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Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory

Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory

Author: Zach Lamb

This lesson will list, define, and discuss Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. Welcome to sociological studies. As always, thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to study society. And in today's lesson, a bit of psychology.

Because we're going to be looking at Jean Piaget's who was a famous psychologist. And he was interested in the development of human cognition, especially in children. This is all part of how we come to understand how we get to be socialized and develop into functioning adults in society, which is a concern of sociologists. So in this way, and in is this reason then, we look at Piaget's work.

And Piaget became interested in this idea of the development of human cognition by observing his own children. He wanted to understand how they came to know the world. And Piaget theorized four stages of human cognition. And for Piaget, these stages were tied to biological maturity and maturation. We're still retaining some of the biological causation in this four stage scheme of human cognition. So let's explore this in a little bit more detail and take a look at these four stages.

The first of Piaget's stages of human cognitive development is what he called the sensory motor stage. Big fancy name, sensory motor. But really it's just this idea that when we're between the ages of zero and two we come to know the world primarily through our senses. What we can see, what we can hear, what we can touch, and smell.

So we're incapable at this stage, Piaget maintained, of being anything but self-centered. If we're hungry, if we feel that physical sensation of hunger, we'll cry. If you're hot or cold, you might cry. At this stage, cognition is entirely central reactions to the physical environment in terms of taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing.

So if any of you have children, or have raised young children, you'll know what I'm talking about. You'll know the child is this little blob of physical need, sensations, and desires and it makes them known to you. So between the ages of approximately-- roughly this change isn't always a hard line-- but approximately between the ages of zero and two we're in the sensory motor stage then, relying on senses.

The second of Piaget's stages of cognitive development is the preoperational stage. In this stage we can begin to use symbolic thinking, we can begin to make use of symbols, recall symbols as language. So this is where begin to use language. But yet we cannot yet think abstractly. We can only think literally. And we can only think from our own experiences. And it's difficult to think outside of our experiences in things like categories.

So for example, when I was this age, my parents told me later, they told me that when I was this age, my favorite food was tortillas. I loved getting tortillas from the Mexican restaurant. But if somebody asked me what's your favorite food or what's your favorite kind of food, I wouldn't understand that tortillas were a form of the category Mexican food, so I wouldn't be able to tell you that I liked Mexican food. Because that was too abstract for people in the preoperational stage. So I would tell you tortillas are my favorite food. I didn't understand this concept of tortillas as nested within Mexican food. We're not yet capable of that level of abstraction at this preoperational stage.

After the preoperational stage we have the concrete operational stage, which occurs roughly between ages 7 and 11. And in this stage we can begin to trace out cause and effect relationships. Children can understand that if they do this, well this might happen as a result. So they can think about how and why things happen. So they begin to be able to plan better, knowing cause and effect.

We become furthermore better users of symbols. So at this stage, if you're a child in this stage, suppose your birthday is March 1. At this stage then you can understand that March 1 is A.) your birthday, and B.) it's a Monday, and C.) it's the first day of the month of March. So you're using three layers of symbolism right there at the same time. And that's not something someone in the preoperational stage could do, Piaget argued and found.

Finally, Piaget's theorized, we have the formal operational stage, which is what you and I are both in right now. It's the final stage of human development from about age 12 onwards. In this stage you can now think abstractly and less literally. You can understand meaning constructed with metaphors and you can use advanced symbolic representation.

We stay in this stage for life but maybe something might happen, not all of us may reach this stage. So it's not like everyone has to advance through every single stage. Something could happen and you might not advance to this stage.

So given that you can understand abstract and metaphorical thinking, if you're reading a book and you read something like, when she walked into the room his face lit up like the full moon. This is a metaphor for describing how his face looked in response to the woman walking into the room. Somebody in a preoperational stage wouldn't understand this. They might think it's gibberish. But now you can begin to understand metaphors and metaphorical thinking and more abstract, broader, cognitive topics.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this introduction to Piaget's theory of human cognitive development. Have great rest of your day.

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.