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Jean Piaget’s cognitive development


The theory of cognitive development is one of the most important theories about the development of human knowledge . It was postulated in 1936 by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, and explains how the child builds a mental model of the world.

Next we will delve into this interesting Piaget theory, which allows us to fully understand why and how we know what we know .

Theory of cognitive development

Piaget was a very objective psychologist , he tried to give psychology a more scientific status, partly because of the influence of Positivism. This started from the direct observation of the child to later know the adult being. He himself describes and analyzes the global behaviors of children, taking an interest in the why of these, therefore in his works we will also find allusions to the affective and not only to the cognitive.

Piaget’s work is based on normality, since he did not dedicate himself to studying pathology. The important thing is the level reached by each subject, without focusing on the deviations. All individuals go through the same stages. There is a sequence that goes from less to more complexity depending on the biological maturation and the environment of the child.

The father of genetic epistemology -as some called it- was in total disagreement with the idea that intelligence was a fixed trait, since he considered that cognitive development was a process that occurred due to biological maturation and interaction with the environment. environment. He also stated that to know you need a nervous system  and a basic structure. For this reason, it starts from the premise that every human being is a knowing being . But he wonders how does the subject go from a rudimentary act like a reflex arc to a complex one? How is it known?

To answer these questions in part, Piaget proposes four fundamental factors for the development of intelligence ,  each factor dependent on the previous factor.

Factors for the development of intelligence

  1.  Organic maturation:  children are born with a very basic mental structure (genetically inherited and evolved) on which all subsequent learning and knowledge are based. Without organic maturation (maturation of mental structure and functions) it is impossible for the child to know.
  2. The experience acquired by action with objects. To achieve knowledge I use action.
  3. Social transmissions , that is, learning ; which in turn has to do with the notions of accommodation, assimilation and adaptation.  Assimilation uses an existing schema to deal with a new object or a new situation; accommodation occurs when the existing scheme does not work, and needs to be modified to deal with a new object or situation; adaptation is what drives the learning process and occurs when the child’s schemas are balanced and are capable of handling most of the information received through assimilation.
  4. Internal self-regulation mechanism , which brings the organism to a state of mobile, psychological, biological and social equilibrium. Balance between adaptation and organization, between stimulus and response. With self-regulation, discrepancies begin to be experienced between what the child knows and what he is discovering in his environment.

Reality does not pre-exist the subject but is built at the same time in a constant interaction, since what creates reality is the action of the subject on the environment. The subject influences reality and vice versa; reality puts obstacles to the individual and from there they reach higher levels in the individual. Obstacles are everyday opportunities.

You may also be interested in:   Metacognition

The only thing that it recognizes as inheritance is the nervous system ,  otherwise there is no alteration in it. We are all born with the same possibilities, but later the particular situations of each individual will condition their development. While the nervous system limits us in some sense, but given the characteristics of the human being, it makes us transcend that limitation, which implies being able to make contact with some aspects of reality that other species cannot. There are things that we cannot grasp through the senses, but also because we are knowing beings, thinking beings, we have found a way to study them.

Piaget emphasizes that affect is the engine of cognitive development , thus recognizing the importance of the environment. Things are being built, that is why they say that the theory of cognitive development is a constructivist theory. They are built from the simplest to the most complex forms that can be achieved in the development of knowledge. The first instrument it has to know the individual is the reflex: the suction and grasp reflex -which are found from birth- which ensure survival.

Knowledge development periods

According to the theory of cognitive development, there are four fundamental stages for the development of knowledge: sensory-motor, pre-operative, concrete operative and formal operative period.

Sensory motor period 

The sensory-motor period is the first of the stages of cognitive development. It goes from birth to 2 years. During this stage  the individual begins to know the world that surrounds them through the senses and movement . This knowledge is limited by the baby’s sensory perceptions and motor skills.

Pre – operator period

The pre-operative period is the second stage of cognitive development. It begins at 2 years of age and ends at approximately 7 years. During the pre-operative period, the child goes through a path of new processes and capacities that help him to better understand the environment. One of the most important skills that are developed in this period is  language.

Specific operative period

This is the third stage of cognitive development. It begins at about 7 years old. and ends at 12 years. In this period the child – already thinking – develops an organized and rational thought and will begin to act on the object of knowledge with concrete operations in a particular way.

Operative period form 

It is the last of the stages of cognitive development. It goes from 12 years onwards.When they enter this stage, individuals and adolescents acquire the ability to think abstractly, manipulating ideas without any dependence on concrete manipulation

Each individual should go through each of these periods, but not all manage to handle formal thinking adequately.


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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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