Piaget’s Theory of Infant Development

Developmental researchers hope to understand how children and adults process information. And how their ways of thinking and understanding affect their behavior. They also seek to learn how cognitive abilities change as people develop. The degree to which cognitive development represents quantitative and qualitative growth in intellectual abilities. How different cognitive abilities are related to one another.

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, whose theory of developmental stages served as a highly influential impetus for a considerable amount of work on cognitive development.

Jean Piaget gave few processes of cognitive development.

  • Schemas- Basic building blocks of thinking, They are specific psychological structures helping a child to organize the sense of experience.
  • Equilibrium- Disequilibrium-  Cognitive equilibrium is a comfortable state of child in learning things. And cognitive conflict or discomfort experienced while constructing schema is called disequilibrium.
  • Adaptation- Assimilation & accommodation-  Assimilation refers to the process of adding new concept to the already learned concepts. Accommodation refers to a process of revision the learnt concept to fit the new information received.
  • Organization- A process that occurs internally, apart from direct contact with the environment.



No single person has had a greater impact on the study of cognitive development than Jean Piaget. A Swiss psychologist who lived from 1896 to 1980. Piaget proposed that all people pass in a fixed sequence through a series of universal stages of cognitive development. His focus was on the change in cognition that occurs as children move from one stage to the next (Piaget, 1952, 1962, 1983).

Piaget’s theory is based on a stage approach to development. He assumed that all children pass through a series of four universal stages in a fixed order from birth through adolescence:

  1. Sensorimotor Stage (0-2 years)
  2. Preoperational Stage (2-7 years)
  3. Concrete operational Stage (7-12 years)
  4. Formal operational Stage (12-16 years)

He also suggested that movement from one stage to the next occurs when a child reaches an appropriate level of physical maturation and is exposed to relevant experiences.

Piaget argued that infants do not acquire knowledge from facts communicated by others, nor through sensation and perception. Instead, Piaget suggested that human thinking is arranged into schemes, that is, organized mental patterns that represent behaviors and actions. In infants, such schemes represent concrete behavior—a scheme for sucking, for reaching.

Piaget did not believe that children’s learning depends on strength, such as rewards from adults. According to his cognitive-­developmental theory, children actively construct knowledge as they manipulate and explore their world.

Piaget’s Stages.

In infancy and early childhood, Piaget claimed, children’s understanding is different from adults. He believed that young babies do not realize that an object hidden from view. As the brain develops and children’s experiences expand, they move through four broad stages. Each characterized by qualitatively distinct ways of thinking.


Cognitive development begins in the sensorimotor stage with the baby’s use of the senses and movements to explore the world. According to Piaget, at birth infants know so little that they cannot explore purposefully. The circular reaction provides a special means of adapting their first schemes. However, it involves stumbling onto a new experience caused by the baby’s own motor activity. The reaction is “circular” because, as the infant tries to repeat the event again and again, a sensorimotor response that first occurred by chance strengthens into a new scheme.

Infants “think” by acting on the world with their eyes, ears, hands, and mouth. As a result, they invent ways of solving sensorimotor problems. Such as pulling a lever to hear the sound of a music box, finding hidden toys, and putting objects into and taking them out of containers.

There are 6 substages in sensorimotor stage.-

    • Substage 1: Simple reflexes, encompassing the first month of life.
    • Substage 2: First habits and primary circular reactions, the second substage of the sensorimotor period,
      occurs from one to four months of age.
    • Substage 3: Secondary circular reactions, the infant’s actions are more purposeful.
    • Substage 4: Coordination of secondary circular reactions, which lasts from around 8 months to 12 months.
    • Substage 5: Tertiary circular reactions is reached at around the age of 12 months and extends to 18 months.
    • Substage 6: The final stage of the sensorimotor period, Beginnings of thought, which lasts from around 18 months to two years.


These action patterns mentioned above evolve into the symbolic but illogical thinking of the preschooler in the preoperational stage. According to Piaget, the stage from approximately age 2 to age 7. In which, children’s use of symbolic thinking grows, mental reasoning emerges, and the use of concepts increases. However, Development of language and make-believe play takes place. Moreover, thinking lacks the logic of the two remaining stages.


The cognition is transformed into the more organized, logical reasoning of the school age child in the concrete operational stage. The period of cognitive development between 7 and 12 years of age. It is characterized by the active, and appropriate, use of logic. Whereas, school-age children organize objects into hierarchies of classes and subclasses. However, children think in a logical, organized fashion only when dealing with concrete information they can perceive directly.


Finally, the formal operational stage. In this stage, thought becomes the abstract, systematic reasoning system of the adolescent and adults. The formal operational stage is the period of cognitive development between 12 to 16 years of age. At which people develop the ability to think abstractly. When faced with a problem, to start with a hypothesis, deduce testable inferences, and isolate. And combine variables to see which inferences are confirmed. Adolescents can also evaluate the logic of verbal statements without referring to real-world circumstances.

To read how to accelerate infants development, click here.


  • Laura. E. Berk. (2018). Development Through the Lifespan (7th ed.). Pearson Education.

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