Jean Piaget’s Theory of Four Stage Cognitive Development


Jean Piaget was born in Switzerland in the year 1896.  He would go on to become one of the most influential philosopher and psychologist of the twentieth century.  He achieved worldwide renown for his theories of child development and for his work on genetic epistemology.  This essay will confine itself to an overview of his theory of cognitive development in children, which continues to hold its cornerstone position among discoveries in the field of psychology.  But, it would be simplistic to classify Piaget as a theorist and philosopher who deals in mere abstractions.  Rather, Piaget exhibited genuine humane concern to children, which manifested in his taking the role of Director of the International Bureau of Education in the year 1934.  Through the rest of his illustrious life, he continued to emphasize the value of quality education to children.  In the final assessment, Piaget would be remembered a philanthropist and an educationist as much a psychologist (

In the theory of cognitive development, Piaget classified the schemes children employ to comprehend the world around them into four main stages, which are closely correlated with the age of the child.  The caretakers of the child play an important role in recognizing these subtle improvements in a child’s mental development.  For instance, parents/guardians admiring remark at the small intellectual accomplishments of a growing baby.  It could be the first few steps taken in walk or a first syllable uttered; the caretakers notice and celebrate these landmark events in the cognitive evolution of the child for two intuitive reason – firstly, to encourage the child to continue in its path of mental development and secondly, to assure themselves that the child is on the right path to intellectual maturity.  When these changes in child behavior are scientifically analyzed, we come to realize the veracity of Jean Piaget’s four-stage theory of development (


A brief explanation of the four stages follows:

1. Sensorimotor stage (between age 0 and 2)

This stage represents the first two years of the baby’s life. During this period

“the infant learns to coordinate the visual and tactile information she receives from the world around her with her emerging motor skills. For example, the infant learns that by moving her eyes she can see a different part of her world and monitor how her arms or legs are interacting with various objects. Throughout these first two years of life the infant becomes increasingly aware of the world outside of herself and develops her ability to act on it” (

2. Preoperational stage (between age 2 and 7)

During this stage of cognitive development (which occurs after two years and lasts till about six or seven years of age), children are said to exhibit “ego-centrism”, meaning that the child has difficulty in viewing its environment from any other perspective other than theirs own.  Piaget demonstrated this phenomenon through a classic experiment.  A group of children were asked to participate in Piaget and Bärbel Inhelder’s three mountain task. The activity involved children viewing “a three-dimensional display of three mountains from a particular perspective. Each mountain was slightly different in shape and had a small distinguishing reference object on top (e.g., a church steeple). The child was asked to select a two-dimensional picture that represented what another person would see from a different vantage point”.  As expected by Piaget, the children failed in recognizing the possibility of other perspectives.  To the contrary, they always chose the view of the mountains as was witnessed by their own eyes (

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