neuchâtel
  • Professor of Child Psychology at the University of Geneva
Notable Works
  • Origins of intelligence in the child (1936)
  • Play, dreams and imitation in childhood (1945)
  • Main trends in psychology (1970)
  • Genetic epistemology (1970)
Achievements
  • Erasmus Prize
  • Balzan Prize for Social Sciences
Known for
  • Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget began his career in Zoology and published several articles on molluscs by the time he was just 15 years old! However, after completing his PhD in Zoology and Philosophy, Piaget became increasingly interested in Psychology and Epistemology.

In the 1920s, Piaget began working at the Binet Institute, where he helped develop intelligence tests. Here, Piaget showed an interest in the incorrect answers that children gave and noticed that children got the questions wrong when they required more logical thinking. He believed these incorrect answers highlighted important differences between how adults and children think and perceive the world.

It was Piaget's observations of his own children that served as a basis for many of his theories, and he went on to write over 50 books and monographs on the development of children.

Jean Piaget quote

The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating [men and women] who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.

(Jean Piaget, The Origins of Intelligence in Children, 1953) ¹

Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget's theory of cognitive development revolves around the central idea that intelligence develops as children grow. Piaget believed that cognitive development occurs as a child's mind evolves through a series of set stages until they reach adulthood. Piaget named these 'the four stages of cognitive development'.

Piaget's stages of development

Piaget's four stages of cognitive development are laid out in the table below:

Stage

Age range

goal

Sensorimotor stage

Birth to 18-24 months

Object permanence

Preoperational stage

2 to 7 years

Symbolic thought

Concrete operational stage

7 to 11 years

Logical thought

Formal operational stage

Ages 12 and up

Scientific reasoning

Let's take a look at each of these stages in a little more detail:

At this stage, children will learn predominantly through sensory experiences and manipulating objects. The main goal of this stage is gaining object permanence - recognising that objects still exist, even when they cannot be seen.

During this stage, children begin to think more logically about concrete events and solve problems. Thinking is still very literal at this stage.

The final stage of cognitive development involves increased logical thought and the beginning of the ability to understand more abstract and theoretical concepts. Teenagers will begin to think more about philosophical, ethical, and political ideas that require a deeper theoretical understanding.

Piaget stated that no stage can be missed out during cognitive development. However, the rate at which children develop may vary, and some individuals never reach the final stage. Dasen (1994), for example, found that only one in three adults ever reach the final stage.²

Schemas

Piaget believed that knowledge could not simply emerge from an experience; instead, an existing structure is necessary to help make sense of the world. He believed that children are born with a primary mental structure upon which all new knowledge can be built. He suggested that cognitive mental growth is achieved by integrating simpler concepts of knowledge into higher-level concepts at each stage of development. Piaget named these concepts of knowledge schemas.

It is helpful to think of schemas as building blocks that children use to build their mental representation of the world. Piaget saw children as constantly creating and recreating their model of reality based on these schemas.

A child can build a schema for cats. At first, they will see a singular cat, hear the word 'cat', and associate the two. However, the term 'cat' will eventually become associated with all cats over time. While the schema for cats is still in the developmental stages, the child may accidentally associate all small four-legged furry friends with the word 'cat'.

In relation to language acquisition, Piaget suggested that children can only use certain linguistic structures once they already have an understanding of the concepts involved.

Piaget argued that a child cannot use the past tense until they have understood the concept of the past.

Language is how we as humans learn new ideas and share our thoughts and feelings, and is arguably an essential part of cognitive development.

Piaget Boy learning the word cat Study SmarterChildren can use language once they have an understanding of the concept (StudySmarter Original)

Piaget suggested that some schemas are built-in from birth (inbuilt schemas); however, most are learned (learned schemas).

The suckling or grabbing reflex that all babies have from birth is an inbuilt schema.

The 'script' we use when ordering food in a restaurant is a learned schema.

Key points of Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory

To summarise the key points of the theory:

  • Children's intelligence is different from adults' in terms of quality, not quantity. This means children think differently from adults and see the world in different ways.
  • Children are not passive in their development and actively build up their knowledge about the world.
  • Cognitive development is not just about acquiring knowledge; the child must also construct a mental model of the world.
  • The best way to understand children is to attempt to see things from their point of view.
  • As children grow, they develop an awareness of concepts based on their experiences and physical surroundings and, subsequently, gain the linguistic ability to express these concepts.

Criticisms of Piaget's theory

Although highly influential, Piaget's work has been met with some criticism.

Firstly, Vygotsky and Bruner, cognitive development theorists, note that Piaget's work fails to account for social settings and culture. Both Bruner and Vygotsky place a lot more emphasis on a child's social environment than Piaget ever did and state that adults should play an active role in the development of children's cognitive ability and language acquisition.

Secondly, Vygotsky and Bruner reject the idea of cognitive development happening in stages and prefer to view development as one big continuous process.

Finally, Piaget's data collection methods of observation and clinical interviews are open to bias and fail to distinguish between competence (what a child can do) and performance (what a child is willing to do under observation).

Piaget-Key takeaways

  • Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist and genetic epistemologist most famous for his theory of cognitive development.
  • Piaget is considered the pioneer of developmental psychology, constructivism, and genetic epistemology.
  • Piaget believed a child's intelligence differs from an adult's and that cognitive development occurs as a child's mind evolves through a series of set stages until they reach adulthood.
  • Piaget identified four stages of cognitive development: the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage.
  • Piaget believed that children built their own construction of reality based upon categories of knowledge named schemas.

¹ Jean Piaget, The Origins of Intelligence in Children , 1953.

² P. Dasen, ' Culture and cognitive development from a Piagetian perspective.' Psychology and culture . 1994

Frequently Asked Questions about Piaget

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist and genetic epistemologist most famous for his theory of cognitive development. Piaget is also considered the pioneer of developmental psychology, constructivism, and genetic epistemology.

Piaget was most famous for his work on cognitive development. His theory was groundbreaking as he was the first to suggest that children's intelligence differs from that of adults. Piaget stated that cognitive development occurs as a child's mind evolves through a series of set stages until they reach adulthood.

According to Piaget, intelligence changes as children grow. Piaget believed that cognitive development occurs as a result of innate capabilities and environmental events as a child's mind evolves through a series of set stages until they reach adulthood. The four stages of cognitive development are the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage.

Piaget's 4 stages of cognitive development are:

  • Sensorimotor stage
  • Preoperational stage
  • Concrete operational stage
  • Formal operational stage

Piaget believed that language and cognitive skills are directly related, and that stronger language skills lead to stronger cognitive skills. 

Final Piaget Quiz

Question

True or false, Piaget believed that children thought differently to adults?

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Piaget was the pioneer of which type of psychology?

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Answer

Developmental psychology

Show question

Question

What are the four stages of cognitive development according to Piaget?


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Answer

The sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage.

Show question

Question

Piaget believed that children build their own construction of reality based upon categories of knowledge. What did he name these categories of knowledge?


Show answer

Answer

Schemas.

Show question

Question

Bruner and Vygotsky stated that Piaget failed to acknowledge what in his theory of cognitive development?


Show answer

Answer

Social setting and culture.

Show question

Question

True or false, Piaget believed that children are passive in their learning?


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Answer

False. He believed that children are active in constructing knowledge.

Show question

Question

Piaget was a psychologist and what else?


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Answer

A genetic epistemologist.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is NOT a criticism of Piaget’s cognitive theory?

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Answer

It does not take into account a child’s thought process.

Show question

Question

True or false, Piaget is considered the pioneer of constructivism?


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What is constructivism?


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Answer

Constructivism is a theory that suggests learners are active in their learning process rather than passive. Constructivists believe that individuals actively construct their knowledge of the world based on their own experiences, interactions, ideas, and previous understandings of the world.

Show question

Question

According to Piaget, how is cognitive mental growth achieved? 


Show answer

Answer

Piaget suggested that cognitive mental growth is achieved by integrating simpler concepts of knowledge into higher-level concepts at each stage of development. Piaget named these concepts of knowledge schemas. 

Show question

Question

What nationality was Piaget?

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Answer

Swiss

Show question

Question

Which of the following is NOT a stage of Piaget’s stages of cognitive development?

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Answer

Holographic Stage

Show question

Question

Developmental psychology is a branch of psychology concerned with the changes in cognitive, motivational, psychophysiological, and social functioning that occur during a lifetime. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

How many stage of cognitive development are there?

Show answer

Answer

4

Show question

Question

At this stage, children will learn predominantly through sensory experiences and manipulating objects.

Show answer

Answer

Sensorimotor stage

Show question

Question

At this stage, children begin to develop symbolic thought and are able to create an internal representation of the world via language and mental imagery. They have an egocentric view of the world.

Show answer

Answer

Preoperational stage

Show question

Question

During this stage, children begin to think more logically about concrete events and solve problems. Thinking is still very literal at this stage. 

Show answer

Answer

Concrete operational stage

Show question

Question

The final stage of cognitive development involves increased logical thought and the beginning of the ability to understand more abstract and theoretical concepts. 

Show answer

Answer

Formal operational stage

Show question

Question

It is helpful to think of schemas as ____________ that children use to build their mental representation of the world. Fill in the blanks.

Show answer

Answer

Building blocks

Show question

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