We explain what Piaget's Theory is and what stages it presents. Also, its features, applications, and reviews.

What is Piaget's Theory?

Piaget's Theory, better known as Piaget's Theory of Human Cognitive Development, is a theoretical model on the nature and formation of the intelligence of human beings, postulated by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980).

For Piaget, intelligence was directly and necessarily linked to the childhood period of individuals, during which it is built from active exploration and practice. He understood intelligence as something dynamic, which constantly reorganizes mental processes in the face of lived situations and the needs of its environment.

In his attempt to understand this process, he proposed an analytical method of different "stages of development" , which despite its limitations contributed fundamentally to the educational sciences and the development of richer and more open pedagogical models. The postulates of his theories were revolutionary at the time and fundamental in the construction of the contemporary understanding of the human mind.

Characteristics of Piaget's Theory :

The intelligence

The intelligence

According to Piaget's Theory, human intelligence is essentially adaptive, since reality is a changing set of constant needs and demands with which it must deal in the best possible way. The thing that is carried out through action and experience.

In accordance with this, Piaget postulated two forms of intelligence that allow the human being to deal with the mobile and the static aspects of reality:

  • operational intelligence. The active aspect of intelligence, in charge of frontal or covert actions, which allow us to anticipate, follow or recover from changes in reality.
  • figurative intelligence. The most static aspect of intelligence, responsible for the representation of reality, that is, the tasks of observation , imitation and gestation of mental impressions such as drawing and language .

According to Piaget, figurative intelligence would be a consequence of operational intelligence , on which it would fundamentally depend, since in his model of intelligence action and direct experience with the world are decisive in the construction of mental models.

Assimilation and accommodation

Piaget established in his theory of intelligence two basic functions of intelligence, which are in turn two different ways of learning or acquiring knowledge : assimilation and accommodation.

  • Assimilation. It is a method of confronting new knowledge or new, unpublished existential situations, comparing them with the baggage of learned knowledge. It is a way of capturing new experiences and integrating them into our mental schemes.
  • Accommodation. On the contrary, accommodation supposes the ability to rethink certain mental schemes conceived from the encounter of a novel experience or new knowledge, which requires reinterpreting the mental schemes since they cannot be assimilated.

According to Piaget , these processes are two sides of the same coin , that is, one cannot exist without the other. When in balance, they generate mindsets of operational intelligence. When one predominates over the other, representations of the order of figurative intelligence are produced.

The four stages

the four stages

Piaget proposed to understand human cognitive development from four different stages, each one provided with differential characteristics and during which certain mental and learning schemes are established. These stages are:

  • Sensorimotor stage. From birth to language acquisition.
  • Pre-operational stage. From the time of speech (about two years) to about seven years of age.
  • Stage of concrete operations. From the age of seven to eleven, more or less, the moment before adolescence .
  • Formal operations stage. Between eleven years old, more or less, and fifteen to twenty years old, when adolescence ends.

The sensorimotor stage

During this stage , infants build their understanding of the world through direct sensory experiences: grasping, sucking, seeing, hearing, as their actions move from the reflex (instinct) to the voluntary stage.

Thus, they learn the separation between themselves and the environment , and grasp the permanence of objects: one of the most important achievements according to Piaget of this stage, which consists of learning that things remain there even though we cannot observe them.

This stage is divided into six stages : simple reflexes (from birth to 6 weeks), first habits and primary phase of circular reactions (from 6 weeks to 4 months), secondary circular reactions (4 to 8 months), coordination of the stages of secondary circular reactions (8 to 12 months), tertiary circular reactions, novelty and curiosity (12 to 18 months), and schema internalization phase (18 to 24 months of age).

The pre-operational stage

The pre-operational stage

Although children at this stage can already express themselves through language , they do not handle concrete logic nor can they handle information mentally. His world is primarily self-centered, incapable of outside viewpoints, and features a noticeable increase in play and pretense.

Piaget distinguished two substages at this stage: that of the symbolic function, characterized by the fact that children can understand, represent and think about objects that are not present in front of them ; and that of intuitive thought , characterized by curiosity and the desire to know the why and how of things, the “questioning” stage of children.

The stage of concrete operations

The stage of concrete operations

This stage is marked by the correct use of logic. The mental processes of the infant become more penetrating , although only applicable to concrete objects: abstraction, hypothetical thinking, are not yet within their reach, as is inductive reasoning.

In this process , egocentrism is eliminated , logic and the ability to assume perspectives other than one's own are gradually strengthened. Towards the end of the stage, the prepubescent will be able to understand love , logical values and the use of logical-deductive systems, as well as trial and error.

The Formal Operations Stage

Intelligence is associated during this stage with the use of logical symbols and abstract concepts, as well as assumptions devoid of relation to immediate reality . Hypothetical and deductive reasoning is targeted, capable of metacognition, abstract thought and a much more adult management of formal operations.

The end of this stage supposes the entry of the young person into adulthood and the maturity of intelligent thought.



Piaget and his associates conducted numerous experiments to test their insights and theories , especially by analyzing formal operational thought. In this sense, Piaget used a weight system and a scale to measure the cognitive abilities of children of different ages, forcing them to deal with the notion of balance.

Applications of the theory

Piaget's theories have numerous practical applications in the field of pedagogy , whether it be guiding the planning of school activities by specific stage, or even for the purchase of games and the appropriate stimulation by parents.

Failures of the theory

Failures of the theory

The inaccuracy of the Piagetian model and the possibility of cognitive gaps have been an important criticism of the model, while still considering it a useful approach to the subject. Piagetian studies did not take into account the possibility that a child is ahead of his stage in some respects and behind in others, or that his development is not uniform but scaled.

Other important accusations have to do with the undervaluation of culture and the social environment in Piaget's model, determining factors in the consolidation not only of intelligence but of all types of personality and individual.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring to reliable sources and recommendations from experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


Veronica is a culture reporter at Collaborative Research Group, where she writes about food, fitness, weird stuff on the internet, and, well, just about anything else. She has also covered technology news and has a penchant for smartphone stories. .

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