Piaget - Stages

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Piaget belived that cognitive development takes place in stages which are loosely linked to age:

0-2 years: The sensorimotor period

This stage is centred around the child trying to make sense of the world. An important part of this period is object permanence, which is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when out of sight. The senorimotor period has six substages:

Reflexes (0-1 month): The child understands the environment purely through inborn reflexes such as ****ing and looking.

Primary circular reactions (1-4 months): Involves coordinating sensation and new schemas. For example, a child may **** her thumb by accident and then continue to do so because she finds it pleasurable.

Secondary circular reactions (4-8 months): Child becomes more focused on the world and begins to intentionally repeat an action in order to trigger a response in the environmeny, e.g. purposefully picking up a toy in order to put it in its mouth.

Coordination of reactions (8-12 months): Child starts to show clearly intentional actions. May also combine schemas in order to achieve a desired effect. Also begins exploring the environment around them and will often imitate the observed behaviour of others. Understanding of objects also begins, and children begin to recognize certain objects as having specific qualities.

Tertiary circular reactions (12-18 months): Children begin a period of trial-and-error experimentation.

Early representational thought (18-24 months): Children begin to develop symbols to represent events or objects in the world. During this time, children begin to move towards understanding the world through mental operations rather than purely through actions.


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

Research evidence: Three mountains task. Lacks object permanence; child assumes that objects no longer exist if they're not visible (up to 8 months)

Evidence against: 

  • Bower and 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 for the object.
  • Baillargeon and DeVos (1991) - Emploted an ingenious experiment using long and short carrots. It relies on the concept that children will spend longer looking at events that they consider to be impossible. In this case, even though the carrots were not visible for a crucial stage of the experiment, children as young as three months old realised that they still existed and spent longer puzzling over the 'impossible situation'.

2-7 years: Pre-Operational stage

Piaget noted that around the age of two years, the child's thinking became more complex. The child is still dominated by the external world, however can now form simple representations of its world through language. This enables a toddler to use words as symbols to stand for real objects, allowing them to refer to objects and situations which are not present - the basis of sympolic thought. 


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