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Cognitive Development & Its Stages

The first psychologist to conduct a thorough investigation of cognitive development was Jean Piaget (1936). His contributions to the field of cognitive development in children include a stage theory, thorough observational studies of child cognition, and a number of straightforward yet clever tests to identify various cognitive talents.

The cognitive development theory developed by Piaget in 1936 explains how a kid creates a mental map of the outside world. He rejected the notion that intellect was a fixed quality and believed that cognitive development is a result of environmental factors and biological maturation.

Piaget did not intend to grade children’s intelligence by how well they could spell, count, or solve problems. According to his theory of cognitive development, kids go through four stages of mental growth, namely:

  1. Sensorimotor stage: from birth to 2 years
  2. Preoperational stage: from the age of 2 to 7
  3. Concrete operational stage: from the age of 7 to 11
  4. Formal operational stage: from the age of 12 and up

Let us now briefly understand the four stages of cognitive development according to Piaget’s theory.

The Sensorimotor Stage

Significant characteristics and changes:

  • Through their actions and sensations, the infant learns about the world.
  • Through simple behaviours like sucking, gripping, seeing, and hearing, babies learn about the world.
  • Infants discover that objects exist even when they can’t be observed (object permanence).
  • They exist independently of the people and things around them.
  • They understand that their activities have an impact on the world they live in.

Infants and toddlers learn at this formative era of cognitive development through sensory encounters and handling objects. In the earliest stages of this stage, a child’s whole experience is mediated by fundamental reflexes, perceptions, and motor responses.

Youngsters go through a period of tremendous growth and learning during the sensorimotor stage. Children are always learning new things concerning how the world works as they engage with it.

A lot of growth and a relatively short length of time are required for the cognitive growth that happens during this time. In addition to learning physical skills like crawling and walking, children also pick up a lot about language from the adults they engage with. This stage was divided into numerous further substages by Piaget. Early representational thought first appears in the sensorimotor stage’s latter half.

The Preoperational Stage

Significant characteristics and changes:

  • Children start to think conceptually and learn to depict objects with words and drawings.
  • At this age, kids are more egocentric and have a harder time understanding other people’s viewpoints.
  • Even if their linguistic and cognitive abilities are improving, kids still have a propensity for thinking in extremely specific terms.

Although the preconventional stage of development may have established the groundwork for language development, the development of language is one of the key characteristics of this stage. Children at this age understand through make – believe play but still struggle with reasoning and considering other people’s perspectives. They frequently have trouble comprehending the concept of consistency.

For instance, a researcher would divide a lump of clay into two equal portions before offering a youngster their pick of the two pieces to play with. While the other piece of clay is beaten into a flat pancake, the first gets compacted into a ball. Even if the parts are precisely the same size, the preoperative child will probably choose the flat shape because it appears larger.

The Concrete Operational Stage

Significant characteristics and changes: 

  • Children start to reason logically about actual experiences at this time. 
  • They start to grasp the idea of conservation, such as the fact that the liquid volume in a short, wide cup is equivalent to that in a tall, slender glass. 
  • Though still highly concrete, their reasoning becomes more rational and ordered. 
  • Children first employ inductive logic, which is the process of arriving at a general principle from specific knowledge. 

At this stage of development, kids are still highly literal and concrete in their thinking, but they get much better at using logic. The self obsession of the previous phase starts to fade as youngsters get better at considering how other people could view a situation.

Children also start to think more about other people’s feelings and thoughts during this period as they become less egocentric. Children in the formal operational stage start to realise that their ideas are original to them and not everybody else necessarily agrees with them.

The Formal Operational Stage

Significant characteristics and changes: 

  • At this point, the teenager or young adult starts to reason about hypothetical issues and think abstractly. 
  • Abstract thoughts begin to emerge. 
  • Teenagers start to consider more abstract and theoretically based ethical, intellectual, moral, social, and political questions. 
  • Start using deductive reasoning, which involves extrapolating from a broad principle to a specific piece of knowledge. 

According to Piaget’s hypothesis, the third and final stage entails an improvement in logic, the capacity for deductive logic, and a grasp of abstract concepts. People may now perceive several potential answers to issues and begin to approach their surroundings with a more scientific mindset.