What is the Cognitive Development Theory

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist and philosopher who greatly shaped and shook the foundations of modern psychology. Piaget was famous for the psychological treaties he developed such as his studies in epistemological view known as genetic epistemology and his pedagogical studies on the strategies, styles and functions of teaching.

However, Piaget’s greatest achievement was the proliferation of the theory of cognitive development also referred as developmental stage theory or the construction of knowledge/reality of a child.

In this psychological theory, Piaget explains the nature of knowledge. How humans learn and other related concepts that shape and influence a person’s thinking. Piaget details how humans gradually acquire their intelligence from birth up to maturity stage. He explains that such an occurrence is a common condition in humans.

Piaget introduces four stages of cognitive development namely Sensorimotor, Preoperational, Concrete Operational and Formal Operational.


According to Piaget, Sensorimotor is the first stage of cognitive development and the first step in acquiring human intelligence. He described it as “a stage where infants construct an understanding of the world by coordinating sensory experiences with physical, motoric actions.”

Learning in the Sensorimotor stage is manifested through sensory functions such as seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling and smelling. These functions are said to be the first learning tools human acquires.

The intelligence generated from this stage often varies from simple reflexes, to sounds, smell and curiosity. This stage last from birth until 24 months old.


At the onset of a child’s second year, a different kind of learning and intelligence take place. Piaget relates that during this stage of a child’s development, a higher degree of learning is needed.

The Preoperational stage is when the child begins to mimic and act certain persons and things. The child starts to develop a more rationale thinking. Piaget also takes note that in this stage, a child’s curiosity is cultivated. The child begins to ask questions and test the answers on his/her young reasoning.

Concrete Operational

This stage of learning is experienced by 7-11 year-olds. Piaget cites that the Concrete Operational period is characterized by a child’s unique personal views of things. This is when the child exhibits a logical and more rationale explanations.

Piaget also explains that in this stage, crucial processes of a child’s development need to be enhance. These processes include seriation, transitivity, classification, decentering, reversibility and conservation.

Formal Operational

Formal Operational is the fourth and last stage in the theory of cognitive development. It starts from 11 years-old until adulthood. In this stage, the child begins to develop a deeper understanding of things.

They based their knowledge on concrete personal experiences and logical conclusions and experimentation. They start to develop personal biases, beliefs and social intelligence. They learn to love, to be loved and to understand certain feelings of infatuation.

In this stage, the child entertains possibilities of the future, his ambitions and ideals.