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What is Cognitive Development?

Ashlesha Bhondwe Jan 9, 2019
Ever wondered why children think in a different way than adults? This information is about cognitive development and the role it plays in shaping young minds.
All children perceive things around them in a different way than adults, but as they grow, this perception metamorphoses and slowly begins to take a more solid shape. This is nothing but a part of cognitive development in children. It is the building up or construction of thoughts, ability to solve problems, memory, and decision-making.
Cognitive development is a major study carried out in the field of psychology. The cognitive development theory was first put forth by Jean Piaget, a biologist who studied children's understanding and their psychological development by psychometric testing. His theory forms the basis of many findings today, some approved, some disapproved.

Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget believed that a child's psychological development was not a very smooth process. There were certain points in a child's life where he or she suddenly achieved or altered their thinking and capabilities. He proposed certain key ideas, which are discussed further.


It is the process of involving physical and mental abilities to understand and conceptualize. According to Piaget, it consists of existing knowledge, and also the process of obtaining new information.


Just as the term suggests, Piaget proposed that a child adapts to a certain way mainly due to assimilation and accommodation.
  • Assimilation is a way in which a child would gather information from the environment, which would change his or her perception of certain things that he first had.
  • Accommodation is the change in perception due to assimilation, which then makes a long-term fixture in a child's mind. These two ideas are interdependent.


This concept, according to Piaget, was the ability of a child to maintain what he knew initially about a certain thing or situation, and move on to the change or new information that will make him change his belief or thought. This helps him move from one stage to the other.

Cognitive Development Stages

Sensorimotor Stage

This stage lasts from 0-2 years. In this stage, a baby comprehends only motor activity such as vigorous movement of a rattle or an object moving.
Knowledge as such is not much, but it is in the stage of development where physical interaction and experience plays a major role. Memory develops only from the 7th month, mainly object permanence, where a child now knows that an object exists, even though he cannot touch or feel it.

Pre-Operational Stage

In this stage, a child learns to express through language and gestures. This is where his imagination starts developing.
Thinking is not logical and also non reversible or egocentric where it is difficult for the child to accept other viewpoints.

Concrete Operational Stage

Logical thinking begins to develop at this stage. Here, a child can manipulate the use of symbols to relate them to concrete objects (this relates to the recognition of mass, weight, and numbers).

Formal Operational Stage

In this stage, a child begins to think about the future, the consequences of his actions and also test hypotheses. Children also begin to comprehend abstract ideas.
These were the stages that Piaget put forth. However, as time passed, some of his findings were contradicted and some were accepted. Piaget's theory however laid the foundation of the study in child development. Based on this theory, a new theory termed as 'Neo-Piagetan Theory' was established.
The 'Neo-Piagetan theory' incorporates various other theories and modifies the shortcomings of Piaget's theory, which had failed to explain what leads to the change in the stage of development. Another point is that no two children will develop in the same way psychologically, and the development may differ from domain to domain.