Cognitive Development in Infancy and Toddlerhood

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People’s cognitive, physical, and social development is characterized by certain milestones that have been well-researched. The cognitive development of infants and toddlers is associated with the acquisition of basic knowledge and skills that enables the child to become comparatively independent during the first two years of their life. Some of the central concepts related to this matter include classical and operant conditioning, memory, attention, learning, language development, and the sensorimotor stage.

Diverse theories and approaches to the subject matter have been suggested. For instance, according to Piaget’s theory, the child develops in certain stages acquiring fundamental skills and knowledge (Paris et al., 2019).

During the first two years, the child mainly develops sensory-motor skills. This newly acquired knowledge includes reflexes, circular reactions, and scheme internalization, as well as early representational thought. Reflexes are automatic reactions to some stimuli, and the child’s active learning starts with these automatic movements and reactions. During the first four months, primary circular reactions occur, which encompasses reflexes turning into voluntary reactions, and the child is becoming more eager to engage with the body and different objects. Secondary circular reactions (8 to 12 months) involve diverse movements and interactions with objects as the child can grab things and manipulate them at a basic level. Tertiary circular reactions include more complex behavioral and cognitive patterns. For example, the child learns about gravity through throwing, pushing objects, and pouring substances.

During the second year of their life, children learn to apply different mental strategies to continue their learning and solve problems. Language development starts at this stage when children actively learn how to express certain ideas. As an illustration of this development, children learn new words and use them, participate in pretend games, learn how to take things from shelves, open doors, or even use devices. By the age of two, children are able to speak using phrases and sentences, complete rhymes, build towers, follow instructions, and so on. Vygotsky stressed that interactions with peers and adults were instrumental in helping children to go through all developmental milestones.

All these skills are acquired in the course of learning that involves children’s exposure to conditioned (sounds or instructions) and unconditioned (pin or food) stimuli that result in conditioned (learned behavior) or unconditioned (reflexes) responses. Operant conditioning is the process of learning behaviors as a response to certain consequences (Paris et al., 2019). Researchers identify two types of conditioning, reinforcement and punishment, and both types can be positive and negative. Reinforcement increases behavior, while punishment decreases certain behavioral patterns.

Memory and attention are other important concepts associated with child development. Explicit memory is linked to facts, events, concepts, and encompasses the active mental activity of a person who wants to recall something (Paris et al., 2019). Episodic memory relates to events and moments in a person’s life. A person often experiences the functioning of episodic memory when going to a place they once visited. Implicit memory is unconscious and acquired through multiple repetitions. Short-term memory refers to the ability to remember information for a short period of time, and long-term memory is the ability to hold data for a prolonged period of time. Attention is the ability to concentrate on a stimulus, and it is instrumental in transferring information from short- to long-term memory along with practice and repetition. The concepts mentioned above can help in understanding the major peculiarities of child cognitive development during the first two years of life.


Paris, J., Ricardo, A., & Rymond, D. (2019). Child growth and development. College of the Canyons.

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PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'Cognitive Development in Infancy and Toddlerhood'. 7 February.


PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Cognitive Development in Infancy and Toddlerhood." February 7, 2022.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Cognitive Development in Infancy and Toddlerhood." February 7, 2022.


PsychologyWriting. "Cognitive Development in Infancy and Toddlerhood." February 7, 2022.