Piaget's fourth stage of cognitive development

Written by erika myers
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Piaget's fourth stage of cognitive development
Cognitive development begins at birth and continues throughout the lifespan. (Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Jean Piaget, one of the best-known developmental psychologists, developed a stage theory of cognitive development. In his theory, all individuals progress through four specific stages, or periods of development, starting at birth and continuing on to adulthood.

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Stage theory overview

Stage theorists like Piaget support the view that individuals' development can be traced through step-like stages. Each step represents forward progress, or an increase in abilities. Stage theories in general also tend to have two modes; change and growth between stages, and longer periods of stability in the stage. Usually, each new stage incorporates all of the activities or skills of the earlier stages and adds to them.

Piaget's fourth stage of cognitive development
Stage models describe development as a series of step-like stages. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Piaget's four stage model

Piaget's model of cognitive development outlines the steps through which an individual moves from infancy to adult thinking. Unlike physical stages of growth, which are evident to the naked eye, cognitive growth must be measured by skills or activities. To define his stages, Piaget relied on his interpretations of how individuals represent the world around them and respond to it. Piaget considered ability to think rationally and use logic as markers of different stages.

The four stages

Piaget's four stages are defined as:

Sensorimotor - usually from birth to age two

Preoperational - from age two or three to about age seven

Concrete Operational - from age seven to eleven; and

Formal Operational - from age twelve into adulthood

Formal operational stage

The fourth stage of Piaget's model, the formal operational stage, is characterised by logical thinking and the ability to understand and process abstract information. Someone in the formal operational stage of Piaget's model would be able to think about a hypothetical situation or think about and make plans for the future. A person in the formal operational stage can also understand abstract concepts such as freedom or justice. He can consider other points of view and see issues from multiple perspectives. The fourth stage is the ultimate and final stage in Piaget's model of cognitive development.

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