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Piaget and the First 2 Stages of Cognitive Development

Piaget and the First 2 Stages of Cognitive Development

Author: Erick Taggart

Recognize the sensorimotor and preoperational stages of cognitive development.

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Hello, class. So today we're going to be talking about cognitive development. And specifically, we're going to be talking about Piaget's four stages of cognitive development, a a theory that he developed to explain how, especially young children, develop.

So Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist in the 1920s who developed this theory about cognitive growth and development. He's one of the most important figures to know in cognitive theory-- really, in psychology in general. You've heard his name brought up, I'm sure, in multiple different contexts.

So his studies of children and his interviews with parents were sort of based on these questionings that he had for children, as well as different problem solving tasks. And it led to his idea of these four stages of growth. In this lesson, we'll be talking about the first two. It's important to realize that these stages are supposed to be sort of steps. They occur in order, so they're meant to be followed. Each child goes through each of these four steps in succession. So let's take a look at the first one.

So the first stage in cognitive growth is the sensorimotor stage, and this occurs from birth up to two years of age. It's during this period that the child is trying to make sense of the world. They don't have all these internal mental constructs, or schemas, that help them to sort information about it. Everything that they know of the world is physical. It's what they take in, through their senses, or the sensory, and their touching things and manipulating them, their motor skills.

This stage is identified by a lack of object permanence, which is to say that the idea that objects exist even when we can't see them isn't something that the children have at this time. So when you play a game of peekaboo, the child doesn't actually know if you're there anymore when you put the blanket up. They think you've disappeared completely because you're not in sight.

So the sensory motor stage is divided into six sub-stages. And these aren't necessarily ones that you have to memorize, but they should illustrate some important aspects of this stage.

So the first sub-stage is simple reflexes, where a child is only able to use their innate skills and abilities that they were born with-- things like sucking, or the curling of fingers or toes, which are simple reflexes.

The second sub stage is primary circular reactions, when a child starts to form ideas and they focus on what they can do within their bodies, or their bodily reactions. And this is when a child also tends to repeat actions, over and over, that they discover. So, for example, they pass their hand over their face-- they might do that over and over to sort of get an idea of what that's like.

The third stage is secondary circular reactions, where they're more outwardly focused on the environment and they start to manipulate toys more.

The fourth stage is coordination of their reactions, when they start to intentionally do things and to combine those reactions that they found out about in the last two stages.

The next stage is tertiary circular reactions, where they start to experiment with new actions to see what the results are. So, for example, they start yelling to get attention, to see if it'll get the parent to look over at them.

And finally, in sensorimotor, we have the internalization of thoughts, where the child starts to create those permanent ideas and schema, and they start to use and react to symbols and to language and things like that. And that leads to our second stage of development.

Piaget's next stage is the preoperational stage, which occurs between two and seven years of age. It's during this time that the child starts to make their first mental representations of things-- and they're very simple in the beginning. Also, the development of language is very important, sort of as those mental representations. So, it's during this stage that we have a few other terms to identify.

First, a child at this stage isn't able to transform objects, which is to say that they can't mentally change the shape or form of something. So they see something, and it's very concrete. They can't imagine what it would be like if you were to do this, or that, to it.

Also, children at this age are very intuitive in their thoughts. They don't use logic or reasoning when they're trying to figure something out. An example of this is they are not able to understand conservation, which is to say, they aren't able to tell that there is the same amount of something regardless of what's holding it. This is an experiment Piaget did, where he took the same amount of liquid, and he put it in a tall narrow glass and a wide sort of shallow glass. The same amount of liquid in both was seen as being different amounts by children.

And finally, children at this age are very egocentric in their thought. They're very centered on their individual, and they can't think about others and what they might be thinking at the same time. Which is to say, they can't draw a picture from someone else's point of view. If you were to ask them, what do you think mommy sees, then they wouldn't be able to actually show you what that is. They would only show you what they see themselves.

Terms to Know
Egocentric Thought

Difficulty perceiving things from another’s point of view.

Intuitive Thought

Primitive reasoning with logic.

Object Permanence

Around 8 months, infants begin to understand that objects continue to exist even if hidden.

Preoperational Stage

Children begin to make very simple mental operations.

Sensorimotor Stage

Understanding of the world is dependent on sensory and motor interactions (grasping, touching, looking, etc.)


Mentally changing an object’s shape or form.