Piaget's Stages Of Cognitive Development (2022)

Twentieth century psychologist Jean Piaget was a trailblazer in the understanding of children’s cognitive development. Unlike his predecessors, he believed children process information differently than adults and that intelligence is not inherent but acquired, adapting and expanding as children investigate the world around them.

Piaget focused on the ways in which children think and acquire knowledge, says Je Ajayi, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist at Connected Minds in Smyrna, Georgia. Observing the learning process of his own children and others led Piaget to develop Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development in 1936. In it, he delineates four stages in which intelligence grows, from birth through adolescence, also known as Piaget’s Four Stages of Cognitive Development:

  1. The Sensorimotor Stage: Birth to 2 years
  2. The Preoperational Stage: 2 to 7 years
  3. The Concrete Operational Stage: 7 to 11 years
  4. The Formal Operational Stage: 11 years and older

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Jean Piaget’s Background

Born in Switzerland in 1896, Jean Piaget is considered one of the most influential psychologists to date.

“Piaget is widely known as a developmental child psychologist who explored the progressive development of human knowledge,” says Dr. Ajayi. “Similar to Sigmund Freud, Piaget developed a theoretical system for the development of cognitive abilities.” However, unlike Freud, Piaget focused on the ways in which children think and acquire knowledge, adds Dr. Ajayi.

What Are the Four Stages of Piaget’s Cognitive Development?

Piaget studied how children develop mental models for the world around them as they grow, says Alex Dimitriu, M.D., who is double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and the founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in Menlo Park, California.

“He was interested not in the information or knowledge acquired, but the structures and mental frameworks into which that knowledge could be applied,” says Dr. Dimitriu.

His four stages of cognitive development outline not what material is learned, but a deeper level of how the child interacts with the world. Piaget observed children by playing games with them, asking them questions and devising tests to learn how they were thinking, says Brandy Porche, a licensed professional counselor at Mindpath Health in Dallas, Texas.

“He believed that as a child’s brain develops and their experience increases, they move through these four broad stages of development,” says Porche. While the amount of time spent in each stage can vary from child to child, Piaget theorized that every child progresses through each stage in the same order.

Sensorimotor Stage (Birth to 2 Years)

Goal: Object Permanence

Infants can be seen exploring the world through sensory observation, says Dr. Ajayi. Dr. Dimitriu adds they are egocentric, or unable to see the world from any perspective other than their own. “As the name implies, children learn through their senses and learn to use motor functions to manipulate the world around them,” he says.

As infants become more mobile, they build on their interactions with the spatial, visual and tactile worlds, says Dr. Ajayi. “An infant will advance from shaking a rattle to shaking other toys or using the rattle in new, innovative ways,” he says.

The goal of the sensorimotor stage is for a child to develop object permanence, or the realization that objects exist independent of their interactions with them, says Dr. Ajayi. For example, a child starts to recognize that when a ball is dropped in front of them, it’s actually on the ground rather than no longer in existence simply because it’s out of sight.

“Symbolization occurs when infants are able to visualize an object of interest mentally regardless of its physical location,” says Dr. Ajayi. Once they develop object permanence, children transition to the next stage of development.

Preoperational Stage (2 to 7 Years)

Goal: Symbolic Thought

(Video) Piaget's stages of cognitive development | Processing the Environment | MCAT | Khan Academy

This stage is the beginning of primitive conceptualization, says Dr. Ajayi, meaning children are still unable to think logically or make simple deductions, but will start to imitate others, play make-believe and represent parts of their world by drawing. A child who drops a glass that then breaks won’t have any sense of cause and effect. They might believe that the glass was ready to break rather than believing that it broke because of their actions, adds Dr. Ajayi.

Meanwhile, despite having a rudimentary sense of good and bad, children in this stage cannot handle moral dilemmas—they often believe in immanent justice, or that punishment after wrongdoings is inevitable.

Though children typically begin to speak in this stage, they’ll remain unable to see the world from another’s perspective, says Dr. Dimitriu. Animalism, the ability to attribute living qualities to non-living things, such as the feelings of a toy, also occurs during this stage.

“Symbolic play begins, and there is some level of abstraction beyond the physical appearance of items. All four-legged animals may be dogs, and a table may be identified as a chair,” says Dr. Dimitriu.

Concrete Operational Stage (7 to 11 Years)

Goal: Logical Thought

Children can begin to make logical manipulations of concrete—but not theoretical—objects, says Dr. Dimitriu. They begin to serialize, order and group things into classes based on common characteristics, and they begin to reason and follow rules and regulations with marked improvements in mood regulation, adds Dr. Ajayi. “Egocentric thought is further replaced by operational thought as children start to be able to see things from someone else’s perspective,” he says.

A healthy respect for rules develops in this stage as well, which involves knowing when rules have exceptions. Children of this age who do not gain this understanding are at increased risk of developing obsessive-compulsive behavior, as they can become overly invested in rules and regulations, says Dr. Ajayi.

Conversation is also a highly important concept gained in this stage, as well as the ability to recognize that although the shape of an object may change, it still contains the same amount of mass. Reversibility is also recognized, says Dr. Ajayi, as children learn objects can turn into something and then back again, such as ice and water.

Formal Operational Stage (11 Years and Older)

Goal: Abstract Reasoning

At this stage, children begin to develop abstract thinking, deductive reasoning and an overall increased ability to think systematically and symbolically.

(Video) Piaget's Stages of Development

Not all children reach the formal operational stage, says Dr. Ajayi. “Those who don’t will demonstrate marked inabilities to perform mathematical calculations, think creatively, use abstract reasoning or imagine the outcome of particular actions. They also fail to develop deductive logic, a skill that is critical in the math and science,” he says

While adolescents who don’t reach the formal operational stage may make decisions that result in scholastic or legal issues, those who do reach this stage tend to show interest in more abstract studies such as philosophy, religion, ethics and politics, says Dr. Ajayi.

Children also develop the capacity for systematic thinking in the formal operational state, says Porche. “Kids’ thinking starts with a hypothesis that is deduced to testable inferences, and they are able to isolate and combine variables to come to a logical conclusion.”

Adolescents are also able to assess the logic of statements without the existence of real-world circumstances. “They are capable of abstract thinking that goes beyond the here and now as they use rules, principles and theories to assess cause and effect when considering possibilities and realities,” she says.

(Video) Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Additional Concepts

Piaget referred to the building blocks of knowledge as schemas, which are units of understanding that build upon one another and can be linked together to organize new information, relationships and experiences.

For example, when toddlers pick up an object for the first time, it’s not uncommon for them to bang the object against the ground, says Dr. Ajayi. “They’re testing to see if it will break and learning its functional limits. When teenagers go into the kitchen to make a sandwich, they often are following a subconscious list of instructions to do so (that’s also a schema),” he says. Each time we run a schema or engage in schematic play with others or ourselves, we are potentially building on old knowledge.

Piaget introduced the idea that when an infant experiences an event or transitions from one stage to another, they undergo a balance of three processes: assimilation, accommodation and equilibration.

  • Assimilation occurs when new information is integrated into an existing cognitive understanding (or schema).
  • Accommodation happens when existing understandings are altered, adapted or revised according to new information.
  • Equilibration refers to the cognitive state achieved when assimilation and accommodation are used to reach a state of cognitive equilibrium, meaning there are no conflicting schemas (or understandings).

Still, some developmental psychologists question Piaget’s work and his assumptions that there are distinct stages of cognitive development. These psychologists disagree with the idea that a child must pass through one stage to enter the next, arguing that development doesn’t always happen in a linear fashion. Other critics believe Piaget’s theory doesn’t account for social and cultural influences on child development, says Porche.

How Are Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development Used?

Piaget’s model provides a way to understand how children learn, with each stage building on the last. “The ages at which the stages occur can have quite a bit of variability, but it has been shown that all children across various cultures go through the stages in this particular order,” says Dr. Dimitriu.

Piaget’s stages create a framework for understanding childhood mental development qualitatively, not quantitatively, he adds. “A deeper understanding of these structures rather than content allows both parents and researchers to have more informed and workable expectations of children at various ages and stages of development.”

As such, understanding Piaget’s theories can help optimize children’s treatment in situations like health care. For example, hospitalized children in the sensorimotor stage may not have developed object permanence yet and may exhibit separation anxiety. In this case, it would be appropriate to recommend a parent stay with them overnight,” says Dr. Ajayi.

Piaget’s theories can also be helpful for improving the parent-child relationship, adds Dr. Ajayi. Adolescents exhibit abstract thinking and can appear to be in severe distress, but this expression is often more related to difficulties accepting the world around them than an underlying psychiatric disorder.

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(Video) Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

(Video) Piaget: Theory of Cognitive Development


How do you memorize Piaget's stages of cognitive development? ›

The mnemonic to remember these four stages is: Some People Can fly. So you can see sensorimotor, pre operational, concrete operational, and formal operational and some people can fly.

Why is it important to understand Piaget's cognitive development? ›

Piaget's theory of cognitive development helped add to our understanding of children's intellectual growth. It also stressed that children were not merely passive recipients of knowledge. Instead, kids are constantly investigating and experimenting as they build their understanding of how the world works.

Are Piaget's stages accurate? ›

His theory has stimulated other developmental psychologists into new areas of research and has heavily influenced research into education. While perhaps not entirely accurate, Piaget's theory of cognitive development nevertheless provides a detailed account of the order in which Western children seem to develop.

What are the 4 stages of Piaget's cognitive development examples? ›

Sensorimotor stage (0–2 years old) Preoperational stage (2–7 years old) Concrete operational stage (7–11 years old) Formal operational stage (11 years old through adulthood)

What is the main idea of cognitive theory? ›

What is the main idea of cognitive learning theory? The main assumption of cognitive theory is that thoughts are the primary determinants of emotions and behavior. The cognitive approach to learning believes that internal mental processes can be scientifically studied.

What are some criticisms of Jean Piaget's development stages? ›

Piaget's theory has some shortcomings, including overestimating the ability of adolescence and underestimating infant's capacity. Piaget also neglected cultural and social interaction factors in the development of children's cognition and thinking ability.

What have you learned about Piaget's stages of cognitive development? ›

Piaget proposed four major stages of cognitive development, and called them (1) sensorimotor intelligence, (2) preoperational thinking, (3) concrete operational thinking, and (4) formal operational thinking. Each stage is correlated with an age period of childhood, but only approximately.

How does Piaget's theory impact child development? ›

Piaget's Contributions to Psychology

Piaget provided support for the idea that children think differently than adults and his research identified several important milestones in the mental development of children. His work also generated interest in cognitive and developmental psychology.

Why is cognitive development important? ›

Children should be able to improve their ability to focus, to remember information and think more critically as they age. Cognitive skills allow children to understand the relationships between ideas, to grasp the process of cause and effect and to improve their analytical skills.

What are the weaknesses of Piaget's theory? ›

Criticisms of Piaget's Theory
  • His theory lacks scientific control.
  • He used his own children for the study.
  • The subject's were not studied across the entire lifespan.
  • He may have underestimated a child's capabilities.
  • His theory does not discern between competency and performance.

What do critics say about Piaget's theory? ›

Piaget only describes the king of thinking a child can and cannot do, he does not explain how the changes in thinkning occur, Some critics would say that this does not make it a proper theory as theories should offer reasons of why things happen.

What is the criticism of cognitive theory? ›

The main criticism of cognitive psychology is that it is not directly observable. Another criticism, like other psychological approaches, is that this approach ignores other reasons for behavior other than cognitive. For instance, a behavior could be due to cognitive and social reasons.

What is Piaget's theory of learning? ›

Learning is a process of adaptation to environmental stimuli, involving successive periods of what Piaget called assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration. In assimilating knowledge, students incorporate their experiences and observations into the logic of their existing or developing understandings.

What are the implications of Piaget's theory of cognitive development for education? ›

Piaget's theory assumes that all children go through the same developmental sequence but that they do so at different rates. Therefore, teachers must make a special effort to arrange classroom activities for individuals and small groups of children rather than for the total class group.

How do teachers use Piaget's theory in the classroom? ›

In particular, his theory focuses on the mechanisms that help us adapt and learn new concepts or skills. In the classroom, teachers can apply Piaget's notions of assimilation and accommodation when introducing new material. They can help students approach a new idea through the lens of what they have already learned.

Why is cognitive development important for teachers? ›

Cognitive development theories and psychology help explain how children process information and learn. Understanding this information can assist educators to develop more effective teaching methods.

What is the role of cognition in learning? ›

Abstract: Cognition is the process of acquiring knowledge through our thoughts, experiences, and senses. Learning involves acquiring knowledge through experience, study, and being taught. Information cannot be learned if the student is distracted. Next, the information is put into memory in a process called storage.

How do you use the cognitive learning theory? ›

Examples of cognitive learning strategies include:
  1. Asking students to reflect on their experience.
  2. Helping students find new solutions to problems.
  3. Encouraging discussions about what is being taught.
  4. Helping students explore and understand how ideas are connected.
  5. Asking students to justify and explain their thinking.

Is Piaget's theory still relevant? ›

His theory of intellectual or cognitive development, published in 1936, is still used today in some branches of education and psychology. It focuses on children, from birth through adolescence, and characterizes different stages of development, including: language. morals.

Why is Piaget criticized? ›

The developmental theory of Jean Piaget has been criticized on the grounds that it is conceptually limited, empirically false, or philosophically and epistemologically untenable.

What are some limitations or challenges facing Piaget's view of infants cognitive capabilities? ›

Some Limitations of Piaget's Theory

For example, children can conserve numbers a year or two before they can conserve weight. Also, the process of development through the stages may be more continuous than we think. It has also been suggested that Piaget may have underestimated the abilities of children.

How did Piaget describe children? ›

Piaget believed that children act as “little scientists,” exploring their environment to gain understanding. He thought that children do this naturally, without any adult intervention. He put forth the idea of distinct developmental stages through which children learn language, memory, and reasoning.

What stage of Piaget's cognitive development does a person belong to when he can understand specific logical ideas and apply them to concrete problems? ›

The concrete operational stage usually starts when your child hits 7 years old and lasts till they reach 11. Think of it as a transitional stage between the two earlier stages of development (sensorimotor and preoperational stages) and the fourth stage (formal operational stage).

What do you mean by cognitive development? ›

What is cognitive development? Cognitive development means the growth of a child's ability to think and reason. This growth happens differently from ages 6 to 12, and from ages 12 to 18. Children ages 6 to 12 years old develop the ability to think in concrete ways. These are called concrete operations.

Why is Piaget's theory important for parents? ›

Remembering that every child learns differently based on what they are taught can help parents understand that not all children learn and grow at the same speed. Using Piaget's theory of Cognitive Development will help a parent be more patient and understanding toward their child.

Why is Piaget important? ›

Jean Piaget, (born August 9, 1896, Neuchâtel, Switzerland—died September 16, 1980, Geneva), Swiss psychologist who was the first to make a systematic study of the acquisition of understanding in children. He is thought by many to have been the major figure in 20th-century developmental psychology.

What is the role of a teacher on the cognitive development of a child? ›

Teachers provide adequate time, rich materials and resources, and rigorous and appropriate expectations to support children's learning. Under teachers' guidance, young children learn to recognize patterns, understand relationships, construct complex ideas, and establish connections among disciplines.

How do you develop cognitive skills? ›

Here are a few ways you can improve your cognitive skills: Reduce stress.
  1. Reduce stress. Reducing your stress levels can help you focus and improve your attention span. ...
  2. Care for your body. Maintaining your physical health can improve your cognitive skills. ...
  3. Practice focusing. ...
  4. Exercise your brain.

How can I improve my cognitive skills? ›

Small changes may really add up: Making these part of your routine could help you function better.
  1. Take Care of Your Physical Health.
  2. Manage High Blood Pressure.
  3. Eat Healthy Foods.
  4. Be Physically Active.
  5. Keep Your Mind Active.
  6. Stay Connected with Social Activities.
  7. Manage Stress.
  8. Reduce Risks to Cognitive Health.
3 days ago

What factors affect cognitive development in early childhood? ›

  • Nutrition. Major nutritional risk factors for poor child development include IUGR, stunting, iodine deficiency, and iron-deficiency anemia. ...
  • Environment. Malaria, lead exposure, and HIV are major environmental risk factors for poor child development. ...
  • Maternal-Child Interactions.
1 Apr 2017

How do you remember Erikson's 8 stages? ›

Erikson's Eight Stages: How to Quickly Memorize Them - YouTube

How do you remember Kohlberg's stages of moral development? ›

How to Memorize Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development - YouTube

What are the stages of Piaget? ›

Piaget's four stages of intellectual (or cognitive) development are:
  • Sensorimotor. Birth through ages 18-24 months.
  • Preoperational. Toddlerhood (18-24 months) through early childhood (age 7)
  • Concrete operational. Ages 7 to 11.
  • Formal operational. Adolescence through adulthood.
17 Aug 2020

Are Erikson's stages still relevant? ›

Yes. Erikson's theory is still relevant today as it was when it was first developed over seven decades ago. In fact, the theory is even more relevant today, given the increasing pressures on family life and relationships, as well as the quest for personal development and fulfillment in life.

What happens in the stage industry vs inferiority? ›

During the industry versus inferiority stage, children become capable of performing increasingly complex tasks. As a result, they strive to master new skills. Children who are encouraged and commended by parents and teachers develop a feeling of competence and belief in their abilities.

What does Erik Erikson's theory explain? ›

Erikson's theory suggests that your ego identity develops throughout your entire life during eight specific stages: Infancy – Basic trust versus mistrust. ADVERTISEMENT. Toddler – Autonomy versus shame and doubt. Preschool-age – Initiative versus guilt.

How do you describe your moral development? ›

Moral development refers to the process whereby people form a progressive sense of what is right and wrong, proper and improper.

What is the implication of Kohlberg's stages of moral development in educating a person? ›

The importance of Kohlberg's theory in Teaching

The importance of Kohlberg's theory of moral development in teaching is as follows: It enables teachers to understand the different levels of moral understanding of learners. It enables teachers to give proper guidance to students about their moral behavior.

How many levels of moral development are there in each stage? ›

Kohlberg's theory proposes that there are three levels of moral development, with each level split into two stages. Kohlberg suggested that people move through these stages in a fixed order, and that moral understanding is linked to cognitive development.

What have you learned about Piaget's stages of cognitive development? ›

Piaget proposed four major stages of cognitive development, and called them (1) sensorimotor intelligence, (2) preoperational thinking, (3) concrete operational thinking, and (4) formal operational thinking. Each stage is correlated with an age period of childhood, but only approximately.

Why is cognitive development important? ›

Children should be able to improve their ability to focus, to remember information and think more critically as they age. Cognitive skills allow children to understand the relationships between ideas, to grasp the process of cause and effect and to improve their analytical skills.

What is Piaget's theory of learning? ›

Learning is a process of adaptation to environmental stimuli, involving successive periods of what Piaget called assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration. In assimilating knowledge, students incorporate their experiences and observations into the logic of their existing or developing understandings.

Why is it important to know the different phases of development? ›

As we move through each stage, we develop greater competency, deeper and wider understanding, greater wisdom, and increased effectiveness in our environment and in the world, and a richer frame of reference.

What are the benefits of studying child development? ›

By learning more about how kids grow, parents can help their kids grow in healthy ways and address challenges that might arise. In addition to learning things that can help make you a better parent, you can gain greater insight into how your children behave, think, learn, and feel.

What is the most important stage of human development? ›

Parent Tip. Recent brain research indicates that birth to age three are the most important years in a child's development.


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