Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Theory

Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Theory

This is an article about Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Theory. Jean Piaget developed a theory about the nature and development of human intelligence called developmental stage theory. It deals with the nature of knowledge and how humans come gradually to acquire it, construct it, and use it. Below is a description of the theory

Nature of intelligence

Reality according to Piaget is a dynamic system of continuous change that involves two conditions:

  1. Transformations refer to all manners of changes that a thing or person can undergo
  2. States refer to the conditions or the appearances in which things or persons can be found between transformations.

Piaget suggested that in order for human intelligence to be adaptive, it must have functions to represent both the transformational and the static aspects of reality. He proposed two aspects of intelligence:

  1. Operative Intelligence: it is the active aspect of intelligence. It involves all actions, overt or covert, undertaken in order to follow, recover, or anticipate the transformations of the objects or persons of interest
  2. Figurative Intelligence:  it is the more or less static aspect of intelligence, involving all means of representation used to retain in mind the states (i.e., successive forms, shapes, or locations) that intervene between transformations. That is, it involves perception, imitation, mental imagery, drawing, and language.

Piaget contended that figurative intelligence is dependent on operative intelligence and that understanding essentially derives from the operative aspect of intelligence. According to his theory, the figurative aspects of intelligence as described above derive their meaning from the operative aspects of intelligence, because states cannot exist independently of the transformations that interconnect them.  In the same sense, operative intelligence frames how the world is understood and it changes if understanding is not successful. This process is accounted for by the existence of two types of functions, namely assimilation and accommodation.

Assimilation and Accommodation.

Piaget described the mechanism by which the mind processes new information. He believed that there are two processes involved in this mechanism:

  • Assimilation:
    It describes how humans perceive and adapt to new information. It is the process of taking one’s environment and new information and fitting it into pre-existing cognitive schemas. Assimilation occurs when humans are faced with new or unfamiliar information and refer to previously learned information in order to make sense of it.
  • Accommodation :
    Unlike assimilation, accomodation is the process of taking one’s environment and new information and altering one’s pre-existing schemas in order to fit in the new information

In other words, humans understand whatever information fits into their established view of the world, schemas. But when information does not fit,  a reexamination and adjustment of people’s thinking takes place in order to accommodate the new information.

Stages of cognitive development

In order for a child to understand and assimilate new information, Piaget contended that there were four stages through which individuals go in their cognitive development.

  1. Sensorimotor: (birth to about age 2)
    During this stage, learning takes place through motor and reflex actions. Thought derives from sensation and movement.
  2. Preoperational: (begins about the time the child starts to talk to about age 7)
    Characterized by language acquisition and representation of objects by words and symbols.
  3. Concrete: (about first grade to early adolescence)
    Characterized by the appropriate use of logic. During this stage, accommodation increases. The child develops an ability to think abstractly and to make rational judgments about concrete or observable phenomena, which in the past he needed to manipulate physically to understand.
  4. Formal Operations: (adolescence)
    In this stage, individuals move beyond concrete experiences and begin to think abstractly, reason logically and draw conclusions from the information available, as well as apply all these processes to hypothetical situations.

Source: Wikipedia

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