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Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory
This page was last updated on September 18, 2013


  • Jean Piaget (1952-1980) was a Swiss developmental psychologist.

  • He developed one of the most comprehensive theories of cognitive development.

  • He explained genetic epistemology, a concept which refers to "study of developmental changes in the process of knowing and in the organization of knowledge."


  • Scheme
    • a term used by Piaget to describe the models, or mental structures, that we create to represent ,organize, and interpret our experiences.
  • Organization
    • the process by which children combine existing schemes into new and more complex intellectual structures.
  • Adaptation
    • an inborn tendency to adjust to the demands of the environment through assimilation and accommodation.
  • Assimilation
    • the process of interpreting new experiences by incorporating them into existing schemes.
  • Accommodation
    • the process of modifying existing schemes in order to incorporate or adapt to new experiences.
  • Development
    • Changes occurring throughout the lifespan that are orderly and adaptive.

Stages of Cognitive Development

Cognitive development progress through four stages:

  • Sensory-motor stage
  • Preoperational stage
  • Concrete operational stage
  • Formal operational stage

Sensory-motor stage: 0-2 years

  • Learning through 5 senses
  • Development of imitative behaviors
  • Development of symbolic knowledge
  • Develops object permanence
  • The beginning of goal-directed actions

Preoperational Stage:  2–7 years

  • Semiotic function – ability to use symbols
  • One-way logic
  • Difficulty with the principle of conservation
  • Egocentrism

Concrete Operational Stage: 7–11 years

  • “Hands on” thinking
  • Identity
  • Compensation
  • Reversibility
  • Classification
  • Seriation

Formal Operational Stage:  11 years to adult

  • Hypothetico-deductive reasoning
  • Abstract thinking
  • “Scientific” reasoning
  • Adolescent egocentrism  & imaginary audience
  • Not all individuals reach this stage


  • Piaget made important contributions to our understanding of normal intellectual development.
  • Piagian theories provide a fundamental starting point for understanding childhood cognitive development.


  1. Piaget J (1953) The Origins of Intelligence in Children . Routledge and
    Kegan Paul , London, UK .
  2. Piaget J (1977)  The Essential Piaget. Ed by Howard Gruber,Basic Books New York.


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