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Piaget's Theory Of Infant Development

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Piaget's Theory of Infant Development

Author: Elizabeth Purling

Renton Technical College

Developmental Psychology

Instructor: Leta Berkshire

May 30, 2007

Piaget's Theory of Infant Development

At almost 32 weeks gestation, my little one constantly brings about questions and ideas about what my life will be like when I become a parent. What will she look like? Will she be a loud baby or a quiet one? How long before she sleeps through the night? What cognitive abilities does she have now, in the womb? How will she grow and change as her life progresses?

Many of these questions cannot be answered anytime soon but I have been trying to learn as much as I can before she is born. It is this reason that I chose to write about Piaget's Theory of Infant Development.

In short, Jean Piaget's theory consists of schemes that organize knowledge as a person seeks an understanding of the world around them. The theory consists of four stages and I will focus on the first of those: sensorimotor development. This stage has six substages which help categorize an infant's development from birth to two years of age.

Jean Piaget was a developmental psychologist who lived from 1896-1980. Born in Neuchвtel, Switzerland, Piaget was the son of a professor of medieval studies and a strict Calvinist. He had an early interest in the scientific study of nature, and even published a short note at the age of ten in hopes of getting the local librarian to stop treating him like a kid. He went on to earn a doctorate in Zoology but developed an interest in psychology after moving to Zurich following World War I. (Papert, 1999).

Piaget proposed his cognitive developmental theory in 1954. He believed that children go through four basic stages of development during childhood: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational (Huitt & Hummel, 2003). In the sensorimotor stage, infants develop an understanding of their environment by matching sensory experiences (like seeing, touching, smelling) with physical actions. This lasts from birth until 2 years of age. In the preoperational stage, children build on what they learned in the sensorimotor stage by expressing words, images, and drawings. This lasts from 2 to 7 years of age. In the concrete operational stage, children develop the ability to reason logically in the context of specific or concrete examples. Children in this stage function very matter-of-factly, but don't yet grasp abstract concepts. This stage lasts from about 7 to 11 years. The final stage is called the formal operational stage, and it lasts from 11-15 years of age through adulthood. In this stage, individuals transition from concrete rationalization into more abstract thinking. They attain the ability to process concepts like algebra, planning and speculating for their futures, and learning how to solve more complex problems (Santrock, 2007).

Piaget developed this theory to explain how the brain builds mental structures to enable us to better adapt to the world. He believed that children's schemes change with age and that the learning process is foundational, meaning that one cannot move onto the next stage without having mastered the previous one. This concept is especially true in the substages of the sensorimotor stage, which is his theory of infant development.

Piaget meticulously observed his three children - Laurent, Lucienne, and Jacqueline - and published many works on his findings. Through their first two years of life, he constructed six substages of the sensorimotor period to categorize their development as infants.

Substage 1: Simple Reflexes

Birth to 1 Month

Children enter the world equipped with a set of inherited action patterns and reflexes through which they experience their environment. The intellectual development of the child begins through these actions, as this is how the child acquires knowledge about its surroundings. Simple reflexes such as rooting, sucking, and grasping are demonstrated in this stage.

Substage 2: Primary Circular Reactions

1 to 4 Months

In the second substage of Piaget's theory, the knowledge and intelligence of the infant extends beyond the innate behaviors they were born with. The infants show one of the first signs learning which is modifying their reflexes as a result of their environment. These acquisitions come about by a circular means. Actions that are at first random and activate a reflex are attempted again to try and recreate the experience. The signs of intention have appeared. These patterns of learning have been labeled primary circular reactions.

Substage 3: Secondary Circular Reactions

4 to 8 Months

Secondary circular reactions are the first acquired adaptations of behaviors that are not reflexive, as opposed to the primary circular reactions, which are reflex based. An infant in this stage may accidentally cause something interesting to happen and then seek to recreate the event. The interesting events in this case are located in the external world, in primary circular reactions the interesting events are occurring within the body. Because a child in this substage, however, still does not understand the aspects of cause and effect, it will sift through the many behaviors it was indulging in when the event occurred and narrow it down to the particular action without really understanding the underlying concepts of why the event recurs (Boeree, 2006).

Substage 4: Coordination of Secondary Circular Reactions

8 to 12 Months

The actions of the previous stage flourish in this



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