Jean Piaget is one of the most important psychologists and researchers in history, and we owe much of what we have been discovering through developmental psychology to him. He dedicated a large part of his life to investigating the way in which both our knowledge about the environment and our thought patterns evolve depending on the stage of growth in which we are, and is especially known for having proposed various stages of cognitive development by those that all human beings go through as we grow up. What are the 4 stages of Piaget’s cognitive development?
Jean Piaget and his conception of childhood
Jean Piaget’s idea is that, just as our bodies evolve rapidly during the first years of our lives, our mental capacities also evolve through a series of qualitatively different phases.
In a historical context in which it was taken for granted that children were nothing more than “adult projects” or imperfect versions of the human being, Piaget pointed out that the way in which children act, feel and perceive does not denote that their mental processes are unfinished, but rather that they are in a stage with different rules of the game, although coherent and cohesive with each other. That is, the way of thinking of children is not characterized so much by the absence of typical mental abilities of adults, as by the presence of ways of thinking that follow other very different dynamics, depending on the stage of development in which they are.
That is why Piaget considered that the thought and behavior patterns of the very young are qualitatively different from those of adults and that each stage of development defines the contours of these ways of acting and feeling. This article offers a brief explanation about these phases of development posed by Piaget; a theory that, although it has become outdated, is the first brick on which Evolutionary Psychology has been built.
Stages of growth or learning What are the 4 stages of Piaget’s cognitive development?
It is very possible to fall into the confusion of not knowing if Jean Piaget described stages of growth or learning since on the one hand, he talks about biological factors and on the other of learning processes that develop from the interaction between the individual and the environment.
The answer is that this psychologist spoke of both, although focusing more on individual aspects than on aspects of learning that are linked to social constructions. If Vygotsky gave importance to the cultural context as a means from which people internalize ways of thinking and learning about the environment, Jean Piaget placed more emphasis on the curiosity of each child as the engine of their own learning, although he tried not to ignore the influence of aspects of the environment as important as, for example, fathers and mothers.
Piaget knew that it is absurd to try to treat the biological aspects and those that refer to cognitive development separately, and that, for example, it is impossible to find a case in which a two-month-old baby has had two years to interact directly with the child. ambient. That is why for him cognitive development informs about the stage of physical growth of people, and physical development of people gives an idea about what the learning possibilities of individuals are. After all, the human mind is not something that is separate from the body, and the physical qualities of the body shape mental processes.
However, to understand Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, it is necessary to know from what theoretical approach its author starts.
Piaget and the four stages of cognitive development
The phases of development exposed by Piaget form a sequence of four periods that in turn are divided into other stages. These four main phases are listed and briefly explained below, with the characteristics that Piaget attributed to them. However, it must be borne in mind that, as we will see, these stages do not exactly match reality. What are the 4 stages of Piaget’s cognitive development?
1. Sensory stage – motor or sensorimotor
It is the first phase in cognitive development, and for Piaget, it takes place between the moment of birth and the appearance of articulated language in simple sentences (around two years of age). What defines this stage is the obtaining of knowledge from physical interaction with the immediate environment. Thus, cognitive development is articulated through experimentation games, often involuntary at the beginning, in which certain experiences are associated with interactions with nearby objects, people, and animals.
Boys and girls who are in this stage of cognitive development show egocentric behavior in which the main conceptual division that exists is the one that separates the ideas of “I” and “environment”. Babies in the sensory-motor stage play to satisfy their needs through transactions between themselves and the environment.
Despite the fact that in the sensorimotor phase it is not known to distinguish too much between the nuances and subtleties that the category of “environment” presents, the understanding of the permanence of the object is achieved, that is, the ability to understand that the things that we do not perceive at a certain time can continue to exist despite this.
2. Pre-operational stage
The second stage of cognitive development according to Piaget appears more or less between two and seven years.
People who are in the preoperational phase begin to gain the ability to put themselves in the shoes of others, act and play in fictitious roles and use objects of a symbolic nature. However, egocentricity is still very present in this phase, which translates into serious difficulties in accessing thoughts and reflections of a relatively abstract type. What are the 4 stages of Piaget’s cognitive development?
Furthermore, at this stage, the ability to manipulate information following the rules of logic has not yet been gained to draw formally valid conclusions, and complex mental operations typical of adult life cannot be correctly performed either (hence the name of this period of cognitive development). For this reason, magical thinking based on simple and arbitrary associations is very present in the way of internalizing information about how the world works.
3. Stage of concrete operations
Approximately between seven and twelve years of age, the stage of concrete operations is reached, a stage of cognitive development in which logic begins to be used to reach valid conclusions, as long as the premises from which the starting point has to do with concrete and not abstract situations. Furthermore, the category systems for classifying aspects of reality become noticeably more complex at this stage, and the style of thinking ceases to be so markedly self-centered.
One of the typical symptoms that a child has accessed the stage of concrete operations is that he or she is able to infer that the amount of liquid contained in a container does not depend on the form that this liquid acquires since it preserves its volume.
4. Stage of formal operations
The formal operations phase is the last of Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, appearing from twelve years of age onward, including adult life.
It is in this period that the ability to use logic to reach abstract conclusions that are not tied to concrete cases that have been experienced first-hand is gained. Therefore, from this moment on it is possible to “think about thinking”, to its ultimate consequences, and deliberately analyze and manipulate thought patterns, and hypothetical deductive reasoning can also be used.
Criticisms of the theory What are the 4 stages of Piaget’s cognitive development?
Despite the fact that Jean Piaget’s theory of stages of cognitive development has been the foundational piece of Developmental Psychology and that it has had a great influence, today it is considered to be out of date. On the one hand, it has been shown that the culture in which one lives greatly affects the way of thinking and that there are places where adults tend not to think according to the characteristics of the stage of formal operations, due among others things to the influence of magical thinking typical of some tribes. What are the 4 stages of Piaget’s cognitive development?
On the other hand, the evidence in favor of the existence of these phases of cognitive development is not very solid either, so that it cannot be taken for granted that they describe well how the way of thinking changes during childhood and adolescence. In any case, it is true that in certain aspects, such as the concept of the permanence of the object or the general idea that boys and girls tend to think from approaches based on what happens in the environment and not according to abstract ideas, they are accepted and they have served to give rise to investigations that are up-to-date.