The Main Features of Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development
Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss biologist turned Psychologist, has
had perhaps the most influential development on the understanding and
progression of Cognitive Development. Cognitive development being all
of the processes relating to thinking and knowing, involving
perceiving, interpreting, reasoning, remembering and using language.
His theory starts with the basic explanation that children develop
more sophisticated ways of thinking as they grow older mainly as a
consequence of maturation. Understanding and learning is primarily
concerned with concepts that each individual has and how they develop.
A concept being how a child differentiates between 'Daddy' and another
For example, a young child will develop the concept that the adult
male in her life is referred to as Daddy, but as the child meets
further adult males, s/he may confuse her/his concept of 'Daddy' with
the new person. S/He will be told by her/his parents/guardians that
the new adult is for example 'Uncle Bob', hence the child develops a
According to Piaget, the way in which we are able to form and deal
with concepts changes throughout childhood right up to adolescence and
he explains this through a process called variant cognitive structures
and invariant functions.
Variant cognitive structures are divided into two explanations -
Schemas and Operations.
A schema (schemas/schemata) is an internal representation of some
specific physical or mental action which is present in any
intellectual or physical act. For example a newborn child has built-in
innate schemas that respond to reflex responses ie. Looking schema,
grasping schema, etc. According to Piaget new schemas form as a
response to the environment. They are a cognitive plan which enables
us to deal with problems and new concepts.
Operation is, according to Piaget, a higher order of mental state that
is not present at birth but usually acquired during middle childhood.
It is a complex set of rules and understanding of the environment and
is characterised by the process of reversibility.
Reversibilty is the process in which a child can identify, for
example, two plus three equals five but is also capable of operational
thinking by understanding that five minus three equals two. An
understanding in which the child is capable of returning/reversing
their thought processes back to where they originally started.
Older children are only able of this as Piaget explains that younger
children are only capable of understanding the 'here and now'. Their
thinking is dominated by appearance.
Piaget explained how we adapt to the environment in order for us to
create new schemata through a process of invariant functions. This is
a form of cognitive process...