Cognitive Development Theories

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Page count 12
Word count 3391
Read time 13 min
Subject Psychology
Type Essay
Language 🇺🇸 US


Cognitive development is the process by which children investigate, reason, and solve problems. It is concerned with developing dispositions, knowledge, problem-solving abilities, and skills necessary to comprehend their environment and the world in general. Cognitive growth often requires mental health and brain formation. Numerous hypotheses have been established through the years to aid in the systematic comprehension of this idea. However, the research is dominated by the philosophies of Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and Jerome Bruner, who are regarded as the founding fathers of cognitive science. The basis of the other existing theories was derived from the concepts and viewpoints of these three theorists. Nonetheless, this paper concentrates on two of these psychologists – Piaget and Bruner. Their views will be examined independently before being compared and contrasted, and then their implications for teaching and learning will be discussed.

Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory

Overview of Piaget’s Life

Jean Piaget was born in Switzerland on August 9, 1896, and showed an early curiosity in natural sciences. He began his work as a researcher at the age of 11 by documenting an albino sparrow paper. Piaget earned a doctorate in zoology from the University of Neuchatel in 1918. (Babakr, Mohamedamin & Kakamad, 2019). He also developed an interest in psychoanalysis and worked for a year at Alfred Binet’s college. Piaget created the world’s first intelligence evaluation and graded the tests during this period.

In the 1920s, he began to gravitate towards psychology. In 1923, he married Valentine Chatenay, and the couple had three children who served as the foundation for his ideas. By the time he died in 1980, he had established himself as a scientist, philosopher, psychologist, and educator (Babakr, Mohamedamin & Kakamad, 2019). To cap off his accomplishments, a 2002 survey rated him as the second most successful psychologist of the twentieth century.

The Theory

In 1936, Piaget made history by being the first psychologist to conduct rigorous research on cognitive growth. He pointed out that the erroneous belief that children were tiny replicas of adults was incorrect. Additionally, he stressed that children have a unique way of understanding and caring about the environment (Barrouillet, 2015). It was emphasised that the knowledge gaps between children and adults were structural rather than quantitative. Thus, children had varying interpretations of their worlds at various developmental stages (Metsämuuronen & Räsänen, 2018). This was the impetus for developing his theory of cognitive development.

Based on this understanding, he advanced his theory, implying that children’s intelligence develops over time. Their cognitive development is focused on creating a mental model of the world rather than acquiring knowledge (Barrouillet, 2015). According to his theory, such action occurs exclusively due to integrating environmental events and innate capacities (Barrouillet, 2015). In this regard, they constantly acquire new knowledge, develop previously held notions, and adapt previously held ideas to accommodate new ones as they interact with the world around them (Metsämuuronen & Räsänen, 2018). Thus, in Piaget’s view, cognitive development in the early stages of life begins with action-based processes that progress to mental operational changes. This implies that children move through four distinct stages of intellectual development, each of which reflects the complexity and sophistication of their thought process (Genovese, 2018). Even the sequence is universal across cultures and presumes an invariant order; however, the rate at which children progress through the stages varies and is influenced by various factors.

Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Stages

Stage 1: The Sensorimotor Stage

This stage lasts from birth to two years and is characterised by rapid development. Infants and toddlers acquire the majority of their knowledge through manipulating objects and sensory experiences. Additionally, their experience is entirely based on motor responses, fundamental reflexes, and senses, as they lack a clear mental image of the world stored in their memory (Genovese, 2018). Thus, at this stage, children believe only in what they see and feel, and the absence of either is interpreted as non-existence.

Nonetheless, as Piaget noted, an essential component of this model is object permanence. This concept recognises that objects continue to exist even when they are not visible to a child. According to Piaget, every child develops this concept around eight months (Genovese, 2018). However, before its development, children believe only in the objects they see, though the stage aids in the development of their perception beyond what is visible (Metsämuuronen & Räsänen, 2018). This also demonstrates the child’s capacity to memorise and store information about the world and appropriately label it.

Stage 2: The Preoperational Stage

This second stage occurs between the ages of two and seven. They make use of the previous set’s ability to represent objects in a variety of activities, but not in a logical or organised fashion (Genovese, 2018). Additionally, they are capable of manipulating and playing with symbols. Piaget subdivided the stage into two phases: preconception and intuition (Metsämuuronen & Räsänen, 2018). Between the ages of two and four, the preconception period is marked by internal representation, language development, and imaginative play (Metsämuuronen & Räsänen, 2018). They are constantly expressing themselves through language and symbols (Goswami, 2008). They are, however, constrained by animism and egocentrism, which impair their reasoning. Animism is the ascription of intentions and feelings to inanimate objects, whereas egocentrism is the child’s obsession with viewing the world exclusively through his or her own eyes.

The intuitive period, on the other hand, occurs between the ages of four and seven years. This is the stage during which grouping and mental order evolve. This stage is so named because the child is oblivious to classification principles (Goswami, 2008). Conservation is a central theme in this stage, and it entails the realisation that when nothing is added or subtracted from an object, its quantity remains unchanged. This is critical for cognitive development because it underpins concept judgment. However, children cannot carry on conversations due to their lack of understanding of the concepts of reversibility and compensation (Goswami, 2008). Thus, the primary focus of this stage is the professional development of pretend play while also maintaining a concrete view of the world around them.

Stage 3: The Concrete Operational Stage

This stage occurs between the ages of seven and eleven, and they primarily develop a more sophisticated use of logic while remaining literal and concrete in their thinking. As a result, the egocentrism evident in the preceding stage gradually diminishes, and they develop more comprehensive perspectives on the perspectives of others regarding a given situation (Lawton, Saunders & Muhs, 2013). Additionally, they begin to consider the feelings and thoughts of others and recognise that their perspectives are unique and that not everyone shares them. Additionally, they can learn about reversibility and compensation while completing conservation here. On the other hand, a child frequently struggles with theoretical and abstract concepts (Lawton, Saunders & Muhs, 2013). Nonetheless, the child retains the ability to manipulate or provide solutions to specific problems that they observe, which is critical for investigating and interpreting their world at this stage.

Stage 4: The Formal Operational Stage

This is the final stage of Piaget’s model, which occurs between twelve and sixteen. By this stage, the child can carry out a logical argument without referring to its content, comprehend abstract concepts, and conduct analytical tests of hypotheses (Marwaha, 2017). Thus, the stage is defined by the application of systematic problem-solving techniques and hypothetical deductive reasoning. The former entails utilising a defined structure and system to overcome any obstacles they encounter (Marwaha, 2017). By contrast, the former entails viewing situations through the lens of one or more premises and concluding logically (Lawton, Saunders & Muhs, 2013). Thus, the emergence of abstract theories, scientific thinking and reasoning, and the development of hypotheses in response to given situations is defined by the emergence of abstract theories.

Principles of Piaget’s Theory

After establishing and evaluating Piaget’s developmental model, it is critical to assess the principles that underpin each stage. Accommodation, assimilation, and equilibration are these principles (Lawton, Saunders & Muhs, 2013). However, before delving into these concepts, it is essential to grasp the concept of schema. Schema is a term that refers to the physical and mental actions associated with knowledge and comprehension. It contributes to the integration and awareness of the world (Lawton, Saunders & Muhs, 2013). Piaget regards it as both a method and a type of information (Lawton, Saunders & Muhs, 2013). This concept serves as the foundation for the three principles, and as new information is acquired, it modifies, augments, or alters its existence. Piaget defined the principle of accommodation as the revision process of perceptions, schemas, ad understanding to enhance the incorporation of new information. On the other hand, assimilation was defined as integrating further information in existing schemas, cognition, and perception (Lawton, Saunders & Muhs, 2013). At the same time, equilibration encompassed both assimilation and accommodation in a bid to strike a balance between the two. These principles underpinned his perspectives and stages on cognitive development.

Bruner’s Cognitive Development Theory

Overview of Bruner’s Life

Jerome Bruner was born in Poland on October 1, 1915, and rose to prominence as a cognitive psychologist. He was born blind but underwent treatment to restore his sight (Greenfield, 2016). Bruner earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1937 and a master’s degree in psychology two years later (Greenfield, 2016). He earned a doctorate in the same area from Harvard University in 1941. Bruner devoted most of his career to educational, emotional, developmental, linguistic, and story creation studies (Barrouillet, 2015). This was after his first psychiatric article on the impact of thymus extract on the sexual behaviour of female mice during World War II (Barrouillet, 2015). He died later that year, on June 5, 2016, at the age of one hundred.

The Theory

The psychologist was interested in how intelligence is organised and represented via different ways of thought. According to his constructivist philosophy, it is crucial to progress from enactive to legendary to abstract representation (Greenfield, 2016). This is valid for adult learners and, therefore, applies to both genders (Barrouillet, 2015). Additionally, the idea assumes that learners will understand any subject matter as long as the curriculum is appropriately structured. Bruner argues that creation is a continuous operation, not sequential phases (Greenfield, 2016). Finally, he believed that language was a source, not a result, of learning.

Bruner’s Three Modes of Representation

Enactive Representation. This mode exists from infancy to about one year and is dominant during this period. It contains the first type of memory. Here, reasoning patterns are associated with a bodily behaviour, and the child learns by doing rather than speaking (Greenfield, 2016). The mode entails the encoding of physical actions using memory storage and records. Also, after this period, it happens during subsequent physical activity (Barrouillet, 2015). Nonetheless, most adults can perform a variety of motor activities that they are unable to explain symbolically.

Iconic Representation. The mode refers to how knowledge is processed and usually lasts between one and six years. This is because data is often processed as sensory memories, specifically visual images similar to that seen in a person’s mind (Barrouillet, 2015). This occurs knowingly for some adolescents, while others assert that they do not encounter those symbols. This explains why, when studying new subjects, it is much easier to understand when diagrams supplement verbal knowledge (Greenfield, 2016). Similarly, thought, including scent, contact, and hearing, is dependent on mental representations.

Symbolic Representation. This mode begins at about the age of seven. In this case, data is processed in a symbol or code analogous to a language (Greenfield, 2016). Furthermore, information may be stored in the form of symbol structures, terms, or statistics. Nonetheless, signals are adaptable, so they can be organised, categorised, and manipulated to satisfy the individual, who is not constrained by pictures or behaviour (Barrouillet, 2015). This has a strong correlation with the emotions and acts they symbolise.

Principles of Bruner’s Theory

Bruner’s philosophy is based on four fundamental concepts that govern the modes of representation. The first factor is the predisposition to read, accompanied by the efficacy of information introduction sequences. The other aspect involves structuring a body of information easily grasped by the learner (Takaya, 2015). Finally, the pacing and essence of penalties and incentives are considered. Bruner argued that proper knowledge methods should be designed to produce novel propositions, are easy to use, and facilitate the exploitation of data (Takaya, 2015). These provide the basis for the analysis of cognition from an instruction-based viewpoint.

Comparing and Contrasting the Theories of Piaget and Bruner


The critical point of comparison is that both are constructivist. Constructivism is a metaphysical and psychological perspective that holds that most of what we think and experience is constructed by ourselves (Stapleton & Stefaniak, 2018). These ideas imply that students must participate fully in the process of information creation (Fioretti & Smorti, 2019). Piaget’s philosophy forces children to use the experience learned from their interactions with the environment and forces them to exist in the same context to make sense (de Ribaupierre, 2015). Bruner’s philosophy, on the other hand, requires that learners be assigned stimuli based on their perceptions and cognitive capacities, which is constructivist.

Additionally, both views claim that children are born prepared to master a language. This is why they are both concerned with language comprehension through the stages and forms of representation. This is about their assertion that infants are innately predisposed to understand language (Weinstein, Madan & Sumeracki, 2018). According to both ideas, they are born prepared to comprehend. This is consistent with both interventions’ assertion that children have an innate need to learn words.

Moreover, both views assert that children’s cognitive systems evolve. According to Piaget, these systems form over the four phases outlined in his model. As a result, they emerge sequentially from birth to sixteen (Fioretti & Smorti, 2019). Bruner’s principle appears from birth and progresses through the three forms of representation after seven years. The child is provided constructs by stage and manner that he or she develops to support the characteristics and specifications of the generation.

The other similarity is that children are accountable for their language acquisition activities. According to Piaget’s philosophy, children are successful participants, and their contact with their surroundings significantly affects their cognitive progress across the phases (Yilmaz, 2011). Bruner’s hypothesis illustrates a similar scenario in which children are fundamental to different ways of thought and intelligence development.

Furthermore, all hypotheses enable teachers to comprehend the stage of learning before developing instructional materials. This demonstrates the importance of communicating with the world. Further, it refers to the theorists’ belief in allowing students to create higher standards of thought, which aid in information creation (Zuliana, Retnowati & Widjajanti, 2019). As a result, the idea draws on the extension of both theorists’ views on the importance of vocabulary.

Finally, cognitive development requires the acquisition of symbols. Bruner and Piaget concur that specific icons as pictures benefit children and help them understand more effectively and quickly (Zuliana, Retnowati & Widjajanti, 2019). These symbols are every bit as essential as words. They demonstrate how such progression happens through all ages, with multiple signals becoming important at various times.


However, these theorists fundamentally disagree about how they interpret creation. According to Piaget, this progression occurs in four steps. He provides estimated ages at each point, with the phase occurring automatically (Fioretti & Smorti, 2019). On the other hand, Bruner sees creation as a continuous phase that eschews the concept of phases. His philosophy is focused on modes of information transfer, with the world playing a critical role in facilitating the internal capacities of the learner.

Moreover, the two hypotheses take opposing views on language production. Piaget views language development as a byproduct of cognitive growth, while Bruner asserts that language development is a source of cognitive development (de Ribaupierre, 2015). This suggests that Piaget’s theory promotes the notion that mental growth happens only after language development, while Bruner’s theory maintains that cognitive development occurs along with language development (Yilmaz, 2011). Therefore, the distinction is based on the degree to which one aspect is dependent on the other and the nature of the cause-effect relationship between the two.

Further, there is a distinction between how emotional learning happens. Bruner claims that social learning can be accelerated by incorporating various experiences and factors into a child’s existence (Fioretti & Smorti, 2019). However, Piaget maintains that the child must be allowed time to prepare on his or her own. He assumes that the mechanism cannot be accelerated or slowed down and occurs at a fixed pace unique to each infant.

Finally, the two scholars disagree about the position of adults and more experienced peers. Bruner suggests that these two classes are essential for cognitive growth. They have a significant impact on the manner and pace of the action (Yilmaz, 2011). On the other hand, Piaget focuses exclusively on the child’s ability and how he deals with his world as a person.

Implications for Teaching and Learning

Piaget’s Theory

As implied by the hypothesis, the primary assumption being that it places a premium on children’s thinking patterns rather than only the outcome. In this respect, the method allows teachers to stress the need and significance of students comprehending the mechanisms that result from inaccurate answers, rather than relying exclusively on correct answers (Kay & Kibble, 2016). This, he argues, means the learners grasp ideas even though they cannot obtain correct responses.

Additionally, the hypothesis suggests the importance of acknowledging disparities in cognitive growth. It asserts that when creation occurs in phases, it happens at varying rates. As a result, teachers must ensure that their activities and lesson plans are tailored to suit the needs of specific students rather than the whole community (Kay & Kibble, 2016). This can be achieved per the ability that an individual possesses at each point of growth.

Additionally, the principle emphasises the critical position that children perform in learning experiences by their constructive involvement. Children must be motivated to explore themselves, the theory goes, by ensuring they are continually interacting with their surroundings (Kay & Kibble, 2016). It is opposed to the theory’s belief that recent experience is deceptive.

Finally, Piaget suggests that it is vital to guard children against developing adult-like thoughts. This relates to his views on rapid growth (McInerney, 2005). He claims that tutors can avoid accelerating students’ development across the different phases since this has the same negative consequences as not teaching at all (Kay & Kibble, 2016). Thus, teachers should recognise each student’s developmental stage and welcome their abilities appropriately.

Bruner’s Theory

The primary consequence of Bruner’s principle is that schooling should be geared toward developing autonomous learners. As a result, teachers should place a premium on developing a child’s problem-solving and critical thinking abilities, which can be used in various situations, rather than imparting wisdom (Kay & Kibble, 2016). As a result, it allows teachers to use symbolic thought to solidify this facilitation and ensure that students continue to be successful learners who construct their skills individually.

Additionally, he implies that it is a waste of time to adapt a child’s social growth to the complexities of a specified subject matter. He claims that this pushes teachers down so that such subjects are perceived to be intimidating and should only be learned because the instructor feels secure in the individual’s academic maturity (Artino & Konopasky, 2018). As a result, he urges educators to ignore those trends and educate students objectively and without prejudice (Slavin, 2021). This is because he insists that all youngsters, whether complicated or not, can comprehend knowledge.

Bruner also advocates for the usage of a spiral curriculum to facilitate exploration learning. He suggests that learners should be permitted to discover their own and that the teacher’s function should encourage the process rather than impart knowledge (Kay & Kibble, 2016). As a result, lessons should be structured to assist students in identifying relationships within the bits of knowledge accessible. As a result, they can provide learners with disorganised knowledge.


Bruner and Piaget contribute critical insights to our understanding of cognitive growth. Both ideas are essential in schooling and psychology since they include precise perspectives about how and why students respond. Even if the two philosophers take divergent viewpoints and experiences, they share many characteristics concerning cognition. Nonetheless, it is critical to comprehend their particular aspects and determine which hypothesis better fits their case.


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EduRaven. 2022. "Cognitive Development Theories." June 14, 2022.

1. EduRaven. "Cognitive Development Theories." June 14, 2022.


EduRaven. "Cognitive Development Theories." June 14, 2022.


EduRaven. 2022. "Cognitive Development Theories." June 14, 2022.

1. EduRaven. "Cognitive Development Theories." June 14, 2022.


EduRaven. "Cognitive Development Theories." June 14, 2022.