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Piaget’s stage theory of
cognitive development
The sensorimotor stage
Object permanence
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Distinguish between
gradualist and stage
theories
Describe and criticise ways
of investigating infant
cognition
Invent mnemonics to help
you remember facts in
exams
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Today’s session
• Piaget said that children’s cognitive
development unfolds in stages.
– Where have we encountered stage theories
before?
– What does a stage theory imply about
development?
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Piaget’s stage theory
Psychological attribute
Gradual change
over time
Abrupt change
Relative stability
How might the line
representing a stage
theory be different?
Time
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Gradualist vs. Stage theories
• Development is discontinuous
• Each stage is qualitatively distinct
• The sequence is universal and invariant
• These statements are true of all stage theories
of development. What might they mean as
applied to cognitive development?
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Stage Theories
• Children’s ability to understand, think about
and solve problems in the world develops in a
stop-start manner.
• At each stage of development, the child’s
thinking is qualitatively different from the
other stages.
• All children go through the same stages in the
same order (but not all at the same rate)
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Piaget’s stage theory
Stage
Sensorimotor stage
Preoperational stage
Characteristics
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Piaget’s Stage Theory of Cognitive Development
Typical Age
Substages 1-3
Ability to deal with situations is
0-8 months
limited to:
i) Having sensations and producing
actions; ii) The ‘here and now’
Substages 4-6
Intentional actions emerge; trial
and error behaviour; object
concept – object permanence
develops; simple pretend play;
language acquisition
8-24 months
Preconceptual
period
Symbolic thought develops;
egocentrism; animism; centration
2-4 years
Intuitive period
Judgements based on appearance 4-7 years
not logical thought; less egocentric;
unable to conserve
Concrete operational stage
Conservation; seriation;
transitivity; class inclusion
7-11 years
Formal operational stage
Abstract concepts; hypothetical
thinking; flexibility in thinking
12+ years
• Invent a mnemonic to help you remember the
names and order of Piaget’s stages.
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Homework pt. 1
• In the first stage, the child ‘thinks’ by sensing
(‘sensori-’) and by performing actions on (‘motor’) the world around it.
• It does not think by manipulating mental
representations, like an adult does.
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Sensorimotor stage
• During the sensorimotor stage a range of
cognitive abilities develop. These include:
– Object permanence
– Self-recognition
– Deferred imitation
– Representational play
• They relate to the emergence of the general
symbolic function, which is the capacity to
represent the world mentally
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General Symbolic Function
• Infants do not realise that objects exist
independently of them
• ‘Out of sight, out of mind’
• Object permanence is the understanding that
objects continue to exist when the child
cannot see them
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Object permanence
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• How could we investigate whether a child has
object permanence?
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Piaget (1963) – search tasks
Typical age
Search behaviour
Before 8m
Does not search for hidden object at all.
8-12m
Searches for hidden object in initial hiding
place even if the object is moved to a second
hiding place while the child watches (the ‘A
not B error’)
12-18m
Searches in most recent hiding place.
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Object permanence
• Is Piaget’s search task a valid test of whether a
child has developed object permanence?
– Does a child’s failure to search mean that it has no
idea that the object still exists?
– Might this task be measuring something else
instead?
• Two students will be presenting their views to
the class at the start of next lesson, so be
prepared.
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Homework pt. 2
• Pair up. Decide who will be infant and who
will be investigator.
– Investigator must test infant’s object permanence
using the two hiding place method.
– Infant must decide which stage of development
she is at and respond accordingly.
– Investigator must identify child’s likely age and
explain why.
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Review