Piaget s theory of cognitive development
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Piaget’s Theory of cognitive Development. Knowledge consists of Schemas (cognitive structures) – mental representations of how to deal with the world Schemas develop or change! (Adaptation) Assimilation – new information can be integrated into existing cognitive schemas

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Piaget’s Theory of cognitive Development

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Piaget s theory of cognitive development

Piaget’s Theory of cognitive Development

  • Knowledge consists of Schemas (cognitive structures) – mental representations of how to deal with the world

  • Schemas develop or change! (Adaptation)

    • Assimilation – new information can be integrated into existing cognitive schemas

    • Accommodation – existing cognitive schemas have to be altered, because they no longer match existing schemas



  • Little boy gets into his car every day. He sees other cars of other shapes, colors, sizes and recognizes “cars”= assimilation

  • Goes to a farm, sees a tractor, says “car!”

    Dad says “tractor!” = accomodation

    You think some up!

Piaget and his theory of development

Piaget and his Theory of Development

  • Piaget believes that it is not just the amount of knowledge which distinguishes a young child from an older child. There is actually a qualitative difference in their thoughts.

Development of intellect

Piaget thought that intellectual development happened in stages, and that a child would only go on to the next stage once it had completely mastered the first one. Each stage is seen as a kind of 'building block' for the next stage to rest on.

Development of Intellect

Piaget s stages of cognitive development

Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

Piaget outlined four stages of cognitive development, and gave approximate ages at which children reached those stages. He stressed, though, that these ages are only averages; individual children might go through the stages at a different speed but they would always go through the stages in the same order.

Sensory motor stage

1. Sensory motor stage (birth to 2 years)

During this stage the child gains understanding of its environment by using its senses in combination with movement.

Sensory Motor Stage

Sensorimotor not in notes

Sensorimotor (not in notes)

  • Newborn Behavior is reflexive – can only respond, not initiate

  • There is a relationship between physical movements and the results they sense and perceive

  • 3mos – fascinated with own hands and legs

  • Object permanence at 8 mos – they can finally hold an idea in their mind


Pre operational stage

Pre-Operational Stage

  • 2. Pre-operational stage (2 years to about 7 years).

  • During this stage the child becomes able to represent objects or events by symbols or signs. The child is now able to use language and express ideas.


Pre operational stage1

Pre-Operational Stage

  • Piaget devised numerous tests which highlighted the errors children make with certain problems. These errors demonstrated the different quality of thought children have in different stages. One of the most well known tests Piaget used to show the limitations of child thinking in the pre-operational stage was the conservation experiment.

Conservation tasks volume

Conservation Tasks - Volume

  • In one of his conservation tests Piaget demonstrated that if you show a child two beakers of water, one of which is tall and thin, the other short and fat, and ask the child which beaker contains the most water, the pre-operational child (i.e. child under 7) will say 'the tall one', even though they both contain the same amount of water.

Conservation tasks volume1

Conservation Tasks - Volume

Conservation tasks volume2

Conservation Tasks - Volume

  • Piaget argued that this is because the child has not developed the ability to conserve volume, which does not develop until the child is in the concrete operational stage. Conservation of volume is the ability to realise that something may have the same volume, even though it is a different shape.

Conservation tasks mass

Conservation Tasks - Mass

  • Similarly he demonstrated that if you roll a piece of clay into a ball, show it to a pre-operational child and then roll it into a sausage shape, the child will say that there is more clay in the sausage shape.

“Are they the same?”

“Are they the same?”

Roll one of the play dough balls into a sausage shape

Conservation task number

Conservation Task - Number

  • Piaget also demonstrated that, if you present a pre-operational child with a row of five buttons spread out and a row of five buttons close together, the child will say that the spread-out row contains more buttons

“Are they the same?”

“Are they the same?”

What is conservation

What is conservation?

  • Piaget argued that the inability to conserve is due to the child's failure to understand that things remain the same (constant) despite changes in their appearance (how they look). Piaget believes this is an example of centration. The pre-operational child has not decentred and is therefore centring on just one dimension. For example, the child is centring on just one dimension of the beaker, usually its height, and so fails to take width into account

Add to your notes

Add to your notes:

  • Egocentrism – unable to see from another person’s point of view

    • The world exists to meet their needs

    • NOT selfishness

  • Animistic and artificialistic

    • Rain & thunder made by people

    • Sun and moon alive and conscious (animism)

Examples of preoperational thought

Examples of preoperational thought

Concrete operational stage

Concrete Operational Stage

  • 3. Concrete operational stage (7 to around 11 years)

  • During this stage the child is able to use more sophisticated mental operations. For example, the child is said to have decentred. Decentring simply means being able to take account of more than one aspect of a situation. However the child is still limited in a number of ways, for example, they tend to think about the world in terms of how it is, and find it hard to speculate on how it might be.

Add to notes

Add to notes

  • Teachers use hands-on projects (concrete) to see, touch and manipulate

  • Less egocentric, they can see the world from others’ perspective


Formal operational stage

Formal Operational Stage

  • 4. Formal operational stage (12 years and above). This stage is mainly governed by formal logic and abstract thought and is the most sophisticated stage of thinking. “What would happen if there was no sun?”

  • “Dog is to hair as bird is to feathers”

  • If all animals have four legs, and if this table has four legs, then is this table an animal?

Add to notes1

Add to notes

  • Can do algebra and geometry

  • Can deal with hypothetical situations

  • Can control outcome of situation in several different ways

Evaluation of piaget

Evaluation of Piaget

  • Helps teachers: children learn best when child discovers ideas for self. (child-centered learning)

  • Criticism: sample was small (his own children)

    • He underestimated the abilities of children

  • Development may not necessarily be in steps.

  • Still very popular



  • Piaget – children’s thinking is qualitatively different to adults.

  • Children’s intellect develops through stages.

  • 4 stages – Sensory Motor, Pre-Operational, Concrete Operational and Formal Operational.


Summary of all four of piaget stages

Summary of all four of Piaget stages


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