A Summary of Piaget's Stages

An Overview of Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development

A young girl thinking
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Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development suggests that children move through four different stages of mental development. His theory focuses not only on understanding how children acquire knowledge, but also on understanding the nature of intelligence. Piaget believed that children took at active role in the learning process, acting much like little scientists as they perform experiments, make observations and learn about the world.

Learn more about the basics of his pioneering theory by exploring this handy chart that quickly summarizes each of the four stages of cognitive development.

Sensorimotor Stage of Cognitive Development

Ages: Birth to 2 Years

Major Characteristics and Developmental Changes:

  • The infant knows the world through their movements and sensations.
  • Children learn about the world through basic actions such as sucking, grasping, looking and listening.
  • Infants learn that things continue to exist even though they cannot be seen (object permanence).
  • They are separate beings from the people and objects around them.
  • They realize that their actions can cause things to happen in the world around them.
  • Learning occurs through assimilation and accommodation.

Preoperational Stage of Cognitive Development

Ages: 2 to 7 Years

Major Characteristics and Developmental Changes:

  • Children begin to think symbolically and learn to use words and pictures to represent objects.
  • They also tend to be very egocentric, and see things only from their point of view.
  • Children at this stage tend to be egocentric and struggle to see things from the perspective of others.
  • While they are getting better with language and thinking, they still tend to think about things in very concrete terms.

Concrete Operational Stage of Cognitive Development

Ages: 7 to 11 Years

Major Characteristics and Developmental Changes:

  • During this stage, children begin to thinking logically about concrete events.
  • They begin to understand the concept of conservation; the the amount of liquid in a short, wide cup is equal to that in a tall, skinny glass.
  • Thinking becomes more logical and organized, but still very concrete.
  • Begin using inductive logic, or reasoning from specific information to a general principle.

Formal Operational Stage of Cognitive Development

Ages: 12 and Up

Major Characteristics and Developmental Changes:

  • At this stage, the adolescent or young adult begins to think abstractly and reason about hypothetical problems.
  • Abstract thought emerges.
  • Teens begin to think more about moral, philosophical, ethical, social, and political issues that require theoretical and abstract reasoning.
  • Begin to use deductive logic, or reasoning from a general principle to specific information.

Final Thoughts

While Piaget's theory is less prominent than it once was, it had a tremendous influence on our understand of child development. Piaget was one of the first theorists to suggest that the way children think is fundamentally different from the way that adults think. Many of Piaget's ideas came from his observations of his own children, but his theory has also fueled an abundance of further research on the intellectual development of children.

Learn more about Jean Piaget's life as well, some of the critical components of his cognitive theory as well as a few of the criticisms of his work.

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