Cognitive Theory of Development

The cognitive theory was developed by Jean Piaget, a biologist, and psychologist. The theory is based on four stages of a child’s development which help physiologists to understand and evaluate the growth and maturity of a child. The theory consists of four stages: sensorimotor period (years 0–2); preoperational period (years 2–7), concrete operational period (years 7–11), and normal operational period (years 12 and up). Piaget explains that young children go through a series of stages on the way to cognitive maturity. The uniqueness and distinctiveness of the theory are that Piaget sees cognitive development as a process dependent upon the accumulation of more and more information and skills. The cognitive development of a child proceeds not by slow evolution, but by the system of the cognitive revolution. As the child goes onto a new and more complicated stage of mental work, he sheds many of the old cognitive limitations at a solitary sweep. The key ideas of the continuative development theory are assimilation and adaptation to the environment, class inclusion and conversation issues, egocentrism of a child, operation, and decentration processes (Flavel et al 2001).

Piaget stipulates age ranges for the development stages, but these stages are only intended as a guide. The more important issue to consider is that the order of the stages is supposed to be unchanging and invariant. Piaget’s concept of cognitive development is that each stage serves as the foundation for the next stage, so according to the theory, it is impossible to miss a stage. Piaget explains that the development of thinking is impossible if a stage is missing. For instance, addition is obligatory for carrying tens and for subtotals to compute the total. In this case, the concept of addition is a prerequisite for long multiplication. This example shows that succeeding through one stage is a prerequisite for shifting onto the following stage. The acquisition of mental imagery is another point in the child’s life, which marks the transition to a whole new stage of development. Though, if one enjoyed the benefit of proper experiences, it would be possible to evolve through the stages more rapidly than a person who is less fortunate (Ginsberg and Opper 2002).

The researchers and psychologists who follow Piaget’s concepts and theories are Elkind, Lapsley, and Murphy. Vygotsky and Bruner. These researchers share the idea that the child should be viewed as progressing from the sensorimotor stage of infancy to the preoperational stage of childhood. In his works, Elkind explains that imaginary audiences and personal fables possess very strong intuitive appeal, and most people can recognize aspects of their behavior encapsulated in these ideas. Lapsley and Murphy pay attention to an anomaly in this approach. According to these researchers, it is no accident that at the end of infancy the child begins to expand proficiency in the language. The intellectual achievements which become possible with the help of language in its different forms are inconceivable. Similar to Piaget, these researchers agree that the development of a child is a gradual process dependent upon mental and language skills. The progress in cognitive development would have been impossible without analytical skills and language to work out and communicate the ideas. The intellectual development of a child underpins speech development in important ways, not the other way round; an ability for mental imagery allows proficiency in the use of symbols, one form of which happens to be language.

In sum, the cognitive theory of development explains the main stages of progress and skills acquisition of a child. Other researchers use the theory of cognitive development as a core of their theories and concepts. All researchers and followers of Piaget agree that language and symbolic activity enable more efficient problem-solving.


Ginsberg, H., Opper, S. (2002) Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Development, London, Prentice-Hall International, Inc.

Flavel, J. H., miller, P. H., Miller, S. A. (2001). Cognitive Development. Prentice Hall; 4 edition.

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