Cognitive Development

Jean Piaget is one of the most out-standing psychologists whose theory about stages of cognitive development is a very significant contribution into the development of psychology as a science. The current paper discusses the key provisions of Piagets theory and the stages of human cognitive development in details.


Jean Piagets theory is based on the statement that all humans pass through four stages of intellectual development from infancy till adulthood. The intellectual development includes such important aspects as thought, judgment and knowledge. The fundamental point about Piagets theory is that he did not consider childrens intellectual development as a quantitative process. Hence, children getting older do not just add more information and knowledge to their baggage of knowledge; instead, Piaget stated that there is a qualitative change in the way children think as they gradually pass these four stages. A child at age of seven does not just possess more information about the world than he or she did when he or she was two years old; there is an essential change in how they think about the world.

Before analyzing the stages, it is necessary to define the main Piagets concepts and ideas that help better understand things, which occur during the development.


A schema concept includes mental as well as physical actions, which are necessary for understanding and knowing. Schemas are categories of knowledge, which are helpful for individuals in interpreting and understanding the world. As Piaget stated, a schema includes a category of knowledge as well as the process of receiving that knowledge. As an experience happens, this new information is utilized to transform, add to, or change initially existing schemas. As it is stated by Cherry (2014):

For example, a child may have a schema about a type of animal, such as a dog. If the childs sole experience has been with small dogs, a child might believe that all dogs are small, furry, and have four legs. Suppose then that the child encounters a very large dog. The child will take in this new information, modifying the previously existing schema to include this new information.


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This is the process of taking in new information into individuals previously existing schemas. This process can be considered as quite subjective, because of peoples tendency to transform their experience or some information in order to fit in with their preexisting beliefs. In the above mentioned example, seeing a dog and labeling that it is a dog is an example of assimilation of the animal into the childs dog schema (Cherry 2014).


This is the part of adaptation, which changes or alters peoples existing schemas in the context of new information. Accommodation modifies the existing schemas, or ideas, as a result of receiving new information or new experiences.


In accordance with Cherry (2014):

Piaget believed that all children try to strike a balance between assimilation and accommodation, which is achieved through a mechanism Piaget called equilibration. As children progress through the stages of cognitive development, it is important to maintain a balance between applying previous knowledge (assimilation) and changing behavior to account for new knowledge (accommodation). Equilibration helps explain how children are able to move from one stage of thought into the next.

As the key concepts of Piagets theory were discussed, it is necessary to describe each stage of human cognitive development. They are the following.

Sensorimotor Stage (from birth till the age of 2 years)

In accordance with Benaroch (2013):

During the early stages, infants are only aware of what is immediately in front of them. They focus on what they see, what they are doing, and physical interactions with their immediate environment. The later stages include goal-oriented behavior which brings about a desired result.

At about age 7 to 9 months, infants begin to realize that an object exists even if it can no longer be seen. This important milestone known as object permanence is a sign that memory is developing. After infants start crawling, standing, and walking, their increased physical mobility leads to increased cognitive development. Near the end of the sensorimotor stage, infants reach another important milestone early language development, a sign that they are developing some symbolic abilities.

Preoperational Stage (from 2 to 6 years)

As Benaroch (2012) mentions:

During this stage, young children are able to think about things symbolically. Their language use becomes more mature. They also develop memory and imagination, which allows them to understand the difference between past and future, and engage in make-believe. But their thinking is based on intuition and still not completely logical. They cannot yet grasp more complex concepts such as cause and effect, time, and comparison.

Concrete Operational Stage (6-12 years)

According to Benaroch (2012), during this stage:

Children's thinking becomes less egocentric and they are increasingly aware of external events. They begin to realize that one's own thoughts and feelings are unique and may not be shared by others or may not even be part of reality. Children also develop operational thinking -- the ability to perform reversible mental actions.

Formal Operational Stage (from 12 years till adulthood)

In accordance with Benaroch (2012):

Adolescents who reach this fourth stage of intellectual development are able to logically use symbols related to abstract concepts, such as algebra and science. They can think about multiple variables in systematic ways, formulate hypotheses, and consider possibilities. They also can ponder abstract relationships and concepts such as justice.

To conclude, it is necessary to mention such important point that although in accordance with Piagets theory, peoples intellectual development is lifelong, Piaget believed that formal operational stage is the final developmental stage, and the continued intellectual development in adults depends on the accumulation of knowledge (Benaroch 2012).

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