Jean Piaget and Theory on Cognitive Development

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Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior. Psychology is not one discipline but rather a collection of many sub-disciplines that all share some common approaches and that work together and exchange knowledge to form a coherent discipline (Stangor, 2018). One of these sub-fields is developmental psychology. Developmental psychology by definition is the branch of psychology devoted to identifying and explaining the continuities and changes that individuals display over time (Shaffer & Kipp, 2014).

Many people do not realize that developmental psychology involves a wide range of fields, like educational psychology, child development psychology, and forensic developmental psychology, cognitive, ecological and cultural psychology. These sub-fields are considered contemporary approaches (Stangor, 2018). In specific, child and adolescent developmental psychology is the science of human thoughts, emotions and behavior as it changes across the lifespan.

They are four major schools of thought known for developmental psychology: Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson and Urie Bronfenbrenner. All four of them, influenced the field, whether it be with their research, theories and historical developments. Starting the 1800s Lev Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who is known for his sociocultural theory, his approach on cultural historical psychology, zone of proximal development and intrapersonal communication. His social cultural theory asserts that learning in an essential social process in which the support of parents, caregivers, peers, and the wider society and culture plays a crucial role in the development of higher psychological functions (Williams, 2019). He believed that children learn about their world though physical interaction and developed the social cultural theory (Alves, 2014). His work examined the relationship between the language development and the thinking process. Vygotsky’s theory is still used today in reciprocal teaching, which is where the students’ ability to learn from text is improved. Using this method, teacher and students collaborate in learning and practicing four main skills: summarizing, questioning, clarifying and predicting (Williams, 2019). Skills that are used at each educational level.

Then Jean Piaget; a Swiss psychologist whose contributions include a stage theory of child cognitive development, detailed observational studies of cognition in children and a series of simper but ingenious test to reveal different cognitive abilities. He was the first psychologist to make a systematic study of cognitive development. His best-known study is the theory of cognitive development, which consists of four stages: sensorimotor (from birth to two years), preoperational (two-seven years), concrete operational (seven to eleven years), and formal operational (eleven to nineteen years) (Smith, 2017). His theories of the construction of identity and knowledge as one predicted upon the development of stages helps to explain the intellectual growth of children of all ages. His researches in developmental psychology and genetic epistemology had one unique goal to know how knowledge grow. His theories and work are significant to people who work with children, as it enables them to understand that children’s development is based on stages. Piaget is responsible for developing entirely new fields of scientific study, influencing mainly the areas of cognitive theory and developmental psychology (Jean Piaget, 2014). His works are known all over the world and is still an inspiration in fields like psychology, sociology, education, epistemology, economics and law.

Erik Erikson and Urie Bronfenbrenner both contributed to the field in the 1900s. Erikson created the psychosocial development theory, which consists of eight stages; which are trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame and doubt, initiative versus guilt, industry versus inferiority, identity versus identity confusion, intimacy versus isolation, generativity versus stagnation and integrity versus despair (Shaffer et al, 2014). One of the strengths of psychosocial theory is that it provides a broad framework from which to view development throughout the entire lifespan. It also allows us to emphasize the social nature of human being and the important influence that social relationships have on development (Williams, 2019). Another major contribution of Erikson’s work is the notion that personality is sharped over the life span, which implies that experiences later in life, can heal or ameliorate problems in early childhood. Erikson is known for having originated the term lifespan development. To this day, Erikson’s best known work is his theory that each stage of life is associated with a specific psychosocial struggle, a struggle that contributes to a major aspect of personality (Oswalt, 2019).

Urie Bronfenbrenner developed the ecological systems theory to explain how everything in a child and the child’s environment affects how a child grows and develops. He labeled different levels of the environment that influence children’s development, including the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem and the macrosystem (Ceci, 2014). He also developed the Bronfenbrenner theory that emphasizes the importance of studying children in multiple environments, also known as ecological systems. He is also known for his cross-cultural studies on families and their support systems and on human development and the status of children. To this day, his theories are used as he is the co-founder of the National Head Start program and he is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading scholars in developmental psychology, child rearing and human ecology.

Developmental psychology is the sub-field that feeds many other sub-fields in psychology. The importance of knowing how, when and what affects children, adolescents and adults in their lifespan and how that contributes to their actions or reactions is key to understand many other sub-fields in psychology. Developmental psychology is highly influential in social interactions, including their origins and their effects on the individual. It is very important that everyone in the field understands the importance of understanding developmental psychology in all its stages. Lastly, cognitive psychology remains enormously influential today, and it has guided research in such varied fields as language, problem solving, memory, intelligence, education, human development, social psychology and psychotherapy (Stangor, 2018).


Alves, P. F. (2014). Vygotsky and Piaget: Scientific concepts. Psychology in Russia: State of the Art, 7(3), 24–34.

Ceci, S. J. (2014). In Appreciation: Urie Bronfenbrenner. APS Observer, 18(11).

Jean Piaget. (2014, April 2). Biography.

Oesterdiekhoff, G. W. (2016). Child and Ancient Man: How to Define Their Commonalities and Differences. The American Journal of Psychology, 129(3), 295.

Orbiteers. (Ed.). (2014). Erik Erikson - Erikson Institute. Erikson Institute.

Oswalt, A. (2019). Gulf Bend MHMR Center. Gulfbend.Org.

Shaffer, D. R., & Kipp, K. (2014). Developmental psychology?: childhood and adolescence. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Smith, L. (2017). Jean Piaget Society - About Piaget. Piaget.Org.

Stangor, C. (2018). Introduction to Psychology (3rd ed.). FlatWorld.

Voneche, J., & Vidal, F. (1985). Jean Piaget and the child psychologist. Synthese, 65(1), 121–138.

Williams, D. (2019, February 5). Child Development Theories: Lev Vygotsky. First Discoverers.

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