(b. Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 9 August 1896; d. Geneva, Switzerland, 16 September 1980),
psychology, epistemology, biology.
Piaget is best known for his studies on the development of human intelligence from infancy to adolescence. He contributed crucially to the shaping of twentieth-century child psychology, cognitive psychology, and educational theory and practice. Nevertheless, he always considered that his specific domain was that of “genetic” (in the sense of “developmental”) epistemology, and he saw psychology as an instrument for developing a theory of scientific knowledge, specifically for understanding the growth of knowledge and the emergence of the concepts and cognitive mechanisms that make science possible. The idea of “intelligence,” as he used it, encompassed the capacities (such as that for abstraction and logical thinking) and notions (such as time, space, and substance) that are constitutive of scientific thought. His oeuvre includes more than fifty books and hundreds of articles.
Piaget’s entire professional life took place in Switzerland. After a dissertation in the natural sciences (1918) at the University of Neuchâtel, and studies in psychology and philosophy in Zürich and Paris, Piaget joined the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute of Geneva in 1921. Founded by the Genevan psychologist Édouard Claparède as a center for research on child development and education, the institute evolved into the Department of Psychology and Education of the University of Geneva. In the course of his long academic career, Piaget taught experimental and developmental psychology, sociology, and history of scientific thought, mostly at the University of Geneva. From 1929 to 1967 he also directed the International Bureau of Education, originally established to coordinate educational information and research, and to promote peace and international understanding through education. In 1955, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, he created the interdisciplinary International Center for Genetic Epistemology (which closed in 1984). Piaget received numerous honorary doctorates (the first one from Harvard University in 1936), as well as such prestigious international awards as the Erasmus (1971) and Balzan (1979) prizes.
Early Development Piaget was born in 1896 in the French-speaking Swiss city of Neuchâtel to Rebecca-Suzanne Jackson, a religious mother with socialist leanings, and Arthur Piaget, an agnostic medievalist who was professor at the University of Neuchâtel and director of the local State Archives. In his 1952 autobiography, Piaget described his early commitment to “serious work” as a way of escaping the difficult family situation created by his mother’s mental instability. From 1910 to 1915 Piaget was active in the Club des Amis de la Nature (Club of the friends of nature), an amateur naturalist society for high-school students, supported by parents and local naturalists and academics. Shortly after an early initiation to malaco-logical taxonomy with Paul Godet, director of the
Neuchâtel Museum of Natural History (Musée d’histoire naturelle), he immersed himself in mollusk classification; by the time he finished his doctoral thesis on the taxonomy of Alpine mollusks (1918), he had published numerous articles in specialized journals. He later traced his “biological” view of intelligence as an adaptive function to this early scientific activity, which (in his 1952 autobiography) he also thanked for having protected him against the “demon of philosophy.” Piaget’s turn from classificatory natural history to problems of adaptation and evolution, however, were largely due to his adolescent philosophical outlook.
Piaget became interested in the nature of life and evolution in 1912, after reading Creative Evolution (1907) by the French philosopher Henri Bergson. Inspired by this celebrated work, he rejected the Darwinian theory of natural selection (to which he would always prefer a form of Lamarckism), and he adopted the basic postulate of his later thought: the idea that the theory of knowledge and the theory of life are inseparable. He nevertheless stayed with classificatory natural history until his 1918 thesis; later, at a time when he was already involved in psychological research, he undertook a years-long “biometrical and genetic” study of the freshwater snail Limnaea stagnalis’s adaptation to natural lake environments. In 1929 he published a major monograph on the topic, thus giving closure to his empirical work in the natural sciences.
During his high school studies (1912–1915), Piaget began a lifelong friendship with his philosophy teacher and mentor Arnold Reymond. (After graduating in theology in 1900 with an essay on “subjectivism and the problem of religious knowledge,” Reymond served as a Protestant minister for three years before turning to philosophy and the history of science, specializing, at the time he was Piaget’s teacher, in the history of logic and mathematics in Greco-Roman antiquity.) During World War I, Piaget joined socialist and Christian youth groups, and he spent time at a sanatorium in Leysin, in the Swiss Alpine canton of Vaud, a place reminiscent (in some literature of the time) of Thomas Mann’s “magic mountain.”
In ways that are also reminiscent of Mann’s characters, the young Piaget went through deep crises in which issues of personal identity merged with religious and political questions, a revolt against bourgeois conservatism and the official churches, and the aspiration to work for the “new birth of Christianity.” Combining Bergson’s doctrine of the élan vital and the philosophy of religion “based on psychology and history” of the French theologian Auguste Sabatier, Piaget sketched a “Bergsonian Protestantism” in which the evolution of dogmas was a part of “creative evolution.” In March 1914 he published a comparison of Bergson and Sabatier, his first article outside the domain of natural history. Piaget obliterated these experiences and ideas from his later autobiographical writings, but left Abūndant traces of them in such youthful writings as the prose poem The Mission of the Idea (1915); a “prayer” titled “Les mystères de la douleur divine” (The Mysteries of Divine Suffering, 1916), in which a desperate man discovers God’s fraternity with humanity; and the 1918 article “Biology and War,” in which he asserts that to struggle against war is to follow the “logic of life.” He also described his youthful crises and their solution in Recherche (1918; Quest), an autobiographical Bildungsroman and philosophical essay that was severely criticized by Reymond. (Piaget, 1977c, includes a partial translation of Mission, a complete translation of “Biology and War,” and a chapter-by-chapter summary of Recherche. The full text of Recherche is available at the site of the Jean Piaget Foundation; see Bibliography below.)
In Recherche, Piaget elaborated a theory of organic, psychological, and social phenomena based on the idea of equilibrium between parts and wholes. While real-life dis-equilibria (between individual and collective interests, for example) tend toward equilibrium, disequilibria can lead to such events as war. Piaget’s ultimate goal was the new birth of Christianity and the reconstruction of postwar humanity. Much of his later thinking built directly on these youthful speculations and values, but its empirical impetus derived from a reaction against the metaphysical and mystical inclinations of his adolescence.
The Child’s “Mentality.” After spending the winter semester of 1918–1919 in Zürich, where he enrolled at the university but mainly attended lectures on psychoanalysis (a field he knew since 1916), Piaget left for Paris, where he went to classes and lectures in psychiatry, logic, and philosophy of science. In the fall of 1919, he gave a lecture on psychoanalysis and child psychology (a special Swiss interest), which was one of the first psychoanalytic presentations on French soil. In Zürich he tried out psychoanalysis, both as a practitioner and as a patient. Thanks to a recommendation from Pierre Bovet (a friend of Piaget’s family and director of the Rousseau Institute), Théodore Simon, who had collaborated with Alfred Binet in developing intelligence tests, asked Piaget to standardize Cyril Burt’s tests for Parisian children. Rather than adhere to the task, Piaget focused on how children proceeded and then justified their answers.
In the early 1920s Piaget combined the use of items from intelligence tests, new problem-solving situations, and open-ended conversations with school-age children into what he called the “clinical method.” His first five books (1923–1932) use this method to examine the development of the child’s language, reasoning, conceptions of the world, theories of causality, and moral judgment. Piaget found that children are at first “egocentric” (i.e., cannot take another person’s point of view) and attached to concrete appearances, but that they gradually move away from egocentrism and become capable of reciprocity and of thinking abstractly and logically. Earlier child study had focused on the contents of the children’s minds and inventoried age-related behaviors; Piaget concentrated on the main features of children’s “mentality.” In so doing, he drew inspiration from work by the French ethnologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, who described “primitive mentality” as prelogical and mystical. Piaget’s first books also bear the traces of his psychoanalytic interests, and they reveal various influences, especially that of Zürich psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, who coined the term schizophrenia and described the “autistic thinking” to which Piaget compared egocentric thought; that of two of his Paris teachers, the psychiatrist Pierre Janet and the philosopher Léon Brunschvicg; and that of James Mark Baldwin, the American pioneer of “genetic” psychology and epistemology.
In his first books, Piaget sometimes presented the development of intelligence as a process of socialization of thought that is largely driven by social interactions; in The Moral Judgment of the Child, for example, he argued that children leave egocentrism behind as the result of the practice of cooperation among peers. In the 1920s Piaget
rapidly gained an international reputation, and within the progressive education movement his work seemed to provide scientific support for pedagogical methods based on children’s interests, activity, and “self-government.” He described development as moving from egocentrism (which manifested itself as children’s dependence on perceptual appearances and acceptance of external authority) toward logical thinking and moral autonomy. He also pursued research on mollusk adaptation, and he wrote about epistemological, sociological, and religious topics.
The totality of Piaget’s writings at the time shows that, for him, development in ontogeny went in the same direction as historical progress: from the child and the primitive to the adult and the modern, from heteronomy to autonomy in the cognitive and moral domains, from authoritarian regimes to parliamentary democracy, and from dogmatic religions to liberal Protestantism. The Moral Judgment of the Child, a book of great personal significance that is connected to Piaget’s political ideals and to his defense of “immanence” in religion, closes the first phase of his work.
Infancy, Logic, and Stages Starting in the mid-1920s, with the help of his wife (and former student) Valentine Châtenay, Piaget studied his three children, born in 1925, 1927, and 1931, and recorded his observations in three major classics. The Origins of Intelligence and The Construction of Reality (1936–1937) describe how basic forms
of intentionality and of the categories of object, space, causality, and time evolve between the newborn’s reflex activities and the emergence of language at about eighteenth months. Play, Dreams, and Imitation, originally titled La formation du symbole chez l’enfant. Imitation, jeu et rêve, image et représentation, appeared in 1945, but was largely composed earlier; it deals with the development of mental representation up to the age of six. Piaget was criticized for drawing general conclusions from the observation of a very small number of subjects, who were in addition his own children. At the time, however, studying few subjects—and one’s children—was current and legitimate within psychology.
In The Origins of Intelligence, Piaget linked biological, epistemological, and psychological theories. He characterized human intelligence as a form of adaptation that prolongs organic adaptation and employs the same mechanisms of “assimilation” and “accommodation” (which he also termed the “functional invariants” of development). He asserted the primary role of activity, and he criticized both nativism and empiricism. He later called his approach constructivist, meaning by this term that the concepts and structures of intelligence are constructed and reconstructed by means of the physical and mental activities whereby the organism adapts to the external world. The books Piaget derived from observing his children constitute a second group of works, after which Piaget turned to the study of logical thinking, adopting formal logical and mathematical models to characterize mental “structures” and “operations.”
In the 1930s Piaget and his former student Bärbel Inhelder began a remarkable instance of scientific collaboration that lasted until Piaget’s death. By the 1940s, Inhelder recalled in her autobiography, Piaget said he needed her “to counter his tendency toward becoming a totally abstract thinker.” In 1948 Inhelder became professor at the University of Geneva. While Piaget never lost sight of his epistemological goals, Inhelder was more of a psychologist, devising many of the problem-solving situations that have become the distinguishing feature of Piagetian research. Their first collaborative work, on the child’s understanding of quantity conservation, appeared in 1941; in her dissertation, published in 1943, Inhelder made pioneering use of conservation tests as diagnostic tools. Together, they wrote books on the development of logic and the conceptions of movement, speed, time, space, geometry, chance, and probability.
Together with The Origins of Intelligence and The Construction of Reality, these books describe a sequence of four developmental stages from birth through adolescence. Piaget, who has often been reduced to a “stage theorist,” maintained that the stages appear in an invariable order, but recognized that they do so at somewhat different ages
in different individuals, cultures, and settings. The stages are named sensorimotor (from birth to about two years), preoperational (until about age seven, sometimes defined as an initial substage of the following one), concrete operational (until about age eleven), and formal operational. This sequence highlights “operational” thought as the point toward which development tends. For Piaget, “operations” are interiorized actions that have become reversible and coordinated with other interiorized actions into a totality; cognitive development therefore consists of the emergence of such operations. It begins with the transformation of innate reflexes into action “schemes,” whereby the subject initially assimilates the world and accommodates to it, through the child’s “operational” activities (e.g., classification and seriation of concrete objects), to the adolescent’s capacity for hypothetico-deductive thinking.
The Growth of Logical Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence: An Essay on the Construction of Formal Operational Structures (1953) and The Early Growth of Logic in the Child (1959), which are among the most influential works coauthored by Piaget and Inhelder, define the stage of “formal operations.” Piaget argued that adolescents actually (though intuitively) employ the operations of propositional logic. In his view, because logic represents the axiomatization of the internal structures of thought, and because thought derives from biological mechanisms and is an adaptive function, logico-mathematical structures are “biological” and developmentally “constructed.” This would explain their power to describe reality. Parallel to empirical investigations, Piaget published (in 1942, 1949, and 1952) elaborate studies in “logistic” (a term to be understood as the elaboration of abstract models for describing the logico-mathematical operations that manifest themselves behaviorally or psychologically). These untranslated books have been variously criticized by philosophers, logicians, and psychologists as psychologistic, logicistic, or conceptually and formally flawed.
Biology, History of Science, and Piagetian Tasks In addition to the topics already mentioned, Piaget, Inhelder, and their numerous collaborators investigated the mechanisms of perception, the relations between memory and intelligence, mental image, causal and physical explanations, number, the grasp of consciousness, contradiction, generalization, possibility, and necessity. Thirty-seven volumes of the collaborative Études d’épistémologie génétique (Studies of genetic epistemology) were published between 1957 and 1980. Starting in the 1960s, Piaget also published several theoretical books, including: Insights and Illusions of Philosophy (1965, with an autobiographical first chapter); Biology and Knowledge: An Essay on the Relations between Organic Regulations and Cognitive Processes (1967); Structuralism (1968); Genetic Epistemology (1970); Adaptation and Intelligence (1974, originally titled Adaptation vitale et psychologie de l’intelligence: Sélection organique et phénocopie); The Equilibration of Cognitive Structures (1975); and Behavior and Evolution (1976, originally titled Le comportement, moteur de l’évolution). Piaget’s three-volume Introduction à l’épistémologie génétique (1950; Introduction to genetic epistemology, 1: mathematical thought, 2: physical thought, 3: biological, psychological and sociological thoughts) remains untranslated.
Piaget was driven by the goal of elaborating a theory of knowledge that would demonstrate empirically, rather than philosophically, the conditions of possibility of scientific thought. Psychologizing the Kantian categories, he chose to ask how they develop. As illustrated by his objects of research and by the tasks he used to pursue them (see below), he identified “science” mainly with the physico-mathematical disciplines—hence, too, his steady interest in the history of science. In the general terms he used later in life, Piaget saw mental development and the history of science as a process of “equilibration” toward an ever-increasing capacity to assimilate the world. In the posthumous book Psychogenesis and the History of Science (1983, with Rolando García), Piaget established parallelisms between the two processes, thus elaborating on a postulate of his entire intellectual enterprise. He nevertheless focused on knowledge mechanisms rather than contents, thus distancing himself, in his own view, from the classical formulation of the biogenetic law “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”
Piaget’s work prior to the infancy books was rapidly translated. A hiatus followed until the 1950s, when the critique of behaviorism stimulated a renewed interest and turned Piaget into a major inspiration for the “cognitive revolution.” His rediscovery in the 1960s began in the Americas, and was promoted by such presentations as John Flavell’s The Developmental Psychology of Jean Piaget(1963) in the United States and Antonio Battro’s Diccionario de epistemología genética (1966) and El pensamiento de Jean Piaget (1969) in Argentina. His work launched empirical investigations throughout the world. Although these investigations prolonged mainly the infancy books and especially the later studies, Piaget’s early work, The Moral Judgment of the Child (1932), in which he confronted children with moral dilemmas and observed them play games, was a major source of inspiration for the American student of moral development Lawrence Kohlberg, whose work has been immensely influential in the field.
The technically accessible nature of Piagetian tasks facilitated their adoption as research paradigms. In one famous instance, children are shown a scale model of three mountains and are asked to choose from a series of pictures the one that represents the mountains as seen by a
doll at other positions. “Egocentric” younger subjects identify the doll’s viewpoint with their own. In research on the conservation of substance, the child faces two identical balls of clay; the shape of one is modified, and the experimenter investigates whether and why the child believes the amount, weight, or volume of clay has changed. Other situations involve manipulating blocks or pouring identical quantities of liquid in differently shaped containers (children begin by saying there is more or less depending on whether they pay attention to height or width, and only later attain “reversibility”).
What Piaget described as the “triumph” of operation over perceptual intuition is further illustrated in a task from The Child’s Conception of Number (1941), coauthored with Alina Szeminska: two lines of beads, including the same number of items, are placed parallel to each other; the beads on one row are then set further apart or brought closer together, and children are asked about the transformation. The younger children believe that quantity has changed; the older ones, in contrast, use one-toone correspondence (which conflicts with perception) to conclude it has been conserved. In one study of inductive reasoning, subjects were asked to discover the factors (such as length or thickness) that make metal rods more or less flexible. First discussed in The Origins of Intelligence, the study of the “object concept” or “permanent object” by observing infants’ reactions after an object disappears from their view has, like many other Piagetian tasks, given rise to numerous variations, validation research (including intercultural studies), and theoretical discussions.
Critique and Assessment Much work of Piagetian inspiration has questioned Piaget’s conclusions, suggesting that children’s competencies appear earlier than he believed, that subjects “fail” the tests because they cannot make sense of them, that both the tasks and the results should be understood in a framework that includes not only cognitive, but also social, cultural, and affective factors, or that the structure of intelligence is domain-specific rather than homogeneous. Piaget devoted his 1953–1954 Sorbonne lectures to Intelligence and Affectivity: Their Relationship during Child Development (published in English in 1981). Nevertheless, his view that affect has a motivational and regulatory function (and may thus accelerate or delay development), while cognition provides the structures of thought, has not satisfied his critics. In the 1980s and 1990s, it became fashionable to contrast his viewpoint to the cultural-historical approach of the Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky.
Most “Piagetian” research is actually disconnected from the theoretical goals of genetic epistemology. Piaget’s overall views and goals, as well as his descriptions of the stages, mechanisms, and structures involved in the development of intelligence, have inspired research programs in various fields outside psychology, including the history of art, religion, and science. More than anything, however, it is Piaget’s investigative approach and empirical findings, his formulation of new problems, and his emphasis on cognitive development that contributed to shape child and cognitive psychology in the second half of the twentieth century. His work also had a significant impact on pedagogy, giving new impetus to the belief that instruction must adapt to children’s developmental levels and must involve their interests and activity. Its effect on teaching methods (especially in mathematics) was much more concrete and successful during the postwar period than in the interwar years. Nevertheless, even in the second half of the 1930s, when he published most of his reflections about education, Piaget distanced himself from professional pedagogues.
Similarly, Piaget gave psychology a preeminent place among the sciences, because, in his view, only psychology studies the development of the logico-mathematical operations that make science possible. But he insisted that he was not a psychologist, and explained that he studied the “epistemic” rather than the “psychological” subject. This claim provides the clue to a historical examination and assessment of Piaget’s contribution. Equally important for this purpose are the diversity and temporal dimension of his oeuvre, which evolved over more than six decades and includes not only psychology, but also sociology, philosophy of science and religion, theory of knowledge, education, and biology.
WORKS BY PIAGET
“Bergson et Sabatier.” Revue chrétienne 61 (1914): 192–200. Piaget’s first article outside natural history.
“Les mystères de la douleur divine (1916).” In Fernando Vidal, “‘Les mystères de la douleur divine.’ Une ‘prière’ du jeune Jean Piaget pour l’année 1916” [“The mysteries of divine suffering”: A “prayer” for the year 1916 by the young Jean Piaget]. Revue de théologie et de philosophie 126 (1994): 97–118.
“L’adaptation de la Limnaea stagnalis aux milieux lacustres de la Suisse romande. Étude biométrique et génétique” [The adaptation of the Limnaea stagnalis to the lake environments of French-speaking Switzerland. A biometric and genetic study]. Revue suisse de zoologie 36 (1929): 263–531.
Immanentisme et foi religieuse [Immanentism and religious faith]. Geneva: Groupe romand des anciens membres de l’Association chrétienne d’étudiants, 1930. Piaget’s final statement on religion.
The Psychology of Intelligence (1947). Translated by Malcolm Piercy and D. E. Berlyne. Totowa, NJ: Littlefield, Adams, 1972. Together with Piaget and Inhelder (1966) and Piaget (1970a), one of Piaget’s somewhat difficult presentations of his thinking.
“Autobiography.” In A History of Psychology in Autobiography. Vol. 4, edited by Edwin G. Boring, et al. Worcester, MA: Clark University Press, 1952. Widely used, but biased and incomplete in its narrative of Piaget’s youth.
Logic and Psychology. Translated by Wolfe Mays. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1953.
Six Psychological Studies(1964). Translated by Anita Tenzer. New York: Vintage, 1968. Together with 1969, 1970b, 1972a, 1972b, and 1977a, one of Piaget’s several useful collection of articles from the 1940s through the 1960s.
With Bärbel Inhelder. The Psychology of the Child (1966). Translated by H. Weaver. New York: Basic Books, 1969.
Science of Education and the Psychology of the Child (1969). Translated by Derek Coltman. New York: Viking Press, 1971.
Psychology and Epistemology: Towards a Theory of Knowledge (1970b). Translated by P. A. Wells. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1972.
The Child and Reality: Problems of Genetic Psychology (1972a). Translated by Arnold Rosin. New York: Grossman, 1973.
To Understand Is to Invent: The Future of Education (1972b). Translated by George-Anne Roberts. New York: Grossman, 1973.
With Richard I. Evans. Jean Piaget: The Man and His Ideas. New York: Dutton, 1973. Together with 1977b, useful informal introduction to Piaget.
“Autobiographie” [Autobiography]. Revue européenne des sciences sociales (Cahiers Vilfredo Pareto) 14 (1976): 1–43.
Sociological Studies(1977a). Translated by Terry Brown, et al. Introduction by L. Smith. London and New York: Blackwell, 1995. Translates the second, expanded edition of Études sociologiques (first ed., 1965).
With Jean-Claude Bringuier. Conversations with Jean Piaget (1977b). Translated by Basia Miller-Gulati. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
The Essential Piaget: An Interpretive Reference and Guide (1977c). Edited by Howard E. Gruber and Jacques Vonèche. New York: Basic Books, 1996. A valuable anthology with comments and introductions.
Studies in Reflecting Abstraction (1977d). Edited and translated by Robert L. Campbell. Hove, U.K.: Psychology Press, 2000. Empirical and theoretical studies on a process (abstraction refléchissante, also rendered as “reflective abstraction”) to which Piaget attributed a central role in the growth of knowledge.
Genetic Epistemology. Translated by Eleanor Duckworth. New York: Norton, 1979.
L’éducation morale à l’école: De l’éducation du citoyen à l’éducation internationale [Moral education in the school: From the education of the citizen to international education]. Edited by Constantin Xypas. Paris: Anthropos, 1997a. Selection of texts, 1928–1944. Overlaps with 1997b and 1998.
Piaget et l’éducation [Piaget and education]. Edited by Constantin Xypas. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1997b. Selection of texts, 1930–1966. Overlaps with 1997a and 1998.
De la pédagogie [On pedagogy]. Edited by Silvia Parrat-Dayan and Anastasia Tryphon. Paris: Odile Jacob, 1998. Selection of texts, 1930–1976. Overlaps with 1997a and 1997b.
“La vanité de la nomenclature” et autres écrits de jeunesse de Jean Piaget [“The vanity of nomenclature” and other early writings by Jean Piaget], edited by Fernando Vidal, 1999. Available from http://www.piaget.org/piaget/. Manuscripts and other materials from the Club des Amis de la Nature, 1910–1915.
Barrelet, Jean-Marc, and Anne-Nelly Perret-Clermont, eds. Jean Piaget et Neuchâte: L’apprenti et le savant [Piaget and Neuchâtel: The apprentice and the scholar]. Lausanne, Switzerland: Payot, 1996.
Battro, Antonio. Piaget: Dictionary of Terms (1966). Translated by Elizabeth Rütschi-Hermann and Sarah F. Campbell. New York: Pergamon, 1973.
Boden, Margaret. Jean Piaget. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1979. Excellent short introduction.
Catalogue annuel des Archives Jean Piaget (previously Catalogue des Archives Jean Piaget). Geneva: Fondation Archives Jean Piaget. Annual bibliographies of Piaget-related publications.
Chapman, Michael. Constructive Evolution: Origins and Development of Piaget’s Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Like Kitchener, but more comprehensive and biographical, a complex analysis of Piaget’s work.
Ducret, Jean-Jacques. Jean Piaget: Biographie et parcours intellectuel [Jean Piaget: Biography and intellectual itinerary]. Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Delachaux et Niestlé, 1990. Illustrated.
Inhelder, Bärbel. “Autobiography.” In A History of Psychology in Autobiography, vol. 8, edited by Gardner Lindzey. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989.
Kitchener, Richard F. Piaget’s Theory of Knowledge: Genetic Epistemology and Scientific Reason. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986.
Montangero, Jacques, and Danielle Maurice-Naville. Piaget, or, The Advance of Knowledge. Translated by Angela Cornu-Wells. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1977. Like Battro, a glossary (this one limited to Piaget’s psychological work).
Smith, Leslie, ed. Jean Piaget. Critical Assessments. 4 vols. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.
Vidal, Fernando. Piaget before Piaget. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994. A historical and contextual biography focused on Piaget’s youth.
———. Piaget neuchâtelois. Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Bibliothèque publique et universitaire, 1996. An illustrated exhibition catalog.
———. “Immanence, affectivité et démocracie dans Le jugement moral chez l’enfant” [Immanece, affectivity and democracy in The Moral Judgment of the Child]. Bulletin de psychologie 51, no. 437 (1998): 585–597. Discusses the origins and significance of The Moral Judgment, as well as Piaget’s religious writings of the 1920s.
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Piaget, Jean (1896–1980)
PIAGET, JEAN (1896–1980)
Director of the Institute of Educational Science in Geneva and professor of experimental psychology at the University of Geneva, Jean Piaget was the most influential developmental psychologist of the twentieth century. Many of Piaget's concepts and research methods have become so much a part of the conventional wisdom and practice that psychologists are often unaware of their origin. The stages of development that Piaget observed and conceptualized are given extended treatment in every introductory psychology and developmental psychology textbook. In addition, much of contemporary research on infancy grows directly out of Piaget's innovative studies of his own three infants. Moreover, a great deal of present day research and theory regarding adolescence starts from Piaget's demonstration of the appearance of new, higher level, mental abilities during this age period. In these and in many other ways, Piaget's research and theory continue to be a powerful stimulus in many different fields and areas of investigation.
Piaget's work, however, has had an impact on other disciplines as well. The contemporary emphasis upon constructivism in education, for example, stems directly from Piaget's theory of intellectual development. According to Piaget the child does not copy reality, but rather constructs it. Reality is developmentally relative; it is always a joint product of the child's developing mental abilities and his or her experiences with the world. Piaget's research and theory has also had considerable impact upon psychiatry. His description of the intellectual stages of development has provided a very important complement to the psychosexual stages of development outlined by the Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud. In these, and in many other ways, the power of Piaget's work continues to be felt in many diverse fields.
Jean Piaget was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. His father was a classics professor at the University of Neuchâtel while his mother was a deeply devout Christian. In his autobiography, Piaget suggests that the ongoing conflict between his father's scientific beliefs and his mother's spiritual convictions contributed to his theory of mental development. He came to regard the development of intelligence as motivated by the progressive resolution of conflicting ideas. Be that as it may, Piaget showed his genius early. At the age of fourteen he published his first scientific paper, his observations of an albino sparrow. He also became, thanks to the mentorship of the curator of the Neuchâtel natural history museum, a student of mollusks. He began experimenting with crustaceans and publishing his findings in the biological journals. These articles were so well received that he was offered the curatorship of a natural history museum in another Swiss canton. Piaget, however, had to refuse because he had not yet graduated from high school.
Once at the university, Piaget took courses in both philosophy and biology and struggled to find some way to reconcile his philosophical interests with his commitment to science. He hit upon a unique solution in an unexpected place. After receiving his doctorate, Piaget explored a number of different professions including psychiatry. He eventually took a position in Paris, translating some of the intelligence tests created by the English psychologist, Sir Cyril Burt, into French. As part of this endeavor, it was necessary for Piaget to test a number of children in order to ensure that his translations had not made the items easier or more difficult than they were for English children of comparable age. While administering these tests, Piaget became fascinated with the children's wrong answers. To Piaget, these wrong answers did not seem random. Rather they appeared to be generated by a systematic way of seeing things that was not wrong, but simply reflected a different world view than that held by adults.
Piaget was fascinated by his unexpected discovery that children's perception of reality was not learned from adults, as had heretofore been assumed, but was constructed. Children's conception of the world, Piaget reasoned, was different than that of adults because their thought processes were different. Piaget assumed that he would pursue this problem, the development of children's thinking, for a few years and then move on to other things. Instead, this pursuit of the ways in which children construct reality, became the foundation of a lifelong professional career. Piaget came to realize that the study of the development of children's adaptive thought and action, of their intelligence, was a way of pursuing both his philosophical and his scientific interests.
One field of philosophy is epistemology, the study of how people come to know the world. Most philosophers approach this topic by means of introspection and logical analysis. Piaget, however, believed that he could put epistemological questions to the test by studying the development of thought and action in children. Accordingly Piaget created his own new discipline with its own methods and problems. The field was genetic epistemology, the study of child development as a means of answering epistemological questions. Piaget's career exploration of genetic epistemology can be roughly divided into four different stages.
Stage 1: The Sociological Model of Development
During this first stage, roughly corresponding to the 1920s, Piaget investigated children's heretofore unexplored conceptions of the world, the hidden side of children's minds. To further this exploration Piaget made use of a combination of psychological and clinical methods that he described as the semiclinical interview. He began with a standardized question, but followed up with nonstandard questions that were prompted by the child's answer. In order to get what Piaget called children's "spontaneous convictions" he often asked questions that the children neither expected nor anticipated. In his study of children's conception of the world, for example, he asked children whether a stone was alive and where dreams came from. He made a comparative study of children's answers and found that for these and for similar questions there was a gradual progression from intuitive to scientific and socially acceptable responses.
During this early period, Piaget published The Language and Thought of the Child, The Child's Conception of the World, The Child's Conception of Physical Causality, and The Moral Judgment of the Child. Each of these books was highly original and they made Piaget world famous before he was thirty. In these books he elaborated his first theory of development, which postulated the mental development was fueled by a social dynamic. He proposed that children moved from a position of egocentrism (a failure to take the other person's point of view into account) to sociocentrism (the recognition that others see the world differently than they do). Children moved from the egocentric to the sociocentric position thanks to social interaction and the challenge to younger children's ideas by the ideas of those children who were more advanced. Piaget made it clear, however, that the young children's egocentric ideas were not wrong, but merely different from those of the older children. Egocentric ideas are developmentally appropriate for young children, if not for older ones.
Stage 2: The Biological Model of Intellectual Development
In 1928 Piaget married one of his graduate students and started a family in the 1930s. Having his own infant children set the stage for the second phase of Piaget's work, the exploration of the development of intelligence in infants. During this period, Piaget studied his own three offspring. The semiclinical interview was clearly not of much use with infants who could not talk. Piaget, therefore, invented a number of ingenious experiments to test the infant's knowledge about the world. For example, he placed a cloth over a toy that the infant was playing with to see whether or not the baby would try to remove the cloth to recover the toy. If the baby removed the cloth this would be evidence that he or she had some mental representation of the toy. If the baby did not remove the cloth, but merely cried in frustration, this would be evidence that the infant had not yet attained representational thought.
During this second period of his work, Piaget elaborated a biological model of intellectual development, which he combined with the sociological model of the earlier period. He now described intelligence as having two closely interrelated facets. One of these, carried over from the earlier period, was the content of children's thinking. The other, new to this period, was the process of intellectual activity. Piaget now introduced a truly powerful idea, namely, that the process of thinking could be regarded as an extension of the biological process of adaptation.
He argued, for example, that the child who sucked on anything and everything in his or her reach was engaging in an act of assimilation, comparable to the assimilation of food by the digestive system. Just as the digestive system transforms a variety of foodstuffs into the nutriments needed by the body, so the infant transforms every object into an object to be sucked. At much higher level, whenever one classifies an object, say a dog, he or she in effect assimilates this exemplar to their more general dog concept. In so doing the particular dog is transformed into the universal, conceptual dog. At all stages of development, therefore, whenever one transforms the world to meet individual needs or conceptions, one is, in effect, assimilating it.
Piaget also observed that his infant children not only transformed some stimuli to conform to their own mental structures but also modified some of their mental structures to meet the demands of the environment. He called this facet of adaptation accommodation. At the biological level the body accommodates when, for example, its blood vessels constrict in response to cold and expand in response to heat. Piaget observed similar accommodations at the behavioral and conceptual levels. The young infant engages primarily in reflex actions, such as sucking the thumb or grasping. But shortly thereafter the infant will grasp some object and proceed to put that in his or her mouth. In this instance the child has modified his or her reflex response to accommodate an external object into the reflex action. That is to say, the infant's instinctual thumbsucking reflex has been adapted to objects in the environment. Piaget regarded this behavioral adaptation as a model for what happens at higher intellectual levels as well. Whenever one learns new facts, values, or skills, he or she is, in effect, modifying mental structures to meet the demands of the external world.
In Piaget's view, assimilation and accommodation are the invariant processes of intellectual processing and are present throughout life. Furthermore, because the two are often in conflict they provide the power for intellectual development. The child's first tendency is to assimilate, but when this is not possible, he or she must accommodate. It is the constant tension between assimilation and accommodation and the need for some form of equilibrium between them that triggers intellectual growth. For example, in the "hiding the toy experiment" described above, the six-month-old infant simply cried while the one-year-old infant lifted the cloth to reveal the hidden object. This initial upset, and failure of assimilation, thus led to the infant's construction of a mental image of the object. This new construction allows the child to solve the problem and remove the cloth from the toy. At each level of development, the failure of assimilation leads to a new accommodations that result in a new equilibrium that prepares for yet another level of disequilibrium.
Piaget published the results of these infant studies in three books, The Origins of Intelligence in the Child, The Construction of Reality in the Child, and Play Dreams and Imitation. These books continue to stimulate a wide range of investigations into the developing abilities of infants.
Stage 3: The Elaboration of the Logical Model of Intellectual Development
During the third period of his work, from the 1940s through the 1960s, Piaget explored the development of many different physical and mathematical concepts in children and adolescents. To explore the physical and mathematical conceptions of children and adolescents, Piaget returned to the semiclinical interview, but in modified form. He decided that the way to test children's level of conceptual development was to challenge their understanding of conservation, that is, their understanding that an object's physical or mathematical properties do not change despite a change in its appearance. Piaget based this methodology on the fact that scientific progress occurs when judgments of reason win out over judgments based upon appearance. The discovery of the roundness of the earth is a good example. The ancients believed that the world was flat. It was only from later observations and reasoning about the disappearance of ships on the horizon and the shadow of the earth on the moon that the perception of flatness could be overcome.
To test children's understanding of conservation, Piaget presented children with a wide array of tasks in which the child had to make a judgment on the basis of either perception or reason. Only when the child made his or her judgment on the basis of reason was the child said to have attained conservation. For example, in his studies of children's conception of number, Piaget confronted children with two rows of six pennies, one spread apart so that it was longer than the other. Young children judge the longer row to have more pennies, while older children judge both rows to have the same amount. Older children have attained the conservation of number while younger children have not.
With this conservation methodology, Piaget and his longtime colleague, Barbel Inhelder, explored how children constructed their concepts of number, space, time, geometry, speed, and much more. In this third phase of his work, Piaget introduced a logical model to explain children's attainment of conservation in different domains and at different age levels. It is this logical model of intellectual development for which he is perhaps best known. Piaget argued that intelligence develops in a series of stages that are related to age and that are progressive in the sense that each is a necessary prerequisite of the next. There is no skipping of stages. In addition, he contended that each stage was characterized by a set of mental operations that are logical in nature but vary in complexity. At each stage of development the child constructs a view of reality in keeping with the operations at that age period. At the next stage, however, with the attainment of new mental abilities the child has to reconstruct the concepts formed at the earlier level in keeping with his or her new mental abilities. In effect, therefore, Piaget conceived of intellectual development as an upward expanding spiral wherein the child must constantly reconstruct the ideas formed at an earlier level with new, higher order concepts acquired at the next level.
The first stage, infancy or the first two years of life, Piaget described as the sensori-motor period. In the first two years of life, the baby constructs elementary concepts of space, time, and causality but these are at the visual, auditory, tactual, and motoric level, and do not go beyond the here and now. At the next stage of development, the pre-operational level, children acquire the symbolic function and are able to represent their experience. Children now begin to use words and symbols to convey their experience and to go beyond the immediate. Concepts of space, time, and causality, for example, begin to be understood with terms like now and later, as well as day and night. Once the child's thought moves from the sensori-motor to the symbolic level, it has much more breadth and depth.
By the age of six or seven children attain a new set of mental abilities that Piaget termed concrete operations, which resemble the operations of arithmetic and which lift school-age children to a whole new plane of thinking. Concrete operations enable young children to reason in a syllogistic way. That may be the reason the ancients called these years the age of reason. Concrete operations enable children to deal with verbal rules and that is why formal education is usually begun at about this time. Following rules is in effect reasoning syllogistically. Consider the classic model of the syllogism.
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore Socrates is mortal.
This is the same form of reasoning the child must employ if he or she is to follow the rule that says "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking."
When two vowels go walking the first one does the talking.
In the word ate there are two vowels and the first is an a.
In this word, a does the talking.
Concrete operations enable young children to construct their conceptions of space, time, number, and causality on a higher quantitative plane. It is during the elementary years that children are able to learn clock and calendar time, map and geographical space, and experimental causality.
At about the age of eleven or twelve young people develop yet a higher level of mental operations that Piaget labeled formal. These operations are formal in the sense that they are no longer tied to the here and now and are abstract in the sense that they can be in conflict with reality. For example, if you ask a younger child to imagine a world in which snow was black and to guess what color, in that world, Mickey Mouse's ears would be, the child would have trouble saying they were white. Adolescents who have attained formal operations have no trouble with this problem. Formal operations enable young people to understand celestial space, historical time, and multivariable causality. They can construct ideals, think in terms of possibilities, and deal with multiple variables at the same time. Formal operations move young people to a new plane of thought, which is on a level with adult thinking.
Stage 4: The Study of Figurative Thought
During the last stage of Piaget's work, which lasted until his death in 1980, Piaget explored what he called the figurative facets of intelligence. By figurative Piaget meant those aspects of intelligence such as perception and memory that were not entirely logical. Logical concepts are completely reversible in the sense that one can always get back to the starting point. The logical addition of concepts, such as "boys plus girls equals children," can be undone by logical subtraction, such as "children minus boys equals girls" or "children minus girls equals boys." But perceptual concepts cannot be manipulated in this way. The figure and ground of a picture, for example, cannot be separated because contours cannot be separated from the forms they outline. Memory too is figurative in that it is never completely reversible. Piaget and Inhelder published books on perception, memory and other figurative processes such as learning during this last period of his work.
Jean Piaget is clearly the giant of developmental psychology. His experimental paradigms have been replicated in almost every country in the world and with quite extraordinary comparability of results. Piaget's observations, then, are among the hardiest, if not the hardiest, data in all of psychology. No other research paradigm has received such extensive cross-cultural confirmation. In the early twenty-first century there has been a tendency of investigators to dismiss Piaget's work as passé. This would be a mistake. While it is important to challenge Piaget and to build upon the foundation he has provided, it would be wrong to discount his work without having a comparable database on which to found such a rejection. Indeed, the opposite is more likely the case, namely, that the value of much of Piaget's work both for developmental psychology education and for other disciplines is yet to be fully realized.
See also: Learning Theory, subentry on Constructivist Approach.
Beard, Ruth M. 1983. An Outline of Piaget's Developmental Psychology. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Evans, Richard I. 1973. Jean Piaget: The Man and His Ideas. New York: E. P. Dutton.
Kamii, Constance. 1993. Physical Knowledge in Preschool Education: Implications of Piaget's Theory. New York: Teacher's College Press.
Piaget, Jean. 1926. The Language and Thought of the Child. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Piaget, Jean. 1929. The Child's Conception of the World. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Piaget, Jean. 1948. The Moral Judgment of the Child, trans. M. Gabain. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
Piaget, Jean. 1950. The Psychology of Intelligence. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Piaget, Jean. 1951. Play Dreams and Imitation in Childhood. New York: Norton.
Piaget, Jean. 1952. The Origins of Intelligence in the Child. New York: International Universities Press.
Piaget, Jean. 1970. Science of Education and the Psychology of the Child. New York: Orion.
Piaget, Jean, and Inhelder, Barbel. 1958. The Growth of Logical Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence. New York: Basic Books.
Piaget, Jean, and Inhelder, B. 1971. Mental Imagery in the Child. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
"Piaget, Jean (1896–1980)." Encyclopedia of Education. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/piaget-jean-1896-1980
"Piaget, Jean (1896–1980)." Encyclopedia of Education. . Retrieved May 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/piaget-jean-1896-1980
Piaget, Jean 1896-1980
Considered by many to be the founder of modern developmental psychology, the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget devoted his researches to children’s distinctive ways of knowing and to the process of developmental change leading toward adult thought. He charted a sequence of stages in children’s intellectual development whose manifestations encompass domains ranging from logical reasoning to emotional development. Trained in biology and philosophy, Piaget extrapolated from his studies of mollusks in their natural habitat to a conception of the development of intelligence in children as a progressive adaptation, tending toward ever greater equilibrium, with its reciprocal aspects of the “assimilation” of new information to existing concepts and the “accommodation” (i.e., modification) of the concepts to the new information. He viewed the development of intelligence, in turn, as the foundation of a “genetic epistemology,” a theory of knowledge that conceived the development of ideas as part of their essence. On the basis of his observations of children’s cognitive development and his claim that children’s own action catalyzes that development, Piaget altered the face of psychology and education.
Piaget became convinced that children exhibit a distinctive type of thinking, as opposed to simply flawed adult thought, when, as a young associate working on intelligence testing in the laboratory of Alfred Binet (1857–1911), he noticed that when children answered items incorrectly, they tended to give the same wrong answer. He inferred that the children must have approached the problems methodically, only the method differed from that of adults. After altering the testing methods to include the exploration of children’s answers and devising many probes of his own, he set about determining the intellectual organization of what he eventually conceived as four broad stages of development, each embodying a progression toward increasingly flexible, systematic, and complex thought: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete-operational, and formal operational.
During the sensorimotor period, extending from birth to approximately eighteen months, intelligence manifests in action. Action develops within the period from reflexive movement to means-ends behavior that comes, by the last of six substages, to incorporate tool use, foresight, and detours ( 1952). The advent of representational intelligence in the sixth substage manifests in additional ways, including deduction based upon remembered events, the imitation of events witnessed previously, symbolic play, and language. Thought now progresses to some degree independently of what is seen or otherwise directly experienced. For example, an eighteen-month-old child who sees a toy hidden in a box, then sees the box moved under a cloth, and then finds the box empty, will spontaneously search under the cloth for the missing toy, evidently having inferred that the toy left the box when the box was under the cloth (an instance of deduction). Children at this age might also imitate a funny face someone made the day before (an instance of deferred imitation) or slide a leaf along the countertop as though the leaf were a car (an instance of symbolic play). Although any of these representational activities might occur in the absence of language, language, which also depends upon conceptual connections, normally begins at around the same time.
These symptoms of nascent representational thought mark the beginning of Piaget’s second broad stage, of preoperational or intuitive intelligence, which extends roughly from two to seven years of age. Piaget found that, despite the advances it embodied, thought during this interval exhibited limitations, in particular with respect to the property of what he termed reversibility. The limitation is apparent in Piaget’s best-known experiment with school-age children, his probe of what he called the “conservation” of quantity. When water, for example, is poured from a wide flask into a thin one, although adults or older children know the water level must rise, children under the age of (approximately) seven years sometimes anticipate that the water level will remain the same. Alternatively, when confronted with the raised water level after the water is poured, they may assert that the new (thin) flask contains more water than did the original (wide) flask ( 1965).
By comparison, when presented with the same problem, children between seven and twelve years, normally the stage of concrete-operational thought, say the amount of liquid must remain the same because, for example, if one returned the water to the original flask, the water would rise to the level it reached initially. Or, they might say that although the level is higher in the second flask than it was in the first, the second flask is also narrower, or that nothing was added or taken away. Piaget perceived in these arguments the imagined reversal of an observed state of affairs and the construction of compensations between different variables of the problem.
The state of affairs had to be concrete and observable, however, whereas from roughly twelve years onward, during the formal operational stage, individuals can reason about hypothetical states and solve both abstract and concrete problems systematically, by taking account of, and if necessary manipulating, all variables pertinent to a problem. Thus, as a scientist would do, a child at this stage confronted with the problem of determining which of a series of chemicals was responsible for altering the color of a solution, for instance, would systematically vary each possible combination of liquids to isolate the necessary reaction (Inhelder and Piaget  1958).
Development through the stage of concrete operations is believed to be universal, whereas only a fraction of even well-educated teenagers from the United States exhibit formal operational reasoning when they are given the problems originally employed by Piaget. As suggested by Jean Retschitzki (1989) in a study of expert players of a popular game in the Ivory Coast, however, evidence exists that formal-operational reasoning may be employed even by members of undeveloped countries with low literacy when people participate in culturally indigenous activities in which they are expert.
Piaget characterized these tiers of development in a second way, as embodying three “Copernican revolutions” ( 1968), in which children, initially “egocentric” at the level in question, gradually progressed toward the ability to take alternative perspectives into account. Although Piaget eventually retracted the term egocentric in response to its apparent misconstrual by other psychologists, he retained the substantive theses underlying it.
During the sensorimotor period of infancy, as conceived within this second scheme, children come gradually to acknowledge a self, a world, and their separation. They come to recognize, for example, that their caregivers come and go on their own and that the external world generally operates independently of them ( 1954).
During the preoperational period of early childhood, children progress from an obliviousness to the perspective of others to the awareness that others may perceive things differently from what they perceive, and they anticipate the alternative perspective. Thus, for instance, whereas when an interlocutor’s back is turned, a four-year-old might point to the location of an object for which the interlocutor is searching, an older child would describe the location ( 1955).
Corresponding to the advent of the capacity for formal operations is an interest in abstract ideals and, according to Piaget, a progression during adolescence from the view that the world should submit to one’s schemes to the understanding that one does not know everything ( 1968).
Piaget believed his stage sequences extended to many areas of cognition, including logical thought and children’s conceptions of objects, space, time, causality, number, chance, and probability, as well as aspects of perception and memory. He perceived their manifestations also in areas of social life, especially morality. Corresponding to the progression he observed toward concrete operations, for example, he documented the emergence of an understanding of and interest in social rules and an appreciation of their purpose in regulating people’s relations and protecting their welfare. He also documented a trend from the negative moral valuation of people whose actions produce bad outcomes to the negative valuation of those whose intentions are bad ( 1965).
In delineating the myriad developments he did, Piaget ascribed greater importance to the sequence of developments he described than to the uniformity of development across areas of activity. He believed, however, that the capacity for more primitive types of reasoning remained in all areas throughout life and, especially in the case of morality, were more evident in some individuals and groups than in others.
All of the developments Piaget described resulted, he believed, from natural, spontaneous development. With the possible exception of moral judgment, whose early stages he suggested reflected the influence of adult disciplinary tactics, the developments were not taught or otherwise prompted by the environment, which at most afforded (or limited) opportunities for growth. He contended, moreover, that the advances he charted arose through feedback from children’s own action, as opposed to from the maturation of innately given abilities.
Piaget was sufficiently convinced of the potential of the mind to construct itself that he believed the entire series of developments he described evolved from a starting point of only reflexive action and the “invariant functions” of assimilation, accommodation, and the progressive storage of their results, which Piaget called organization. Merely by sucking, grasping, listening, and looking—initially reflexively—and repeating these behaviors, as followed from the inborn tendency to repeat experiences (the most primitive manifestation of assimilation), the resulting chance effects would eventually bring about change in the actions. Further changes would follow from there, until individuals reached the final equilibrium of adult forms of thought ( 1952).
Piaget’s studies of children have been replicated worldwide, in both developed and undeveloped countries. Many have also extended his sequences to domains he did not investigate, such as attachment relations in infancy and friendships during childhood.
The theory has also been challenged by researchers who, after modifying the measures Piaget used to assess the abilities he investigated, have produced results the researchers believe attest to children’s grasp of mature concepts at an earlier stage than Piaget specified. Some of this work appears in reviews by Paul Harris (1989) and John Flavell and colleagues (2002). The researchers assert that the results warrant a different model of development in which, rather than gradually developing the concepts in question, as Piaget described, children begin development in possession of the concepts’ essentials and progressively “access” the essentials in increasingly reflective thought and over ever broader areas of application; Paul Rozin lays out a version of the model in “The Evolution of Intelligence and Access to the Cognitive Unconscious” (1976). According to the general view, younger children falter on Piaget’s tasks not because they lack the concepts under examination, but because they become confused by nonessential features of Piaget’s experiments. With age, the view says, as children’s working memory and attentional capabilities increase, children became better able to negotiate Piaget’s tasks.
Some researchers in the foregoing line have challenged Piaget’s theory based not upon new experimental procedures, which most of the aforementioned studies employ, but upon naturalistically occurring behavior, a focus more in keeping with Piaget’s original observations. For example, in 1973 Marilyn Shatz and Rochel Gelman reported that, contrary to the idea that preschoolers fail to take in others’ perspectives when addressing them, four-year-olds simplify their speech when they talk to two-year-olds. More recently, Debra van Ausdale and Joseph Feagin (2001) found evidence in preschoolers’ social interactions of racist ideas and practices that the authors believe possible only with the “operational” thought Piaget ascribed to middle childhood.
Another line of criticism questions the cogency of Piaget’s theoretical constructs independently of the data, as exemplified by works by Sophie Haroutunian (1983) and Susan Sugarman (1987a), or the formalisms he used to represent the constructs, as argued by Daniel Osherson (1974).
Few dispute Piaget’s sequences as measured by his own tests. Controversy continues about the equivalence of the concepts measured by newer tests to the concepts assessed by Piaget’s procedures. The two bodies of work differ fundamentally in method. Whereas the work that challenges Piaget’s norms replaces his tests at younger ages, Piaget extrapolated to his sequences from developmental changes in children’s behavior on the same measure at all ages he tested; the strategy dates to Piaget’s days as a researcher in intelligence testing. The difference makes it difficult to render any final conclusion about the import of the apparently conflicting results (see Sugarman 1987b for discussion of this).
With respect specifically to the challenges brought by fresh observations of naturally occurring behavior, evidence can be found within Piaget’s own observations of allegedly “preoperational” thought more complex than that ascribed by his account of preoperational thinking (Sugarman 1987a). Nonetheless, the particular complexities Piaget associated with “operational” thinking, in the abstract reflective thought in which he sought them, do not appear in either Piaget’s or newer data. The claim that the racist ideas and practices of some preschoolers require operational thought presents the additional problem that racism bears precisely the hallmarks of preoperational mentality as Piaget originally defined it. These properties include a one-sided point of view, often based upon appearances, that does not take account of alternative vantage points, is impervious to contradiction, and consequently remains unaware of itself as a point of view. Especially in the moral domain, which, as Piaget discusses in The Moral Judgment of the Child ( 1965), draws upon incompletely comprehended adult influences, thought can become rigid and nearly mystical as a result of these tendencies. Given the persistence of these characteristics into adult morality, the telling question raised by the observation of racism in preschoolers might be not how preschoolers manage to exhibit racism, but why adults remain susceptible to it, given their apparent possession of more sophisticated forms of thought.
Despite the empirical challenges to his theory, Piaget’s developmental milestones in children’s thought dominate research in developmental psychology and retain a strong influence in education. Although conceptual critiques of the theory suggest the presence of gaps in the edifice, Piaget’s general philosophy of how development occurs, namely through the exertions of a knowing subject, remains widely embraced.
SEE ALSO Cognitive Dissonance; Intelligence
Inhelder, Bärbel, and Jean Piaget.  1958. The Growth of Logical Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence: An Essay on the Construction of Formal Operational Structures. New York: Basic Books.
Piaget, Jean.  1955. The Language and Thought of the Child. Trans. Marjorie and Ruth Gabain. New York: Meridian.
Piaget, Jean.  1965. The Moral Judgment of the Child. Trans. Marjorie Gabain. New York: Free Press.
Piaget, Jean.  1952. The Origins of Intelligence in Children. Trans. Margaret Cook. New York: International Universities Press.
Piaget, Jean.  1954. The Construction of Reality in the Child. Trans. Margaret Cook. New York: Basic Books.
Piaget, Jean.  1965. The Child’s Conception of Number. Trans. Caleb Gattegno and F. M. Hodgson. New York: Norton.
Piaget, Jean.  1968. Six Psychological Studies. Trans. Anita Tenzer. New York: Vintage Books.
Cole, Michael. 1996. Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Flavell, John H., Patricia H. Miller, and Scott A. Miller. 2002. Cognitive Development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Haroutunian, Sophie. 1983. Equilibrium in the Balance: A Study of Psychological Explanation. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Harris, Paul L. 1989. Object Permanence in Infancy. In Infant Development, eds. Alan Slater and Gavin Bremner, 103–121. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Osherson, Daniel N. 1974. Organization of Length and Class Concepts: Empirical Consequences of a Piagetian Formalism. Vol. 1 of Logical Abilities in Children. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Retschitzki, Jean. 1989. Evidence of Formal Thinking in Baoule Awele Players. In Heterogeneity in Cross-Cultural Psychology: Selected Papers from the Ninth International Conference of the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology, eds. Daphne M. Keats, Donald Munro, and Leon Mann, 234–243. Amsterdam and Rockland, MA: Swets and Zeitlinger.
Rozin, Paul. 1976. The Evolution of Intelligence and Access to the Cognitive Unconscious. In Progress in Psychobiology and Physiological Psychology, vol. 6, eds. James M. Sprague and Alan D. Epstein, 245–280. New York: Academic Press.
Shatz, Marilyn, and Rochel Gelman. 1973. The Development of Communication Skills: Modifications in the Speech of Young Children as a Function of Listener. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 38 (5): 1–38.
Sugarman, Susan. 1987a. Piaget’s Construction of the Child’s Reality. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sugarman, Susan. 1987b. The Priority of Description in Developmental Psychology. International Journal of Behavioral Development 10: 391–414.
Van Ausdale, Debra, and Joe R. Feagin. 2001 The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
"Piaget, Jean." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/piaget-jean
"Piaget, Jean." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved May 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/piaget-jean
Born: August 9, 1896
Died: September 17, 1980
The Swiss psychologist and educator Jean Piaget is famous for his learning theories based on different stages in the development of children's intelligence.
Jean Piaget was born on August 9, 1896, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, the son of a historian. Much of Piaget's childhood was influenced by what he saw in his father, a man intensely dedicated to his studies and work. Because of this, at an early age Piaget began passing up recreation for studying, particularly the study of the natural sciences. When he was eleven, his notes on a rare part-albino (having extremely pale or light skin) sparrow were published, the first of hundreds of articles and over fifty books. Several times, when submitting his works to be published in various magazines, Piaget was forced to keep his young age a secret. Many editors felt that a young author had very little credibility.
Piaget's help in classifying Neuchâtel's natural-history museum collection inspired his study of mollusks (shellfish). One article, written when he was fifteen, led to a job offer at a natural history museum in Geneva, Switzerland; he declined in order to continue his education. At Neuchâtel University he finished natural science studies in 1916 and earned a doctoral degree for research on mollusks in 1918.
Piaget's godfather introduced him to philosophy (the search for knowledge). Biology (the study of living organisms) was thus merged with epistemology (the study of knowledge), both basic to his later learning theories. Work in two psychological laboratories in Zurich, Switzerland, introduced him to psychoanalysis (the study of mental processes). In Paris at the Sorbonne he studied abnormal psychology (the study of mental illness), logic, and epistemology, and in 1920 with Théodore Simon in the Binet Laboratory he developed standardized reasoning tests (universal tests). Piaget thought that these quantitative (expressed as an amount) tests were too strict and saw that children's incorrect answers better revealed their qualitative thinking (quality of thinking) at various stages of development. This led to the question he would spend the rest of his life studying: How do children learn?
After 1921 Piaget was director of research, assistant director, and then codirector at the Jean Jacques Rousseau Institute, later part of Geneva University, where he was the professor of history in scientific thought (1929–1939). He also taught at universities in Paris, Lausanne, and Neuchâtel. He was chairman of the International Bureau of Education and was a Swiss delegate to United Nations Economic and Scientific Committee (UNESCO). In 1955 he founded the Center for Genetic Epistemology in Geneva with funds from the Rockefeller Foundation, and in 1956 he founded and became director of the Institute for Educational Science in Geneva.
The study of children
Piaget found four stages of mental growth while studying children, particularly his own: a sensory-motor stage, from birth to age two, when mental structures concentrate on concrete (or real) objects; a pre-operational stage, from age two to seven, when children learn symbols in language, fantasy, play, and dreams; a concrete operational stage, from age seven to eleven, when children master classification, relationships, numbers, and ways of reasoning (arguing to a conclusion) about them; finally, a formal operational stage, from age eleven, when they begin to master independent thought and other people's thinking.
Piaget believed that children's understanding through at least the first three stages differ from those of adults and are based on actively exploring the environment (surroundings) rather than on language understanding. During these stages children learn naturally without punishment or reward. Piaget saw nature (heredity, or characteristics passed down from parents) and nurture (environment) as related and equally as important, with neither being the final answer. He found children's ideas about nature neither inherited (passed down from parents) nor learned but constructed from their mental structures and experiences. Mental growth takes place by integration, or learning higher ideas by absorbing lower-level ideas, and by substitution, or replacing early explanations of an occurrence or idea with a more reasonable explanation. Children learn in stages in an upward spiral of understanding, with the same problems attacked and solved more completely at each higher level.
Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner (1915–) and others introduced Piaget's ideas to the United States around 1956, after his books were translated into English. The goal of American education in the late 1950s, to teach children how to think, called for further interest in Piaget's ideas. His defined stages of when children's concepts change and mature came from experiments with children. These ideas are currently favored over the later developed stimulus-response theory (to excite in order to get response) of behaviorist (doctors who focus on the behaviors of their subjects) psychologists, who have studied animal learning.
Piaget's theories developed over years. Further explanations and experiments were performed, but these refinements did not alter his basic beliefs or theories.
Awards and legacy
Piaget received honorary degrees from Oxford and Harvard universities and made many impressive guest appearances at conferences concerning childhood development and learning. He remained a quiet figure, though, preferring to avoid the spotlight. This kind of lifestyle allowed him to further develop his theories.
Piaget kept himself to a strict personal schedule that filled his entire day. He awoke every morning at four and wrote at least four publishable pages before teaching classes or attending meetings. After lunch he would take walks and ponder on his interests. "I always like to think on a problem before reading about it," he said. He read extensively in the evening before going to bed. Every summer he vacationed in the Alpine Mountains of Europe and wrote many works.
Piaget died on September 17, 1980 in Geneva, Switzerland, and was remembered by the New York Times as the man whose theories were "as liberating [freeing] and revolutionary as Sigmund Freud's [1856–1939] earlier insights into the stages of human emotional life. Many have hailed him as one of the country's most creative scientific thinkers."
For More Information
Evans, Richard I. Jean Piaget, the Man and His Ideas. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1973.
Fravell, John H. The Developmental Psychology of Jean Piaget. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand Press, 1963.
Furth, Hans G. Piaget and Knowledge: Theoretical Foundations. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.
"Piaget, Jean." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/piaget-jean
"Piaget, Jean." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/piaget-jean
The Swiss psychologist and educator Jean Piaget (1896-1980) is famous for his learning theories based on identifiable stages in the development of children's intelligence.
Jean Piaget was born on August 9, 1896, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, the son of a historian. When he was 11, his notes on a rare part-albino sparrow were published, the first of hundreds of articles and over 50 books. His help in classifying Neuchâtel's natural-history museum collection stimulated his study of mollusks (shellfish). One article, written when he was 15, led to a job offer at Geneva's natural-history museum; he declined in order to continue his education. At Neuchâtel University he finished natural-science studies in 1916 and earned the doctoral degree for research on mollusks in 1918.
Piaget's godfather introduced him to philosophy. Biology (life) was thus merged with epistemology (knowledge), both basic to his later learning theories. Work in two psychological laboratories in Zurich introduced him to psychoanalysis. In Paris at the Sorbonne he studied abnormal psychology, logic, and epistemology, and in 1920 with Théodore Simon in the Binet Laboratory he developed standardized reasoning tests. Piaget thought that these quantitative tests were too rigid and saw that children's incorrect answers better revealed their qualitative thinking at various stages of development. This led to the question that he would spend the rest of his life studying: How do children learn?
After 1921 Piaget was successively director of research, assistant director, and co-director at the Jean Jacques Rousseau Institute, later part of Geneva University, where he was professor of the history of scientific thought (1929-1939). He also taught at universities in Paris, Lausanne, and Neuchâtel; was chairman of the International Bureau of Education; and was a Swiss delegate to UNESCO (United Nations Economic and Scientific Committee). In 1955 he founded the Center for Genetic Epistemology in Geneva with funds from the Rockefeller Foundation and in 1956 he founded and became director of the Institute for Educational Science in Geneva.
In studying children, particularly his own, Piaget found four stages of mental growth. These are a sensory-motor stage, from birth to age 2, when mental structures concentrate on concrete objects; a pre-operational stage, from age 2 to 7, when they learn symbols in language, fantasy, play, and dreams; a concrete operational stage, from age 7 to 11, when they master classification, relationships, numbers, and ways of reasoning about them; and a formal operational stage, from age 11, when they begin to master independent thought and other people's thinking.
Piaget believed that children's concepts through at least the first three stages differ from those of adults and are based on actively exploring the environment rather than on language understanding. During these stages children learn naturally without punishment or reward. Piaget saw nature (heredity) and nurture (environment) as related and reciprocal, with neither absolute. He found children's notions about nature neither inherited nor learned but constructs of their mental structures and experiences. Mental growth takes place by integration, or learning higher ideas by assimilating lower-level ideas, and by substitution, or replacing initial explanations of an occurrence or idea with a more reasonable explanation. Children learn in stages in an upward spiral of understanding, with the same problems attacked and resolved more completely at each higher level.
Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner and others introduced Piaget's ideas to the United States circa 1956, after which the translations of his books into English began. The post-Sputnik (1957) goal of American education, to teach children how to think, evoked further interest in Piaget's ideas. His definable stages of when children's concepts change and mature, derived from experiments with children, are currently favored over the hitherto dominant stimulus-response theory of behaviorist psychologists, who have studied animal learning.
Piaget's theories developed over years as refinements and further explanations and experiments were performed, but these refinements did not alter his basic beliefs or theories.
Piaget received honorary degrees from Oxford and Harvard universities and made many impressive guest appearances at conferences concerning childhood development and learning. He remained an elusive figure, though, preferring to avoid the spotlight. A quieter life allowed him to further develop his theories.
Piaget kept himself to a strict personal schedule that filled his entire day. He awoke every morning at four and wrote at least four publishable pages before teaching classes or attending meetings. After lunch he would take walks and ponder on his interests. "I always like to think on a problem before reading about it, " he said. He read extensively in the evening before retiring to bed. Every summer he vacationed in the Alpine Mountains of Europe and wrote extensively.
Piaget died on September 17, 1980 in Geneva, Switzerland and was remembered by the New York Times as the man whose theories were "as liberating and revolutionary as Sigmund Freud's earlier insights into the stages of human emotional life. Many have hailed him as one of the country's most creative scientific thinkers."
A synthesis of Piaget's work is in Jean Piaget and Bärbel Inhelder, The Psychology of the Child (1969); Hans G. Furth, Piaget and Knowledge: Theoretical Foundations (1969), contains a brief autobiographical statement by Piaget. Studies in Cognitive Development: Essays in Honor of Jean Piaget, edited by David Elkind and John H. Flavell (1969), has an excellent opening chapter by J. McV. Hunt on the impact of Piaget's work. Piaget's obituary in the New York Times (September 17, 1980) also provides some biographical information.
The literature on Piaget's work is large. Among the studies are Joseph M. Hunt, Intelligence and Experience (1961); John H. Flavell, The Developmental Psychology of Jean Piaget (1963); Molly Brearley and Elizabeth Hitchfield, A Guide to Reading Piaget (1966); Herbert Ginsburg and Sylvia Opper, Piaget's Theory of Intellectual Development: An Introduction (1969); Henry William Maier, Three Theories of Child Development: The Contributions of Erik H. Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Robert R. Sears, and Their Applications (1969); Ruth M. Beard, An Outline of Piaget's Developmental Psychology for Students and Teachers (1969); and David Elkind, Children and Adolescents: Interpretive Essays on Jean Piaget (1970). A less complicated explanation of Piaget's theories appears in Nathan Isaacs' A Brief Introduction to Piaget (1988). A bibliography of Piaget's extensive works appears in Judith A. McLaughlin Bibliography of the Works of Jean Piaget in the Social Sciences (1988). □
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Piaget, Jean (1896–1980)
Piaget, Jean (1896–1980)
Born on August 9, 1896, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, Jean Piaget grew up among passionate intellectuals in a basically Protestant environment. At a very early age, he became interested in issues connected with natural science, philosophy, logic, metaphysics, and theology. After studying science and being awarded his doctorate in zoology in 1919 with a thesis on molluscs, he moved to psychology with the hope of developing new ways to study empirically the old philosophical question "What is knowledge?" To achieve this, he started exploring the world of childhood. He studied in Zurich and at Alfred Binet's laboratory in Paris. In 1921, he was called to direct research at the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute at the University of Geneva by Edouard Claparède and his former teacher Pierre Bovet. He was a professor of philosophy at the University of Neuchâtel from 1925 to 1929 before becoming a professor of the history of scientific thought at the University of Geneva, where he remained until his death in 1980.
Piaget played an important part in the thinking of the active school movements, and became involved in the foundation of the International Bureau of Education, of which he was the first director. His research inquiries during that period (1920–1936) bear on logic in the child's thought and moral judgment, and on the originality of child development in a non-adult-centered perspective. From 1936 onward, he began collaborating with other researchers, notably Bärbel Inhelder and Alina Szeminska, who contributed to the enrichment of his critical interview method and to the gathering of a very rich collection of empirical data on children's cognitive development in the main areas of thinking. Piaget developed a theoretical model characterized by its focus on the child's own activity in a search for equilibrium and by an attempt to formalize the structures underlying the cognitive functioning of observed children at given ages. He described four main developmental stages: sensori-motor, preoperationals, concrete operations, and formal operations.
From 1952 to 1963, Piaget also taught psychology, including the psychology of childhood, at the Sorbonne in Paris. During that time, his research moved to encompass a wider understanding of knowledge development. In 1955 he founded the International Center for Genetic Epistemology, an interdisciplinary meeting point where he could discuss, with specialists from all over the world, his main preoccupation: "How is knowledge possible?" He compared ideas and facts, the philosophy of science and the observation of children, working out the fundamental principles of genetic epistemology. He pursued his empirical research on the genesis of knowledge with collaborators who inventively multiplied the tasks to be presented to children, and he offered a general constructivist theory explaining the order in which, according to his observations, phenomena are understood. According to Piaget, the first stage of development is objectal ; that is, the young child concentrates on the supposed properties of objects and does not distinguish him- or herself from these objects. The next stage is interobjectal (the child is able to connect self, objects, and phenomena) and at the final stage, the child is able to think hypothetically and to go beyond the present appearance of objects, actions, and phenomena.
Jean Piaget was wary of any attempt to imprison the child's autonomous thinking with ready-made answers that would call on memory and docility rather than on intelligence and critical reflection. Piaget illustrated how knowledge is possible because learners actively strive for mastery and understanding. He offered evidence for a constructivist understanding of intelligence, that is, a view of cognitive development as not merely the fruit of biological maturation, or of simple cumulative self-experience, or of the direct interiorization of cultural transmissions, but an interplay of all of these different factors. Piaget's findings have become the basis for much research in teaching, cognitive psychology, remedial education, and socialization and have penetrated so deep into almost all higher education programs in education and psychology that they have become accepted as simply common sense for many.
See also: Child Development, History of the Concept of; Child Psychology.
Piaget, Jean. 1952. The Child's Conception of Number. Trans. C. Gattegno and F. M. Hodgson. London: Routledge and Paul.
Piaget, Jean, et al. 1965. The Moral Judgment of the Child. Trans. Marjorie Gabain. New York: Free Press.
Piaget, Jean. 1971. Biology and Knowledge: An Essay on the Relations Between Organic Regulations and Cognitive Processes. Trans. Beatrix Walsh. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Piaget, Jean, and Bärbel Inhelder. 1969. The Psychology of the Child. Trans. Helen Weaver. New York: Basic Books.
The Jean Piaget Archives. Available from <www.unige.ch/piaget>.
Marie-Jeanne Liengme Bessire
"Piaget, Jean (1896–1980)." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/piaget-jean-1896-1980
"Piaget, Jean (1896–1980)." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . Retrieved May 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/piaget-jean-1896-1980
French psychologist, philosopher, and naturalist.
Jean Piaget is universally known for his studies of the development of intelligence in children. Although he is one of the creators of child psychology as it exists today, psychology was for him only a tool of epistemology (the theory of knowledge). He identified his domain as "genetic [i.e., developmental] epistemology." He thus studied the growth of children's capacity to think in abstract, logical terms, and of such categories as time, space, number, causality, and permanency, describing an invariable sequence of stages from birth through adolescence . A prolific author, he wrote over fifty books and hundreds of articles.
Piaget was born in 1896 in the French-speaking Swiss city of Neuchâtel, the son of an agnostic medievalist and a religious mother with socialist leanings. After completing a doctoral thesis in natural sciences (1918), and studies in psychology and philosophy in Zurich and Paris, he joined the Rousseau Institute of Geneva in 1921, which was founded by Edouard Claparède as a center for research on child development and education. He later taught experimental and developmental psychology , sociology, and history and philosophy of sciences, mainly at the University of Geneva. Piaget died in 1980. His interdisciplinary International Center for Genetic Epistemology (established in 1955) closed in 1984.
As an adolescent, Piaget published numerous papers on the classification of mollusks. During World War I, he was active in socialist and Christian student groups, and sketched a theory of organic, psychological, and social phenomena aimed at providing a scientific basis for postwar reconstruction. Much of his later thinking built directly on his youthful speculations and values, but its empirical impetus derived from his own reaction against the metaphysical and mystical tendencies of his adolescence.
Piaget devised a "clinical method" that combined standard intelligence tests and open-ended conversations with school-age children. In his first five books, he studied children's language, reasoning, conceptions of the world, theories of causality, and moral judgment. He found that children are at first "egocentric" (incapable of taking another person's point of view) and attached to concrete appearances, but that they gradually move away from egocentrism and become capable of abstract thinking. Piaget's observations of his own children led to The Origins of Intelligence (1952) and The Construction of Reality (1954), where he describes how basic forms of intentionality, and of the categories of object, space, causality, and time evolve between the onset of the newborn's reflex activities and the emergence of language at about 18 months; Play, Dreams, and Imitation (1951), deals with the development of mental representation up to the age of six. In these three classics, Piaget expounded the notion of intelligence as a form of adaptation to the external world. Starting in the 1940s, Piaget and Bärbel Inhelder studied the development of logical and formal thought in various fields (conceptions of movement, speed, time, space, geometry, chance, and probability). One of his major works, Introduction to Genetic Epistemology (1950), remains untranslated.
Piaget and his collaborators created many original and ingenious problem-solving situations that became paradigms for research all of the world. In one famous experiment, children sat facing a scale model of three mountains and were asked to choose from a series of pictures the one that represents the mountains as seen by a doll sitting at other positions. Younger subjects systematically identified the doll's viewpoint with their own. Studies of "conservation" provide further notable examples: the child is presented with two identical balls of clay; the shape of one is modified, and the child is asked whether the amount, weight, or volume of clay has changed. Other situations involve manipulating blocks or pouring identical quantities of liquid in differently shaped containers.
Most of the research Piaget inspired is disconnected from the theoretical goals of genetic epistemology. His work had some direct impact on mathematical and moral education, and reinforced the belief that instruction must be adapted to the child's developmental level. But it is Piaget's investigative techniques, formulation of new problems, insightful observations, and emphasis on the development of cognitive capacities that form some of the bases of contemporary child psychology.
Boden, M. Jean Piaget. Penguin Books, 1979.
Gruber, H., and J. Voneche, eds. The Essential Piaget. New York: Basic Books, 1977.
Piaget, J. Genetic Epistemology. Trans. E. Duckworth. New York: Norton, 1970.
Vidal, F. Piaget Before Piaget. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.
"Piaget, Jean." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/piaget-jean
"Piaget, Jean." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . Retrieved May 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/piaget-jean
Piaget, Jean (1896-1980)
PIAGET, JEAN (1896-1980)
Psychologist and theoretician of cognitive development Jean Piaget was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, on August 9, 1896. He died in Geneva on September 16, 1980.
Although renowned for his research on the development of intelligence and for his "genetic epistemology," Piaget was strongly influenced by psychoanalysis in his early career. In his autobiography, Piaget attributed this interest to his mother's instability and her "rather neurotic temperament."
By 1912, Piaget had already published taxonomic research on mollusks and developed a background in natural history; he then turned to philosophy. During World War I he went through a period of intellectual crisis dominated by Bergsonian mysticism, which combined Christian and socialist ideas. One of his first encounters with psychoanalysis occurred in 1916 on the occasion of a lecture on religion and Freudian theory in which Théodore Flournoy stated his agreement with the analytic theory of sublimation while asserting that it must respect the mystery surrounding the ultimate nature of religious phenomena. In Recherches, an autobiographical novel about his intellectual apprenticeship, Piaget adhered to the criticisms of Flournoy and the Zurich psychoanalysts; and in his theoretical speculations and analysis of his own character (a young man he identifies as himself) he gave a central role to the concepts of "autism" and "complex," terms that were originally defined and employed by Eugen Bleuler and the Zurich school. By recasting mystical thought in psychiatric terms, Piaget was able to claim that he both understood it and repudiated it.
Piaget spent the winter semester 1918-1919 at Zurich, where he attended lectures by Eugen Bleuler and Carl Gustav Jung and seminars led by Oskar Pfister. While in Paris in the fall of 1919 he gave a lecture, "Psychoanalysis in Its Relations with Child Psychology"; this became his first publication in psychology and made him one of the first to introduce psychoanalysis to France. He emphasized the importance of psychoanalysis in pedagogy and moral education, but insisted that "unconscious mechanisms" are "the first states of conscious activity." He also indicated the direction of his early research: correlation of "unconscious development" and "mental development." In a flattering article published in 1920, Oskar Pfister fore-saw a bright future for Piaget as a psychoanalyst.
Piaget joined the Swiss Psychoanalytic Society in October 1920. In 1921 he was hired by the Institut Jean Jacques Rousseau in Geneva, founded byÉduard Claparède and managed by Pierre Bovet. His analyst was Sabina Spielrein, with whom he planned to do research (Vidal). Piaget attended the Seventh International Congress of Psychoanalysis in Berlin in 1922. Circa 1924 he analyzed a student pastor; he may have also have attempted to analyze the student's mother. He also wrote reports of psychoanalytic works for The Archives of Psychology.
During the 1920s Piaget developed the analogy between infantile thinking and "symbolic" or "autistic" thinking, remaining rather closer to his teacher Pierre Janet's psychology than to Freud's psychoanalysis. In elaborating parallels between intellectual and emotional development, Piaget critiqued the Freudian concepts of symbol, memory, and the unconscious. Near the end of his career, Piaget included "the cognitive unconscious" and "the affective unconscious" as a part of a generalized "unconscious" consistent with all that is not conceptualized (1973, p. 31ff).
Piaget retains a place in the history of psychoanalysis, especially in terms of the Genevan "genetic psychology," and in varied and diverse efforts to link psychoanalysis and the psychology of intelligence—as, for example, in terms of developmental object relations and the concept of object constancy.
See also: Adaptation; Archives de psychologie, Les ; Congrès des psychanalystes de langue française des pays romans; Psychoanalytic epistemology; Société psychanalytique de Paris and Institut de psychanalyse de Paris; Structuralism and psychoanalysis; Unconscious fantasy.
Pfister, Oskar. (1920). J. Piaget, "La psychanalyse et la pédagogie." Imago, 6, 3, 294-295.
Piaget, Jean. (1995). Psychoanalysis in its relations with child psychology. In Gruber, Howard E., and Vonëche, Jacques J. (Eds.). The essential Piaget. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. (Original work published 1920)
——. (1973). Child and reality: Problems of genetic psychology. New York: Grossman.
Vidal, Fernando. (1994). Piaget before Piaget. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
"Piaget, Jean (1896-1980)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/piaget-jean-1896-1980
"Piaget, Jean (1896-1980)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Retrieved May 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/piaget-jean-1896-1980
Piaget conducted a long series of experiments with children which led him to the conclusion that people pass through successive stages of cognitive development. He distinguishes four such phases, each characterized by its own distinctive logic, and each associated with the development of particular intellectual skills. In the sensorimotor stage (from birth to approximately 18 months), the child does not know that it exists as a separate object, and therefore cannot distinguish between its self, its actions, and the external objects upon which it acts. Its intelligence is expressed only in terms of sensory and physical contact with the environment. The pre-operational stage (from about age 2 to 7 years) is characterized by an increasing command of language, and an ability to think about concrete objects which are not actually present, but also by extreme egocentrism. At this stage of development children cannot take the role of others. They also lack understanding of abstract concepts such as causality, quantity, and weight. In the stage of so-called concrete-operations (which lasts from about the ages of 7 to 11 or 12), children start to classify objects, can take the role of others and understand the nature of cause and effect, but still have difficulty thinking about abstract concepts without referring these to real events or particular images with which they are familiar (hence ‘concrete’ operational stage). Finally, in the formal operations stage (12 years onwards), the young person is able to create his or her own classificatory systems and thus to achieve formal and abstract thought. Adolescents can apply general rules to particular problems, reason logically from premisses to conclusions, and think in terms of theories and concepts. Not all adults progress to this final stage however, since many people have great difficulty comprehending abstract concepts, and so do not move beyond the phase of concrete operations. Abstract thinking is dependent upon a social environment which exposes the individual to formal cognitive reasoning: the internal processes of the mind only develop through social interaction. Piaget argued that the various stages of cognitive development were the same cross-culturally; however, since the content of cultures varied, the particular beliefs that people learned in each of the stages would vary in time and place. If the surrounding culture teaches that cause and effect are related to magic then, clearly, this is how the individual will come to interpret the world.
Piaget's approach to intellectual development and the notion of developmental stages has been a major influence in cognitive psychology. Unlike most other psychologists, who have been concerned with behavioural aspects of cognition (such as short-term memory), Piaget has highlighted the epistemological questions surrounding the definition and categorization of knowledge. His theories of child intellectual development have also been incorporated by some teachers and educationalists into methods of teaching young children. Most of his extensive writings are now translated into English (see H. E. Gruber and and J. J. Voneche ( eds.) , The Essential Piaget—An Interpretive Reference and Guide, 1977
"Piaget, Jean." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/piaget-jean
"Piaget, Jean." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved May 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/piaget-jean
Jean Piaget (zhäNpyä´jā), 1896–1980, Swiss psychologist, known for his research in developmental psychology. After receiving a degree in zoology from the Univ. of Neuchâtel (1918), Piaget's interests shifted to psychology. He studied under C. G. Jung and Eugen Bleuler in Zürich, and then in Paris at the Sorbonne. There, he worked with Alfred Binet in the administration of intelligence tests to children. In reviewing the tests, Piaget became interested in the types of mistakes children of various ages were likely to make. After returning to Switzerland in 1921, Piaget began to study intensively the reasoning processes of children at various ages. In 1929, he became professor of child psychology at the Univ. of Geneva, where he remained until his death, also serving as professor of psychology at the Univ. of Lausanne (1937–54). Piaget theorized that cognitive development proceeds in four genetically determined stages that always follow the same sequential order. Although best known for his groundbreaking work in developmental psychology, Piaget wrote on a number of other topics as well. Influenced by the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, Piaget's Structuralism (1970) focused on the applications of dialectics and structuralism in the behavioral sciences. He also attempted a synthesis of physics, biology, psychology, and epistemology, published as Biology and Knowledge (1971). A prolific writer, Piaget's writings also include The Child's Conception of the World (tr. 1929), The Moral Judgment of the Child (tr. 1932), The Language and Thought of the Child (tr. of 3d ed. 1962), Genetic Epistemology (tr. 1970), and The Development of Thought (tr. 1977).
See studies by H. Gardner (1973, repr. 1981), G. Butterworth (1982), S. Sugarman (1987), and M. Chapman (1988).
"Piaget, Jean." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/piaget-jean
"Piaget, Jean." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/piaget-jean
"Piaget, Jean." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/piaget-jean
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