Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

Piaget’s stages of cognitive development is a comprehensive theory of how human intelligence is gradually developed through continuous interaction with the environment using sensory organs, logic, and capability of thinking.

According to this theory, the stages of cognitive development are Sensorimotor Stage (0-2 Years), Preoperational Stage (2-7 Years), Concrete Operational Stage (7-11 Years), and Formal Operational Stage (11-15 Years).

Inspired by his own observation of his nephew and daughter, Jean Piaget, a Swiss developmental psychologist developed this theory in 1936.

Piaget posited four stages of children’s cognitive development based on progressive reorganization of mental processes resulting from biological maturation and environmental experience. This theory focuses on understanding how humans acquire knowledge and nature of intelligence.

Piaget proposed two processes of acquiring knowledge, assimilation & accommodation. These two processes distinguish how human fits new information into psychological schemas; schemas describe a pattern of thought or behavior that organizes categories of information and the relationships between them. 

Assimilation is a process that occurs when human face new or unfamiliar information, human generally refers to previously learned information to make sense out of the new information. On the other hand, accommodation is a process of altering pre-existing psychological schemas in order to fit new information.

Piaget described two nature of intelligence, operative & figurative intelligence. Operative intelligence is dynamic and active in nature that involves all actions, predicting transformation of objects, environment or personal interest and reflection towards changing reality. 

Figurative intelligence is static in nature and it involves perception, mental images, language, and imitation. In simple language, we use operative intelligence to understand the environment, situation or changes. And figurative intelligence are used to keep psychological schema of information we encounter in the form of mental images, sounds or perception.

Piaget propounded these four stages based on the processes of acquiring knowledge and nature of intelligence;

  • Sensorimotor Stage: Birth to 2 years
  • Preoperational Stage: 2 years to 7 years
  • Concrete Operational Stage: 7 to 11 years
  • Formal Operational Stage: 11 years to 15-20 years

Sensorimotor Stage

This is the first stage of cognitive development which extends from birth to acquisition of knowledge. At this stage infants progressively construct knowledge by utilizing sensory organs to understand the environment around them. At the end of this stage, children begin symbolic thoughts to understand the world.

Key characteristics of the sensorimotor stage are,

  • Sensory curiosity about the world
  • Co-ordination of sensory organs with motor responses
  • Children learn that they are separate from the environment
  • Children learn about the world through actions such as looking, grasping, sucking and stepping
  • Object permanence is developed

Object permanence is the child understanding that objects continue to exist even though the child can’t see or hear the objects. As the children understand to use senses to explore the world, their curiosity fuels a great deal of mental growth. 

At this stage, children understand that their action can cause things to happen around them, they take physical actions such as crawling, walking or jumping; they learn that coordination of sensory organs and motor responses can cause physical movement.

Preoperational Stage

Piaget divided this stage into two different sub-stages; Symbolic Function Sub-stage (2-4 years) and Intuitive Thought Sub-stage (4-7 years).

Key characteristics of the preoperational stage are;

  • Symbolic thinking, use of grammar to express language and use of proper syntax
  • Imagination is becoming stronger although the inability to abstract thinking
  • Uses of intuition to ask questions in curiosity
  • When a child can’t distinguish between their own perspective with others perspective, development of ecgocentrism may happen

At the symbolic function sub-stage, children can’t manipulate or transform information in a logical way; however, they can think in images or symbols. 

In this sub-stage, children can imagine role play and can assign roles to symbols or playing object in their imagination. Also, children exhibit creativity and ability to connect with others.

Intuitive thought sub-stage is the beginning of primitive reasoning although the reasoning may not be abstract. Children become curious at this stage and they prefer asking questions, also they can use basic logic to reference schema of previous knowledge.

Concrete Operational Stage

At this stage, thought processes of children become more like adults, although hypothetical thinking is yet to develop. They can understand more complex abstract concepts such as space, time, quality and quality.

Key characteristics of this stage are;

  • Their thinking becomes more logical and organized although they lack hypothetical thinking
  • They can think logically about concrete events or situation such as space, time or quantity
  • They can use inductive logic, although they struggle using deductive logic to predict the outcome based on a general principle

Elimination of egocentrism can happen at this stage as they can distinguish perspective of others with their own, they tend to view things in others perspective; although children are completely self-focused on thoughts and morality at this stage.

Formal Operational Stage

At this stage, children become capable of abstract thinking, hypothetical thinking, and deductive reasoning. They can apply rules and reasoning in varieties of situations such as counterfactual thinking in science or mathematics, such as ‘if-then’ logic or ‘what-if’ logic.

Key characteristics of this stage are;

  • Use of deductive reasoning, abstract thinking, and hypothetical thinking
  • Planning and strategic thinking become possible
  • They can assimilate information to apply to other concepts
  • They began to think about moral, ethical, social or political issues
  • Development of metacognition happens in this stage, metacognition is thinking about thinking
  • Problem-solving skills are developed during this stage and children can solve complex problems

However, research has shown that not all persons in all culture reach the formal operational stage, and most people do not use formal operations in all aspects of life; this excerpt is published by Arnett Jeffry in his book Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: A Cultural Approach

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development has been a subject of criticism over the years, however, the theory is considered better than Freud cognitive development and Kohlberg moral development.

As stated already, most of the people fail to reach or apply formal operational stage in the lifetime. The efficiency of cognitive skills is dependent upon the development of primary skill such as attention, logical thinking & memory.

As defined by cognitive learning theory, human learns through the social environment and personal attributes. When children reach the age of 11-15, the society creates an environment for the child to practice distraction; as a consequence this, most of the human fails in deductive reasoning, hypothetical thinking, and abstract understanding.

Attention is one of the most essential skills of cognitive development, but teenagers are practicing distraction through use of social media, TV, social gossips and many other factors added fuel to it. 

As human reach teenage, hormonal changes cause to develop higher thinking capability; some people utilize this capability to develop hypothetical thinking, critical thinking or improving abstract thinking, but most of the people start losing their mind in the thoughts of rubbish talks or things. 

Do you know why this happens to humans?

A child has the only extrinsic distraction, but for teenagers or adults, intrinsic factors such as thoughts, depression, or anxiety as well as extrinsic factors such as social media, TV, or social gossips cause distractions.

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