Cognitive development theory (+3 facts)

What is Cognitive development?

Cognitive development is the method of how a child’s cognition develops from birth.

Cognition consists of thought processes, memory, risk assessment, and decision-making.

Background and Concepts of Piaget’s Theory of Development

Jean Piaget’s theory of psychological development suggests that children move through four different stages of cognitive development.

His theory, of utmost importance for the development of cognitive psychology, focuses on both understanding how children acquire information, as well as the nature of intelligence.

He believed that the interactions children have with their environments plays a role in developing knowledge and intelligence.

Piaget’s stages are:

Ø  Sensorimotor stage: birth to a two years

Ø  Preoperational stage: ages two to seven

Ø  Concrete operational stage: ages seven to eleven

Ø  Formal operational stage: ages twelve and up

Piaget believed that children take an active role within the learning method, acting very similar to scientists as they perform experiments, build observations, and study their environments.

As children move within the world around them, they regularly add new information, build upon existing information, and adapt previous ideas to accommodate new knowledge.

How Piaget developed the theory

Much of Piaget’s interest within the psychological cognitive development theory of children was galvanized by his observations of his own family.

These observations strengthened his budding hypothesis that children’s minds were not simply smaller versions of adult minds.

Up until this time in history, children were mostly treated merely as smaller versions of adults.

Piaget was one of the first to spot that the way of living that children partake in is completely different from the way adults do.

Instead, he projected that intelligence is something that grows and develops through a series of stages.

Rather than the assumption that older children think more quickly than younger children, there are several qualitative and quantitative variations between the thinking of young children compared to older children.

Based on his observations, he suggested that children were not less intelligent than adults, they merely think differently.

Einstein referred to Piaget’s discovery as “so simple only a genius may have thought of it.”

Piaget’s stage theory describes the cognitive development of children. Cognitive development involves changes in processes and skills. In Piaget’s view, early cognitive development involves processes primarily based upon actions and later progresses to changes in mental operations.

The Stages of Theory:

Through his observations of his children, Piaget developed a stage theory of intellectual development that enclosed four distinct stages:

(1)  The Sensorimotor Stage

Ages: Birth to two years

Major characteristics and organic process changes:

Ø  Infants becomes aware of the world through their movements and sensations

Ø  Infants study the world through basic actions like sucking, grasping, looking, and listening (Secondary Circular Reaction)

Ø  Infants learn that things still exist even though they cannot be seen, which is known as object permanence

Ø  Infants are separate beings from the individuals and objects around them

Ø  Infants understand that their actions will cause things to happen within the world around them

During this earliest stage of cognitive development, infants and toddlers acquire information through sensory experiences and manipulating objects.

A child’s entire expertise at the beginnings of this stage happen through basic reflexes, senses, and motor responses.

It is throughout the sensorimotor stage that children experience dramatic growth and learning over a short period of time.

As children move within their environment, they regularly create discoveries regarding how the world works.

Children not only find out how to perform physical actions like crawling and walking, they conjointly learn a good deal regarding language from the individuals with whom they spend their days with.

By developing object permanence and that they are separate from the objects that surround them, children are then able to begin to connect names and words to objects.

(2)  The Preoperational Stage

Ages: Two to seven Years

Major characteristics and organic process changes:

Ø  Toddlers begin to think symbolically and learn to use words and images to represent objects

Ø  Toddlers at this stage tend to be egocentric and struggle to see from another person’s point of view

Ø  While toddlers are improving with language and thinking, they still tend to think about things in concrete terms

The foundations of language development is thought to begin throughout the previous stage, however, the emergence of language is one of the key hallmarks of the preoperational stage of development.

Children become rather more masterful at imaginative play throughout this stage of development, nonetheless, they still think concretely regarding the world around them.

At this stage, children learn through imaginary play and still struggle with logic and with understanding the concept of constancy.

For example, a researcher might take a lump of clay, divide it into two equal parts, and roll one piece into a compact ball and the other smashed flat into a cake-like form.

The researcher might then ask the child to choose the larger piece between the two pieces of clay to play with.

Since the flat shape looks larger, the child in the preoperational stage would likely select that piece even though the two items measure the same size.

(3)  The Concrete Operational Stage

Ages: seven to eleven years

Major characteristics and organic process changes

Ø  Throughout this stage, children begin to think logically regarding concrete events

Ø  Children start to grasp the concept of conservation (ie. that the amount of liquid in an short, wide cup is the same of that in an tall, skinny glass)

Ø  Their thinking becomes more logical and organizes, however still terribly concrete

Ø  Children begin using inductive logic, or reasoning from specific information to a general principle

While children tend to still be terribly concrete and literal in their thinking at this time in development, they become more adept at inductive logic.

The self-centeredness of the previous stage begins to disappear as children become better at considering other people’s point of views.

While thinking becomes rather more logical throughout the concrete operational state, it can be rigid.

Children at this time in development tend to struggle with abstract and hypothetical ideas.

During this stage, children become less egocentric and start to think about how people might think and feel in certain situations.

Children within the concrete operational stage also begin to grasp that their thoughts are distinctive to them and not everybody else shares their same thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

(4)  The Formal Operational Stage

Ages: twelve years and up

Major characteristics and organic process changes:

Ø  At this stage, the adolescent begins to think abstractly and hypothetically

Ø  Adolescents begin to think about ethical, philosophical, ethical, social, and political problems that require theoretical and abstract reasoning

Ø  Adolescents begin to use deductive logic, or reasoning from a general principle to specific data

The final stage of Piaget’s theory involves a rise in thinking logically, the power to use deduction reasoning, and forming an understanding of abstract ideas.

At this time, adolescents become capable of seeing multiple potential solutions to issues and think more scientifically regarding the world around them.

The ability to think about abstract ideas and concepts is the key principle of the formal operational stage of cognitive development.

The power to plan in the long term and reason regarding hypothetical ideas also are crucial skills that emerge throughout this stage. 

It is necessary to notice that Piaget did not read children’s intellectual development as a quantitative process; that is, children do not simply add information to their existing information as they grow up.

Instead, Piaget believed that there is a qualitative change in children’s ways of thinking as they grow through these four stages.

A child at age seven does not simply store the information that he has accrued during his seven years, but has incorporated and assimilated all of his knowledge as his cognition developed.

The skills and knowledge one learns during the course of his life (when he passes all the stages mentioned above as a child), he acquires crystallized intelligence.

The brain as the focal organ of the body also plays an important role in the development of cognitive skills.

A child is only able to pass all the above mentioned stages if his brain is properly developed.

The two sides of the brain, left and right take care of different things.

The left is responsible for cognitive functions and right for face recognition etc.

Important ideas

To better perceive a number of the items that happen throughout psychological cognitive development, it is necessary to first look at some of the key ideas introduced by Piaget.

The following are a number of the factors that influence how children learn and grow:


A schema describes each of the mental and physical actions involved in understanding and knowing.

Schemas are classes of information that facilitate an individual’s ability to interpret and perceive the environment.

Piaget claimed that a schema includes a class of information and also the method of obtaining that knowledge.

As a child experiences more and more, new data is integrated into existing schemas, whether it be by adding, subtracting, or modifying the previously held schema.

For example, a baby might have a schema of a variety of animals, like a dog.

If the child’s sole expertise has been with tiny dogs, a baby would possibly believe that every dog in the world is tiny, furry, and has four legs. Suppose then that the child encounters a large dog. The child can absorb this new data, modifying the existing schema to incorporate these new observations.


The process of taking in new data into our already existing schemas is understood as assimilation.

The method is somewhat subjective as a result of how we tend to incorporate new information to suit our pre-existing beliefs.

Within the example above, seeing a dog and labeling it “dog” is a case of assimilating the animal into the child’s dog schema.


Another part of adaptation involves altering our schemas in light of new data, a method called accommodation.

Accommodation involves modifying existing schemas, as a result of new information or new experiences.

New schemas might also be developed throughout this method.


Piaget believed that every child tries to strike a balance between assimilation and accommodation, which is achieved through a mechanism Piaget, referred to as equilibration.

As children progress through the stages of cognitive development, it is necessary to keep up a balance between applying previous information (assimilation) and changing behaviors to account for brand new information (accommodation).

Equilibration helps make a case for children to move from one stage of thought to the next to succeed.

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

FAQ’s Questions:

How will maturation affect cognitive development?

This refers to the cognitive development of children from birth to adulthood.

Some necessary facets of cognitive development is the process of obtaining information, language development, reasoning skills, development of intellect and memory.

This method of cognitive development begins right at infancy.

What is an example of cognitive development?

An example of cognitive development is the neurological development which happens within the brain.

Such development is characterized by the neuro-plasticity of the brain that involves brain repair following injury and also the ability of the brain to adapt to new environmental and physiological conditions

What is cognitive development?

Cognitive development is defined as how children think and figure things out.

It is the development of information, skills, risk assessment, and tendencies that help children to think and perceive the world around them.

Brain development is half of cognitive development.

For more information about cognitive development, look into this book for further reading:

Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive & Affective Development: Foundations of Constructivism – 5th Edition

This book goes in depth into Piaget’s cognitive development theory. It discusses all the stages and other components of Piaget’s theory.





Was this post helpful?

[Sassy_Social_Share type="standard"]