Educational Psychology Interactive: Cognitive Development (2023)

Educational Psychology Interactive: Cognitive Development

Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Citation: Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (2003). Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date] from

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Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was oneof the most influentialresearchers in the area of developmental psychology during the 20th century.Piaget originally trained in the areas of biology and philosophy and considered himself a "genetic epistemologist." He wasmainly interested in the biological influences on "how we come to know." Hebelieved that what distinguishes human beings from other animals is our ability to do"abstract symbolic reasoning." Piaget's views are often compared with those ofLev Vygotsky(1896-1934),who looked more to social interaction as the primary source of cognition and behavior.This is somewhat similar to the distinctions made betweenFreudand Erikson in terms of the development ofpersonality. The writings of Piaget (e.g., 1972, 1990; see Piaget, Gruber, & Voneche)and Vygotsky (e.g. Vygotsky, 1986; Vygotsky & Vygotsky, 1980), along with the work ofJohn Dewey (e.g., Dewey, 1997a,1997b), Jerome Bruner(e.g., 1966, 1974) and Ulrick Neisser (1967) form the basis of the constructivist theory of learning and instruction.

(Video) Educational Psychology: Cognitive Development (Part-1)

While working inBinet'sIQ test lab in Paris, Piaget became interested in how children think. He noticed thatyoung children's answers were qualitatively different than older children which suggestedto him that the younger ones were not dumber (a quantitative position since as they gotolder and had more experiences they would get smarter) but, instead, answered thequestions differently than their older peers because they thought differently.

There are two major aspects to his theory: the process of coming to know and the stageswe move through as we gradually acquire this ability.

Process of Cognitive Development. As a biologist, Piaget was interested in howan organism adapts to its environment (Piaget described as intelligence.) Behavior(adaptation to the environment) is controlled through mental organizations called schemata (sometimes called schema or schemes)that the individual uses to represent the world and designate action. This adaptation isdriven by a biological drive to obtain balance between schemes and the environment(equilibration).

Piaget hypothesized that infants are born with schema operating at birth that hecalled "reflexes." In other animals, these reflexes control behavior throughoutlife. However, in human beings as the infant uses these reflexes to adapt to theenvironment, these reflexes are quickly replaced with constructed schemata.

(Video) Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget described two processes used by the individual in its attempt to adapt:assimilation and accomodation. Both of these processes are used though out life as theperson increasingly adapts to the environment in a more complex manner.

Assimilation is the process of using or transforming the environment so that it can beplaced in preexisting cognitive structures. Accomodation is the process of changingcognitive structures in order to accept something from the environment. Both processes areused simultaneously and alternately throughout life. An example of assimilation would bewhen an infant uses a sucking schema that was developed by sucking on a small bottle whenattempting to suck on a larger bottle. An example of accomodation would be when the childneeds to modify a sucking schema developed by sucking on a pacifier to one that would besuccessful for sucking on a bottle.

As schema become increasingly more complex (i.e., responsible for more complexbehaviors) they are termed structures. As one's structures become more complex, they areorganized in a hierarchical manner (i.e., from general to specific).

Stages of Cognitive Development. Piaget identified four stages in cognitivedevelopment:

(Video) Vygotsky's Theory of Cognitive Development in Social Relationships

  1. Sensorimotor stage (Infancy). In this period (which has 6 stages), intelligence is demonstrated through motor activity without the use of symbols. Knowledge of the world is limited (but developing) because its based on physical interactions / experiences. Children acquire object permanence at about 7 months of age (memory). Physical development (mobility) allows the child to begin developing new intellectual abilities. Some symbollic (language) abilities are developed at the end of this stage.
  2. Pre-operational stage (Toddler and Early Childhood). In this period (which has two substages), intelligence is demonstrated through the use of symbols, language use matures, and memory and imagination are developed, but thinking is done in a nonlogical, nonreversable manner. Egocentric thinking predominates
  3. Concrete operational stage (Elementary and early adolescence). In this stage (characterized by 7 types of conservation: number, length, liquid, mass, weight, area, volume), intelligence is demonstarted through logical and systematic manipulation of symbols related to concrete objects. Operational thinking develops (mental actions that are reversible). Egocentric thought diminishes.
  4. Formal operational stage (Adolescence and adulthood). In this stage, intelligence is demonstrated through the logical use of symbols related to abstract concepts. Early in the period there is a return to egocentric thought. Only 35% of high school graduates in industrialized countries obtain formal operations; many people do not think formally during adulthood.

Many pre-school and primary programs are modeled on Piaget's theory, which, as statedpreviously, provided part of the foundation forconstructivistlearning. Discovery learning and supporting the developing interests of the child aretwo primary instructional techniques. It is recommended that parents and teacherschallenge the child's abilities, but NOT present material or information that is too farbeyond the child's level. It is also recommended that teachers use a wide variety ofconcrete experiences to help the child learn (e.g., use of manipulatives, working ingroups to get experience seeing from another's perspective, field trips, etc).

Piaget's research methods were based primarily on case studies (i.e., they were descriptive).While some of his ideas have been supported through more correlational andexperimental methodologies, others have not. For example, Piaget believed that biologicaldevelopment drives the movement from one cognitive stage to the next. Data fromcross-sectional studies of children in a variety of western cultures seem to support thisassertion for the stages of sensorimotor, preoperational, and concrete operations (Renner, Stafford, Lawson, McKinnon, Friot & Kellogg, 1976).

Educational Psychology Interactive: Cognitive Development (1)

However, data from similar cross-sectional studies of adolescents do not support theassertion that all individuals will automatically move to the next cognitive stage as theybiologically mature simply through normal interaction with the environment (Jordan & Brownlee, 1981). Data from adolescent populations indicatesonly 30 to 35% of high school seniors attained the cognitive development stage of formal operations (Kuhn, Langer, Kohlberg & Haan, 1977).For formal operations, it appears that maturation establishes thebasis, but a special environment is required for most adolescents and adults to attainthis stage.

(Video) Behavioral, cognitive, Developmental, Social Cognitive and Constructivist Perspectives

Educational Psychology Interactive: Cognitive Development (2)

There are a number of specific examplesof how to use Piagetian theory in teaching/learning process.


  • Bruner, J. (1966). Studies in cognitive growth : A collaboration at the Center for Cognitive Studies. New York: Wiley & Sons.
  • Bruner, J. (1974). Toward a theory of instruction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Dewey, J. (1997a). Experience and education. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co.
  • Dewey, J. (1997b). How we think. New York: Dover Publications.
  • Jordan, V. B., & Brownlee, L. (1981, April). Meta-analysis of the relationship between Piagetian and school achievement tests. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Los Angeles, CA.
  • Kuhn, D., Langer, J., Kohlberg, L., & Haan, N. S. (1977). The development of formal operations. in logical and moral judgment. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 95, 97-188.
  • Neisser, U. (1967) Cognitive psychology. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts.
  • Piaget, J. (1972). The psychology of the child. New York: Basic Books.
  • Piaget, J. (1990). The child's conception of the world. New York: Littlefield Adams.
  • Piaget, J., Gruber, H. (Ed.), & Voneche, J. J. (Ed.). The essential Piaget (100th Anniversary Ed.). New York: Jason Aronson.
  • Renner, J., Stafford, D., Lawson, A., McKinnon, J., Friot, E., & Kellogg, D. (1976). Research, teaching, and learning with the Piaget model. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and language. Boston: MIT Press.
  • Vygotsky, L., & Vygotsky, S. (1980). Mind in society : The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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What is cognitive development in educational psychology? ›

Cognitive development means how children think, explore and figure things out. It is the development of knowledge, skills, problem solving and dispositions, which help children to think about and understand the world around them. Brain development is part of cognitive development.

What are the educational applications of Piaget's theory of cognitive development? ›

By using Piaget's theory in the classroom, teachers and students benefit in several ways. Teachers develop a better understanding of their students' thinking. They can also align their teaching strategies with their students' cognitive level (e.g. motivational set, modeling, and assignments).

How can teachers apply cognitive psychology to classrooms? ›

Teachers can use these four strategies (retrieval practice, feedback-driven metacognition, spaced practice, and interleaving) with confidence because they are strongly backed by research both in laboratories and classrooms.

What are the main points of Piaget's theory? ›

Piaget proposed four major stages of cognitive development, and called them (1) sensorimotor intelligence, (2) preoperational thinking, (3) concrete operational thinking, and (4) formal operational thinking. Each stage is correlated with an age period of childhood, but only approximately.

What is Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development? ›

Vygotsky's Cognitive Development Theory argues that cognitive abilities are socially guided and constructed. As such, culture serves as a mediator for the formation and development of specific abilities, such as learning, memory, attention, and problem solving.

What are the 4 stages cognitive development? ›

Sensorimotor stage (0–2 years old) Preoperational stage (2–7 years old) Concrete operational stage (7–11 years old) Formal operational stage (11 years old through adulthood)

What are the four 4 main teaching implications of Piaget's theory to education? ›

His theory has influenced concepts of individual and student-centred learning, formative assessment, active learning, discovery learning, and peer interaction.

How do you apply cognitive theory in the classroom? ›

Examples of cognitive learning strategies include:
  1. Asking students to reflect on their experience.
  2. Helping students find new solutions to problems.
  3. Encouraging discussions about what is being taught.
  4. Helping students explore and understand how ideas are connected.
  5. Asking students to justify and explain their thinking.

What is the implication of cognitive development theory for teaching/learning activity? ›

Cognitive learning equips employees with the skills they need to learn effectively. They are thereby able to develop problem-solving skills they can apply under challenging tasks.

What are three activities you can use in your classroom to promote cognitive development? ›

Memory, Concentration, and Matching games are fun and easy activities for kids to play to encourage cognitive development.

What classroom activities can enhance cognitive development? ›

Read books and tell jokes and riddles. Encourage stacking and building games or play with cardboard boxes. Do simple jigsaw puzzles and memory games. Play games that combine moving and singing – for example, 'If you're happy and you know it'.

How can teachers stimulate students cognitive processing? ›

How can Teachers Teach Cognitive Skills?
  1. Strong Foundation. A healthy brain naturally seeks to operate as efficiently as possible. ...
  2. Repetition. With repetition, a cognitive skill can eventually become a stored routine. ...
  3. New Activities. ...
  4. Progressive Drills. ...
  5. Feedback.

What is Piaget theory in simple words? ›

The Theory of Cognitive Development by Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, suggests that children's intelligence undergoes changes as they grow. Cognitive development in children is not only related to acquiring knowledge, children need to build or develop a mental model of their surrounding world (Miller, 2011).

Why is Piaget's 4 stages of cognitive development important? ›

Piaget's theory of cognitive development helped add to our understanding of children's intellectual growth. It also stressed that children were not merely passive recipients of knowledge. Instead, kids are constantly investigating and experimenting as they build their understanding of how the world works.

What are Piaget's three types of learning? ›

Piaget believed that children actively approach their environments and acquire knowledge through their actions." "Piaget distinguished among three types of knowledge that children acquire: Physical, logical-mathematical, and social knowledge.

What is Bruner's theory of cognitive development? ›

Bruner believed development does not consist of discrete stages but is a continuous process. He also believed language is a cause and not a consequence of learning. He believed that more knowledgeable people play a major role in the cognitive development of a learner and that you could speed-up the learning process.

How are Vygotsky's and Piaget's theories different? ›

The fundamental difference between Piaget and Vygotsky is that Piaget believed in the constructivist approach of children, or in other words, how the child interacts with the environment, whereas Vygotsky stated that learning is taught through socially and culturally.

What is William Perry's theory of cognitive development? ›

William Perry's scheme is based on a life time of studying cognitive and ethical development in undergraduate students. He proposes that college students (but others, too) "journey" through four major stages of intellectual and moral development: from dualism, to multiplicity, to relativism, to commitment.

What are the 3 principles of cognitive development? ›

Those principles are: 1.) The learning environment should support the activity of the child, 2.) Children's interactions with their peers are an important source of cognitive development, and 3.) Adopt instructional strategies that make children aware of conflicts and inconsistencies in their thinking.

What are the 7 areas of cognitive development? ›

Among the areas of cognitive development are information processing, intelligence , reasoning, language development , and memory. Historically, the cognitive development of children has been studied in a variety of ways.

What are two major criticisms of Piaget's theories? ›

Piaget's theory has some shortcomings, including overestimating the ability of adolescence and underestimating infant's capacity. Piaget also neglected cultural and social interaction factors in the development of children's cognition and thinking ability.

How has Piaget influenced the Eyfs? ›

Piaget's theory of cognitive development suggests that early years children learn most effectively when exploring the world around them and making use of all of their senses. This supported the popularity of discovery learning and sensory play.

How is Vygotsky's theory used in the classroom? ›

A contemporary educational application of Vygotsky's theory is "reciprocal teaching," used to improve students' ability to learn from text. In this method, teachers and students collaborate in learning and practicing four key skills: summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting.

What is the role of the teacher in cognitive learning theory? ›

Answer and Explanation: The teacher's role in cognitivism learning theory is to guide students through the problem-solving process, while allowing them to use their own mental capacities to find solutions.

How a teacher can apply cognitive development theories in teaching and learning? ›

They can assess where their students are within the age-appropriate stage and then help them transition to the next. For older students in the final stage, teachers can build on the basic tools of adaptation and build lesson plans that ease the acquisition of new knowledge and skills.

How do you apply Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development in the classroom? ›

The most useful takeaway points from Vygotsky's theory as pertain to college instruction are:
  1. Make new material challenging but not too difficult.
  2. Ensure students receive some coaching assistance as they learn.
  3. Provide as much support as possible for new and challenging tasks.

Why is it important for teachers to understand cognitive development? ›

Cognitive development theories and psychology help explain how children process information and learn. Understanding this information can assist educators to develop more effective teaching methods.

What are some examples of cognitive activities psychology? ›

Cognitive Psychology – Examples
  • Thinking.
  • Reasoning.
  • Judgment.
  • Attention.
  • Mental imagery.
  • Language.
  • Recognizing numbers.
  • Memory.
26 Oct 2022

What are the 5 cognitive strategies? ›

Cognitive strategies are one type of learning strategy that learners use in order to learn more successfully. These include repetition, organising new language, summarising meaning, guessing meaning from context, using imagery for memorisation.

What activities improve cognitive function? ›

Other studies have shown that exercise increases the size of a brain structure important to memory and learning, resulting in better spatial memory. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, is thought to be more beneficial to cognitive health than nonaerobic stretching and toning exercise.

What are the 3 ways to enhance cognitive processing? ›

How to Improve Cognitive Function 101
  1. A plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains.
  2. Regular exercise.
  3. Good sleep habits.
  4. Stress reduction.
  5. Social involvement.
  6. Challenging your brain.
31 Jul 2021

What is a real life example of Piaget's theory? ›

For example, a child may use a banana as a pretend telephone, demonstrating an awareness that the banana is both a banana and a telephone. Piaget argued that children in the concrete operational stage are making more intentional and calculated choices, illustrating that they are conscious of their decentering.

Is Jean Piaget's theory used today? ›

Jean Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist who studied children in the early 20th century. His theory of intellectual or cognitive development, published in 1936, is still used today in some branches of education and psychology.

Why is Piaget's theory important today? ›

Piaget's theories and works are significant to people who work with children, as it enables them to understand that children's development is based on stages. The construction of identity and knowledge as one predicated upon the development of stages helps to explain the intellectual growth of children of all ages.

What is the meaning of cognitive development? ›

Cognitive development means the development of the ability to think and reason. Children ages 6 to 12, usually think in concrete ways (concrete operations). This can include things like how to combine, separate, order, and transform objects and actions.

Why is cognitive development important in education? ›

Cognitive skills allow children to understand the relationships between ideas, to grasp the process of cause and effect and to improve their analytical skills. All in all, cognitive skill development not only can benefit your child in the classroom but outside of class as well.

What is Piaget theory of cognitive development? ›

The Theory of Cognitive Development by Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, suggests that children's intelligence undergoes changes as they grow. Cognitive development in children is not only related to acquiring knowledge, children need to build or develop a mental model of their surrounding world (Miller, 2011).

What factors affect cognitive development? ›

Children's cognitive development is affected by several types of factors including: (1) biological (e.g., child birth weight, nutrition, and infectious diseases) [6, 7], (2) socio-economic (e.g., parental assets, income, and education) [8], (3) environmental (e.g., home environment, provision of appropriate play ...

What are the 5 characteristics of cognitive development? ›

Among the areas of cognitive development are information processing, intelligence , reasoning, language development , and memory.

What is an example of cognitive development theory? ›

One of the best-studied examples of cognitive development is language development. While some theories propose that language development is a genetically inherited skill common to all humans, others argue that social interactions are essential to language development.

What can teachers do to promote cognitive development? ›

Supporting Cognitive Development

Encouraging problem-solving in the classroom. Making planful choices when arranging the classroom environment. The value and importance of play. Using active music and play experiences to support infant and toddler thinking.

How can schools promote cognitive development? ›

Play ideas for cognitive development in school-age children

Read books, sing songs, tell jokes and riddles together, invent new words or think of rhyming words. Play stacking and building games or play with cardboard boxes. Cook together and encourage your child to help you measure and weigh the ingredients.

What are the 7 major themes in cognitive psychology? ›

Themes of Cognitive Psychology, Automatic Processing, Top Down Processing, Serial Processing, Implicit Memory, Connectionism, Metacognition, Interactivity, Conscious Processing are key points of this lecture. Cognitive Psychology is more interesting subject than any other in all psychology.

What are the 7 cognitive functions? ›

Cognitive functioning refers to multiple mental abilities, including learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem solving, decision making, and attention.

What are the six 6 types of cognitive domains? ›

  • I. Knowledge. Remembering information.
  • II. Comprehension. Explaining the meaning of information.
  • III. Application. Using abstractions in concrete situations.
  • IV. Analysis. Breaking down a whole into component parts.
  • V. Synthesis. Putting parts together to form a new and integrated whole.
  • VI. Evaluation.
2 Feb 2017


1. Chapter 7 Cognitive or Mental Development (Advanced Educational Psychology) #cognitivedevelopment
2. Educational Psychology: Applying Psychology in the Classroom
3. Using Piaget's Theory
4. The Growth of Knowledge: Crash Course Psychology #18
5. The importance of cognitive development
6. Brain Games- Lying and Cognitive Development in Children
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