Jean Piaget

Jean-PiagetJean Piaget (1896-1980) was one of the forerunners of cognitive psychology. He examined the development of the cognitive functions in children, and gave us more insight into the world of children. Knowledge systems evolve not only through their own inherent logic, but also through a psychological process of maturation. Piaget called this theory “genetic epistemology.”


(Quoted from the Piaget Society Website.)

“Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was born in Neuchâtel (Switzerland) on August 9, 1896. He died in Geneva on September 16, 1980. He was the oldest child of Arthur Piaget, professor of medieval literature at the University, and of Rebecca Jackson. At age 11, while he was a pupil at Neuchâtel Latin high school, he wrote a short notice on an albino sparrow. This short paper is generally considered as the start of a brilliant scientific career made of over sixty books and several hundred articles.

His interest for mollusks was developed during his late adolescence to the point that he became a well-known malacologist by finishing school. He published many papers in the field that remained of interest for him all along his life.

After high school graduation, he studied natural sciences at the University of Neuchâtel where he obtained a Ph.D. During this period, he published two philosophical essays which he considered as “adolescence work” but were important for the general orientation of his thinking.

After a semester spent at the University of Zürich where he developed an interest for psychoanalysis, he left Switzerland for France. He spent one year working at the Ecole de la rue de la Grange-aux-Belles a boys’ institution created by Alfred Binet and then directed by De Simon who had developed with Binet a test for the measurement of intelligence. There, he standardized Burt’s test of intelligence and did his first experimental studies of the growing mind.

In 1921, he became director of studies at the J.-J. Rousseau Institute in Geneva at the request of Sir Ed. Claparède and P. Bovet.

In 1923, he and Valentine Châtenay were married. The couple had three children, Jacqueline, Lucienne and Laurent whose intellectual development from infancy to language was studied by Piaget.

Successively or simultaneously, Piaget occupied several chairs: psychology, sociology and history of science at Neuchâtel from 1925 to 1929; history of scientific thinking at Geneva from 1929 to 1939; the International Bureau of Education from 1929 to 1967; psychology and sociology at Lausanne from 1938 to 1951; sociology at Geneva from 1939 to 1952, then genetic and experimental psychology from 1940 to 1971. He was, reportedly, the only Swiss to be invited at the Sorbonne from 1952 to 1963. In 1955, he created and directed until his death the International Center for Genetic Epistemology.

His researches in developmental psychology and genetic epistemology had one unique goal: how does knowledge grow? His answer is that the growth of knowledge is a progressive construction of logically embedded structures superseding one another by a process of inclusion of lower less powerful logical means into higher and more powerful ones up to adulthood. Therefore, children’s logic and modes of thinking are initially entirely different from those of adults.

Piaget’s oeuvre is known all over the world and is still an inspiration in fields like psychology, sociology, education, epistemology, economics and law as witnessed in the annual catalogues of the Jean Piaget Archives. He was awarded numerous prizes and honorary degrees all over the world.”

Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

Piaget Stages

Sensorimotor (0-18 months)

Six substages:

  1.   reflexes (0-1 month) that gradually become more efficient: sucking, grasping, kicking.
  2.   primary circular reactions (1-4 months) repetition for own sake without any intention.
  3.   secondary circular reactions (4-6 months) repeated actions to produce effects that seem interesting.
  4.   coordination of secondary reactions (7-10 months) mastery of responses that child uses to create specific desired effects.
  5.   tertiary circular reactions (11-18 months) active trial and error experimentation.
  6.   internal mental inventions (18 months) invention of new means of affecting self and world through internal mental combinations.

Preoperational (18 months-age 7)

Characterized by the development and use of language; understanding the meanings of objects; and events are manipulated; as well as overt actions.  Treat objects as symbolic of other things.  Not necessarily committed to fine articulated rules and concepts.

Concrete Operations (age 7-12)

 Now can make a mental representation of an entire sequence of events; Conservation of volume;  Relational terms distinguishable (which is darker? between two light objects);  Class inclusion understood (more yellow or more candles);  Still present centered.

Formal Operations (age 12 and up)

Can consider all alternatives to solve problems; Is deductive; Can do hypothetical thinking; can use abstract rules to solve a whole class of problems; rational and systematic; self-conscious and highly reflective; is more future oriented and remote.

Short Film about Piaget:

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