Piaget and his theory

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Schemas and associated concepts

This is an internal view of the world, which acts as a framework on which the child will base its knowledge of the enviroment. Piaget suggested we are born with some basic schemas, such as 'sucking' and 'grasping', but we later go on to develop many more. Schemata are crucial as they enable us to interpret and predict events. 

Equilbrium and disequilibruim- 

 the child requires a stable internal world.  If new experience does not match existing schema then a state of disequilibrium (or inbalance) is produced.  The child needs to accommodate to restore the balance, i.e. alter its perception of how things work.  Piaget saw this desire for equilibrium as innate and believed that it drives or motivates us to learn.   Simple examples would be having a schema for dog and misinterpreting a cat as a dog.  On being told the mistake this causes temporary confusion and the child needs to alter its schemata to allow for this. 

Disequilibrium is essential for learning!!!!

Adaptation: refers to how a child changes over time as it makes sense of the World in which it lives.  Adaptation comes about through the processes of assimilation and accommodation:

·       Assimilation:  new information or experiences can be fitted into the child's existing schema or current understanding of the world.  It sees a poodle and is able to fit this into the same schema as the family’s bull mastiff!

·  Accommodation:  new information or experiences cannot be fitted into the child's current understanding so it either has to alter existing schema or create a whole new schema;  for example cat doesn’t fit in with its schema for dog or George W Bush doesn’t tie in with its concept of intelligent life form!  In these cases new schemata need to be constructed or changes made to existing schemata.

Sensori-motor (0-2 years)

The child lacks internal schemas or representations.  The child's understanding of its world is directly through its senses from moment to moment.  It is so called because it senses its environment and carries out movement (motor) to react to it.  At this stage that is all the child can do!


Egocentricism. The child has no concept of 'self' so is unable to distinguish itself from its environment.  Unlike some of the other concepts Piaget believed that egocentricism gradually reduces as the child gets older. 

Research evidence

See three mountains task

Lacks object permanence.  Child assumes that objects no longer exist if they’re not visible.  

Piaget carried out research on his own children.  They would be shown an attractive object that would then be hidden from view.  Children up to the age of 8 months don’t bother to look for it assuming it to no longer exist.  After 8 months children will continue to search for hidden objects.

Evidence against

Bower & Wishart (1972) showed objects to children between the ages of 1 and 4 months.  Lights were switched off so that the objects were no longer visible but the child could be seen, by infrared camera, continuing to search


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