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Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory

Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory

Author: Paul Hannan

Differentiate between the four stages of Piaget's theory of cognitive development.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Piaget Public Domain Water Glasses Public Domain Test Tube Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology-- Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on Piaget's cognitive development theory. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So today, we're looking at Piaget's cognitive development theory. Now, Piaget has been an inspiration for many different modern fields. I personally really enjoy looking at his work because of his focus on education. So just to start us off here today, I have a quote from Piaget. And the quote is that "Only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual."

So in Piaget's cognitive development theory, he breaks down human development into four different stages. And these stages go in chronological order. So people, as they grow older, progress through these four stages. And I'm just going to go through all four of these stages for you.

So the first stage is sensorimotor stage. Now, here we're looking at infants. We're looking at children who are between the newborns and two years old. And it's called sensorimotor because really it's all about the individual learning to interact with their senses only. That's what they're trying to understand. And so when they're looking at something, they're just learning how looking works.

I mean it makes sense, a baby doesn't understand exactly what a term for something is, or the meaning behind something, or how to tie things together. They're, instead, just seeing, and learning that seeing and touching are some of their tools.

So that's one of the ways I remember. That's just a photo of a good friend of mine's actually child. This newborn is in the sensorimotor stage.

Now, next comes the preoperational stage. In the preoperational stage, we're looking at children who are generally between two and six years old. And here they're really first starting to use language and symbols.

So here's a really good example of that. Here is, again, my nephew, and his good friend Tyler. They're in the preoperational stage. This is where I think kids become much more interesting because you can have conversations with them.

Here, I don't remember what they're doing. I think there's like something sweet that spilt on the floor there. And they're poking it with their finger. But either way, they're learning how to interact and use symbols to talk with people.

Now, one thing that's important for understanding the preoperational stage is that while they're learning to interact with things, they haven't learned all the ways that things interact. So a really great example of this is the preoperational water experiment. Before we maybe explain the experiment, just think about, you have a glass of water. And you see that the water is filled to a certain height. And you pour it into a different glass. And you always know that that's going to be the same amount of water. The way that you are, you've gone through the preoperational water stage.

Now, if I did that for my nephew Sebastian, he does not see that connection. If I were to, say, pour the water into a test tube, he would say the water was either less or more because of the shape of the test tube. He hasn't made the connection yet that the water actually has changed-- even though the shape of the water has changed, the actual water itself is the same because he saw you pour it.

Now, stage three is the concrete operational stage. This is generally between seven and 11 years old. Now here, children are starting to notice the connections between their surroundings. So before when you'd ask them that water question, they wouldn't understand that.

So a really good way for understanding the concrete is actually-- is juxtaposing it, is comparing it to the stage before. So before, when they couldn't understand that water, well, now they can.

They can also-- a piece of pizza, and you just divide it up into slices, at this stage they understand that no matter how many ways you cut that pizza, if there's a hundred slices, or one slice, or two slices, it's going to be the same amount of pizza. So that's really the difference when they reach the concrete operational stage.

Now stage four is the formal operational stage. Now, this is pretty much anyone, after their first three stages. And here you're really able to think critically and abstractly.

So this is why the teenage years-- or not why. But this is one of the things behind the teenage years, where children start to really question the world around them and put complex concepts together. And this is why teenagers, in a lot of ways, have the same mental capacities as older folks, as adults.

So today's take-away message. Piaget just had these four stages here, that humans go through. And so we start off in the sensorimotor stage. And there it's all about using our senses.

Then we go to the preoperational stage, where we're learning to use language and symbols. Then concrete operational stage, where we're seeing connections between different things. And then formal operational stage, where we're able to really think critically and deep. We think about different ideas.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work. And hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Concrete Operational Stage

The stage from approximately ages seven to eleven where children learn to recognize cause and effect relationships in their environment.

Formal Operational Stage

The stage from approximately age 12 onwards where we can think abstractly and use advanced symbolic representation.

Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

A four-stage theory of how cognition, thinking, and reasoning develop in and throughout the lifecourse.

Preoperational Stage

The stage from ages two to seven where humans learn to use symbols and language.

Sensorimotor Stage

The stage from birth until about two years old where humans primarily "know" the world through their physical senses of touching, smelling, tasting, seeing, and hearing.