What is the Theory of Cognitive Development?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
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  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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In most cases, the theory of cognitive development refers to a case study written by Jean Piaget in 1952, which he developed after years of study on the behavior and development of children. According to his theories, cognitive development involves the constant struggle to find balance, or equilibrium, between assimilation and accommodation. These two states of being refer to basing new information on past experiences and accommodating thoughts to obtain new and sometimes conflicting information.

According to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, humans undergo four main stages of growth. These are the infancy stage, toddler and preschool stage, elementary and early adolescence stage, and the teen and adulthood stage. The scientific names for these stages are the sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational stages. Each one builds upon the other, and humans slowly develop more complex and symbolic thought processes as they get older.


There are several sub-stages or layers to each main stage in the theory of cognitive development. For instance, newborn infants have very little understanding of the world around them and do not recognize much of anything. As they learn, babies come to recognize caregivers, anticipate actions or events such as eating or sleeping, and develop object permanence, or the concept that a person or object does not cease to exist even when one cannot see it. By the end of the infancy stage, most babies can assign words to some objects verbally and understand many more when spoken by others.

The theory of cognitive development states that all humans go through all of the four stages, although some may move faster or slower than others. By adulthood, most people are capable of complex thoughts and emotions as well as of interpreting symbolism and irony. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as those with mental handicaps.

Although the theory of cognitive development states that all humans go through the same stages, how effectively this occurs depends on two factors. Genetic makeup plays a role in overall intelligence, and some believe that each person is born with a predetermined level of intelligence to be achieved. The home environment and how one is raised, nurtured, and encouraged also plays a role in how much intellect one may achieve. Researchers are still debating on whether genetic predisposition or environment is most important in terms of development, but most agree that a person’s overall intelligence is generally a combination of both.


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Post 4

Some people who are mentally handicapped can go through several stages of cognitive development without showing that they have a problem. It is when they fail to reach the final stage that the problem becomes apparent.

My friend has a son who seemed to be developing normally. He wasn't particularly slow, and physically, he was growing like a weed.

All throughout his teenage years, his parents wondered if something might be wrong with him. He seemed to behave more like a ten-year-old than like someone his age.

They had him evaluated and found that he did have a mental problem. Sadly, he would never progress beyond his current state of cognitive development.

Post 3

It is fascinating to watch a baby progress through the different cognitive stages. I was twelve when my baby sister was born, so I was old enough to notice each time she learned something new.

She started talking at a young age, and it was just so amazing to me that she learned to say words simply by hearing us state them. She picked up on things without us even stressing them to her.

What was even more astounding was when she began speaking in full sentences. It blew my mind that she started from nothing and became a fluent speaker of the English language so quickly!

Post 2

@orangey03 – That may be true, but then, you have to consider the intelligence of his parents. Did they also have problems with grammar and reading, or were they just too busy to read to him?

If they were poor spellers and slow readers as well, then his slow cognitive development may have been genetic. I have a cousin who reminds me of your friend, and her mother is a terrible speller. I have trouble deciphering her emails sometimes, because the spelling doesn't even resemble the words she is trying to type.

I know that she wasn't capable of teaching her child to write and read at a young age, so in this case, slow cognitive development is genetic. I do agree that in some cases, it might just be environmental, though.

Post 1

I'm sure there are cases where genetics plays a major role in cognitive development, but when you have a person of normal intelligence who doesn't receive intellectual nurturing from his parents, then you have someone who is underdeveloped but who could have been much more well educated.

My friend thinks that he is dumb because he cannot spell words correctly or read very fast. I think that this is his parents' fault. He told me that they never read to him as a child, so he never got the chance to see words at a young age as they were being pronounced.

I think that if they had put in the extra effort, he wouldn't have the problems that he has today. Maybe he would have even gone to college. I think that they handicapped him.

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