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Piaget's Four Stages of Cognitive Development

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

Sensorimotor

Proposed Age Rangea

Birth to age 2

General Description

Schemes are based largely on behaviors and perceptions. Especially in the early part of the stage, children cannot think about things that are not immediately in front of them, and so they focus on what they are doing and seeing at the moment.

Examples of Acquisitions

  • Trial-and-error experimentation: Exploration and manipulation of objects to determine their properties
  • Goal-directed behavior: Intentional behavior to bring about a desired result
  • Object permanence: Realization that objects continue to exist even when removed from view
  • Symbolic thought: Representation of physical objects and events as mental entities (symbols)

Preoperational

Proposed Age Range

Age 2 through age 6 or 7

General Description

Thanks in part to their rapidly developing symbolic thinking abilities, children can now think and talk about things beyond their immediate experience. However, they do not yet reason in logical, adultlike ways.

Examples of Acquisitions

  • Language: Rapid expansion of vocabulary and grammatical structures
  • Extensive pretend play: Enactment of true-to-life or fanciful scenarios with plots and assigned roles (e.g., mommy, doctor, Superman)
  • Intuitive thought: Some logical thinking based on "hunches" and "intuition" rather than on conscious awareness of logical principles (especially after age 4)

Concrete Operations

Proposed Age Range

Age 6 or 7 through age 11 or 12

General Description

Adultlike logic appears but is limited to reasoning about concrete, real-life situations.

Examples of Acquisitions

  • Distinction between one's own and others' perspectives: Recognition that one's own thoughts and feelings may be different from those of others and do not necessarily reflect reality
  • Class inclusion: Ability to classify objects as belonging to two or more categories simultaneously
  • Conservation: Realization that amount stays the same if nothing is added or taken away, regardless of alterations in shape or arrangement

Formal Operations

Proposed Age Range

Age 11 or 12 through adulthood

General Description

Logical reasoning processes are applied to abstract ideas as well as concrete objects and situations. Many capabilities essential for advanced reasoning in science and mathematics appear.

Examples of Acquisitions

  • Reasoning about abstract, hypothetical, and contrary-to-fact ideas: Ability to draw logical deductions about situations that have no basis in physical reality
  • Separation and control of variables: Ability to test hypotheses by manipulating one variable while holding other variables constant
  • Proportional reasoning: Conceptual understanding of fractions, percentages, decimals, and ratios
  • Idealism: Ability to envision alternatives to current social and political practices (sometimes with little regard for what is realistically possible in a given time frame)

aThe age ranges presented in the table are averages: Some children reach a stage a bit earlier, others a bit later.

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