Cognitive Theory

Who is Piaget?

Jean Piaget (1896 - 1980) was to develop French versions of questions on English intelligence tests. He became interested with the reasons children gave wrong answers on the questions that required logical thinking. He believed that these incorrect answers revealed differences between the thinking of adults and children. Piaget was the first psychologist to make a systematic study of cognitive development.

His Theory:

There Are Three Basic Components To Piaget's Cognitive Theory:

  1. Schemas
  2. (building blocks of knowledge)

  3. Processes that enable the transition from one stage to another ( assimilation and accommodation)

  4. Stages of Development
  • sensorimotor,
  • preoperational,
  • concrete operational,
  • formal operational

1. A schema is a set of linked mental representations of the world, which we use both to understand and to respond to situations. For example, when we go to a restaurant we automatically know to sit down, look at the menu order food, eat and pay the bill. A type of schema called a "script."

2. Assimilation and Accommodation:

Assimilation: Which is using an existing schema to deal with a new object or situation.

Accommodation: This happens when the existing schema (knowledge) does not work, and needs to be changed to deal with a new object or situation.

3. Stages of Development:

Stage: Key Feature: Research Study

0 - 2 yrs.Object PermanenceBlanket & Ball Study

2 - 7 yrs.EgocentrismThree Mountains

Concrete Operational
7 – 11 yrs.ConservationConservation of Number

Formal Operational
11yrs +Manipulate ideas in head, e.g. Abstract ReasoningPendulum Task

How this can be used in class:

Discovery learning – the idea that children learn best through doing and actively exploring.

o Focus on the process of learning, rather than the end product of it.

o Using active methods that require rediscovering or reconstructing "truths".

o Using collaborative, as well as individual activities (so children can learn from each other).

o Devising situations that present useful problems, and create disequilibrium in the child.

o Evaluate the level of the child's development, so suitable tasks can be set.

Still Used Today?

Yes. As mentioned above his theory is huge in the idea of "discovery learning."

Pros and Cons


  • He changed how people viewed the child’s world and their methods of studying children. Piaget's ideas have generated a huge amount of research which has increased our understanding of cognitive development.
  • His ideas have been of practical use in understanding and communicating with children, particularly in the field of education


  • Are the stages real? Some see development as continuous. Others have queried the age ranges of the stages. Some studies have shown that progress to the formal operational stage is not guaranteed.
  • Because Piaget concentrated on the universal stages of cognitive development and biological maturation, he failed to consider the effect that the social setting and culture may have on cognitive development
  • As several studies have shown Piaget underestimated the abilities of children because his tests were sometimes confusing or difficult to understand


McLeod, S. A. (2009). Jean Piaget | Cognitive Theory - Simply Psychology.Retrieved from