Jean Piaget – Complete Biography, History and Inventions

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Jean Piaget – Complete Biography, History and Inventions

Key Points:
  • Jean Piaget was a genetic epistemologist and psychologist who pioneered the constructivist theory of understanding and advocated for the study of development as a field of study.
  • In 1929, Piaget moved to the University of Geneva, where he headed the child psychology faculty for the rest of his career.
  • Piaget developed a standardized psychometric measure for the cognitive development of children which was composed of four main stages.

Have you ever heard of cognitive development? How about genetic epistemology? These terms are standard in the psychology realm, and Piaget is the man behind them.

But just who is Jean Piaget? Read on to know what his contributions to the world are.

Quick Facts

Full Name
Jean Piaget
September 16, 1980
  • Honorary Doctorate, Harvard (1936)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Sorbonne (1946)
  • Honorary Doctorate, University of Brazil (1949)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Bruxelles (1949)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Chicago (1953)
  • Honorary Doctorate, McGill (1954)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Warsaw (1958)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Manchester (1959)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Oslo (1960)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Cambridge (1960)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Brandeis (1962)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Montreal (1964)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Aix-Marseille (1964)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Pennsylvania (1966)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Barcelona (1966)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Yale (1970)
  • Kittay International Award for psychiatry
  • Erasmus Prize (1972)
  • Balzan Prize for Social Sciences (1979)
Lucienne Piaget, Jacqueline Piaget, Laurent Piaget
Place of Birth
Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Fields of Expertise
[“Psychology”,”Zoology”,”Genetic Epistemology”]
The University of Neuchâtel, University of Zurich, Paris-Sorbonne University
Cognitive development, Cognition in children, Ingenious tests on cognitive abilities

Who Is Jean Piaget?

Jean Piaget is a genetic epistemologist and psychologist behind the systematic studies on understanding how children acquire knowledge. He is a developmental psychologist who values education. Jean pioneered the constructivist theory of understanding and advocated for the study of development as a field of study.

Jean Piaget’s Early life

Piaget was born to Rebecca Jackson and Arthur Piaget on the 9th August 1886 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Jean’s parents significantly shaped his interests and future career. His mother, Rebecca, nurtured Piage’t neurotic tendencies and encouraged him to love science.

Arthur, Piaget’s father, was an English professor who encouraged Jean to pay attention to his studies. Interestingly, in his early teen stages, Piaget became an expert in studying mollusks.

Similarly, at his teenage stage, Piaget started writing and publishing scientific papers on albino sparrows. By the time Piaget was in high school, the readers of his publications had regarded him as an expert in zoology, his age notwithstanding. Piaget went to university immediately after his high school education was finished to pursue zoology.

His Zoology education earned him a PhD in natural sciences in 1918. During the same period, Piaget studied psychology at the University of Zürich. He majored in psychoanalysis.

After studying psychoanalysis, Piaget proceeded to Sorbonne University Paris to study abnormal psychology.

Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget

©Willynoblecilla / CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository – Original / License

Jean Piaget’s Career

In alliance with Théodore Simon at Alfred Binet Laboratory in Paris in 1920, Jean tested the outcomes of standardized reasoning previously designed by Simon. During his analysis, Piaget tested a child’s intelligence and how children conclude different issues based on their ages. In the same year, Piaget also tested the nature of errors, and this experience motivated him to explore more on children’s learnability.

As part of testing the cognitive development in children, Piaget gave children an opportunity to defend the sense in their incorrect responses. During his reading of the children’s reactions, Piaget discovered that children have a flawless power of reason. He also realized that when children do not have relevant experience of the subject in question, they answer based on their imagination.

These experiences led Piaget to conclude that accurate knowledge should be distinct from understanding and intelligence.

Piaget’s First Employment

Piaget became the director of the Institute J.J. Rousseau in Geneva in 1921. Afterwards, Piaget served as a professor at the University of Neuchâtel between 1925 and 1929. Later in 1929, Piaget moved to the University of Geneva, where he headed the child psychology faculty.

Piaget worked at this faculty until his death later in 1980.

Piaget’s Later Employment Life

Piaget set up and became director of the International Centre of Genetic Epistemology in Geneva in 1951. While at this centre, he delved a lot into sociology and experimental psychology. He also performed several epistemological experiments and scientific thought. Throughout his career, Piaget wrote monographs and books on how children’s minds evolved to adulthood.

Piaget’s Theoretical Inventions

Piaget initially studied natural history, after which he invented standardized psychometric measures for children. Piaget developed a theoretical analysis scheme that’s composed of four main stages, namely:

A Sociology Based Development Model

Piaget invented this sociological model in the 1920s at his early career stages as a psychologist. Under this model, Piaget studied the hidden matters in children’s minds. From his study, he discovered that children gradually move from being selfish to being socio-centric.

To prove his discovery, Piaget combines clinical strategies and psychological analyses to produce a semi-clinical comment. He executed his research by asking children specific standardized questions. Upon receiving the children’s responses, Piaget would ask the children additional non-standardized questions.

Piaget intended that this question-administration strategy would give him a spontaneous conviction. He also found out from this study that children’s responses gradually progressed from intuition to purely scientific and social. This led to Piaget concluding that social interaction shapes the behaviour and life of children.

Piaget further concluded that more advanced children challenge the ideas of younger children. This model inspired the development of the Hawthorne experiment besides earning Piaget an honorary doctorate from Harvard University.

A Biology-Based Development Model

Piaget, in this model, explores the process through which a person’s intellectual development and thinking can depict some biological processes. Piaget argues that as species adapt to different environments through accommodation and assimilation, they portray some natural characteristics. According to Piaget, assimilation happens when children react to a new phenomenon consistent with how the children would respond to an existing schema.

Likewise, children experience accommodation when they modify an existing logic or create an entirely new schema to respond to a unique situation. For example, Piaget argues that children assimilate as they suckle on everything they put their hands on. Simultaneously, Piaget claims that children change everything they touch into suckable objects.

Piaget explains that this happens as children assimilate all the objects to match up to objects in their minds. As people change things to meet their personal needs, they are incorporating these things. Additionally, Piaget argues that children transform objects to suit their individual needs and adjust their mental blocks to adapt to environmental demands.

This is part of accommodation and leads children to develop intellectually.

Piaget developed a standardized psychometric measure for cognitive child development

An Elaborative Logic-Based Model Of Intellectual Development

In this model, Piaget argues that the third stage of development involves the growth of a child’s intelligence. Similarly, Piaget contends that a child’s intellectual capability develops through several stages. These stages are progressive, and one must go through all the components of a particular scene before proceeding to another.

A child creates a particular perception of logic reasonable to the child’s age during every developmental stage. As the child moves to the next step, they reconstruct their previous mental perceptions to better understand newer and more complex concepts.

The Analysis Of The Figurative Thought

Piaget, on this model, argues that intelligence is not purely logical as memory and perception are. Piaget defines logical concepts as reversible and capable of always getting back to the drawing board. As a result, an individual can start a process and take some logical steps to attain a conclusion.

Similarly, such an individual can reverse these steps to get to the starting point. On the other hand, memory is not reversible as it is like a picture that no one can disentangle. During this model, Piaget wrote and published many books on figurative processes, perception, and memory.

Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory

Piaget’s theory relies on stages and biological maturity; hence an individual must be ready for all the stages and their components. Therefore, Piaget advises that you should only teach a child a concept that the child is prepared to learn and understand. Piaget also argues that there are concepts that teachers and caregivers should not teach children until the children have an appropriate cognitive development to handle such ideas.

Piaget as a great genetic epistemologist developed the cognitivist approach to development. According to his cognitive theory of growth, development primarily involves the differentiation of biological policies. His view has four significant stages including:

The Sensorimotor Stage

Children at this stage are newborns up to the age of two years. These children explore the world using their senses and by movement. At this stage, the children are too selfish and cannot perceive the world from another person’s point of view. This stage has six sub-stages.

  • The simple reflex stage. Here is where babies belong from birth to one month. At this stage, the babies use common reflexes like sucking and rooting.
  • The stage of the first habit and predominant annular reactions. Babies at this stage are one month to four months old. At this stage, children learn sensational coordination and schemas like annular reactions and habits.
  • The secondary annular reaction stage. Children at this stage are eight months through to twelve months old. These children can act intentionally and amalgamate and rejoin different schema to achieve their personal goals.
  • The stage of coordination of ancillary annular reactions. Like in the preceding step are those who are eight to twelve months old and can act intentionally. In addition to the things children can do in the previous stages, they understand that objects can be permanent and continue to exist even out of their sight.
  • The stage of tertiary circular comeback, curiosity, and novelty. At this stage, children are twelve to eighteen months old. Driven by curiosity, they explore many object possibilities and seek different results from distinct experiments.
  • The internalization of the blueprints stage. This is the last sub-stage in the sensorimotor stage and involves children learning endogenously as they slowly learn to speak.

The Preoperational Stage

In Piaget’s theory, this second stage involves the child learning speech at two years of age and can last up to seven. Children at this cognitive development stage do not understand tactile logic and are incapable of mentally manipulating any information. Children at this stage are also more pretentious and playful, according to Piaget.

Interestingly, the children at this stage still have a high level of egocentrism and cannot reason with other people’s perspectives. Children majorly manipulate symbols and engage in symbolic plays. They can use other objects in place of others. For instance, a child can use a box as a table.

According to Piaget, by the time children turn three years old, they usually have developed a better psychological and epistemological functioning. While the children can form magical beliefs and concrete perspectives, they cannot perform mental operations.

This stage also has two sub-stages, namely:

  • The concomitant symbolic stage, and
  • The congenital thought stage

While at the symbolic substage, the children are so curious and always question everything. Children aged two to four years fall under this stage and often use symbols to represent physical objects they have seen before. At the congenital thought stage, children have the ages of four to seven years.

They have very primitive reasoning and develop a lot of interest in learning why things are as they are.

The Concrete Operative Stage

Children aged seven to eleven years occupy this stage. They have logical and conservative reasoning. Children at this stage also know that they can reverse certain phenomena, but they have physical limitations. According to Piaget, at this stage, children quit to be egocentric and develop better classification skills.

The Conventional Operative Stage

Children here are eleven to sixteen years of age. They can conservatively converse with others and reason logically. Their metacognition skills are well developed, and they can think abstractly. Children at this stage, according to Piaget, are focused on problem-solving using multiple strategies.

Piaget’s Moral Theory

Piaget argues that children learn through laws, cultural, social and social norms. These factors affect a child’s moral reasoning, and it’s tragic to blame children for behaving immorally.

Piaget also argued that children grow through two universal forms of moral thinking:

  • Moral realism (5-9yrs) and
  • Moral relativism (9-10yrs)

Moral realism involves the outside world imposing hard-and-fast rules on the child. Breaking of these rules results in imminent justice. Likewise, Piaget argues that children in this form of morality believe that punishment should intensify the guilt of the wrong-doer. Children also believe that punishment should be expiatory.

In the same way, children believe that people can be wrong according to the physical impacts of their bad behaviour, their intentions and reasons for misbehaving notwithstanding.

As regards moral relativism, Piaget argued that one’s own rules create their moral basis. Children at this stage of morality have a strong belief that wrong and right are not absolutes; instead, they depend on the intentions of the doer and not specifically on the after-effects. Children also understand that a rule is simply another person’s idea and is revocable by this age.

Simultaneously, children’s perception of rules at this stage is to encourage fairness and prevent disputes. At this stage, the children understand that punishment is not a guilt-making activity but rather a warning to get back to doing the right thing. Furthermore, children here have high reasoning power and can understand and respect another person’s idea.

Piagetian operations

Mental operations according to Jean Piaget. Based on information from Ginsburg H., Opper S. (1979). Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Development. Prentice Hall, p. 152

Piaget’s Marriage, Divorce, Children, and Personal Life

Piaget is an attractive psychologist who has unique perspectives on marriage, divorce, and children’s involvement in divorce. According to him, genetic epistemology is the best explanation for how children develop. As such, you can only understand children by going deeper into their epistemological roots.

Piaget also argued that divorce affects children as children specifically learn through perception and observation. Therefore, Piaget views the worst stage for children to divorce as when a child is between two to four years old. Piaget argues that the outcomes of divorce to a child in this age bracket are devastating.
All in all, Piaget also had a marriage life, as revealed below:

Piaget’s Marriage

Jean Piaget married Valentine Châtenay in 1923. Piaget stayed in marriage with Valentine until death separated them in 1980 when Jean died.

Piaget’s Children

Together with his wife Valentine, Jean Piaget begot three children: Laurent, Jacqueline, and Lucienne Piaget.

Jean Piaget’s Tragedy

Piaget’s Moral Theory Has Led To Piaget’s Tragedy in the following ways:

Critics view his theory as unreliable. Since Piaget uses clinical analyses and personal observations to draw the above conclusions, Critics argue that his results are not replicable. Piaget uses small samples which may not be representative of the entire children’s population.

His critics argue that his theory is simply an idea that should guide future research. Researchers should only use Piaget’s moral idea to generate new ideas and not as a binding argument altogether.

Critics also argue that Piaget’s moral theory is not valid.

Piaget’s critics further argue that this moral theory underestimates how children develop their principled stands.
Some critics also argue that the responses Piaget got from the children he interviewed may not be accurate. Children can give answers to please the interviewer. Others may not understand the question, while others may not remember details.

Piaget’s Net Worth

There is no accurate documentation on the net worth of Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget’s Awards and Achievements

Piaget’s genetic epistemology and cognitive development ideologies have made him a famous scholar and theorist. Piaget also received over fifteen doctorate honorariums besides directing the child psychology faculty at Geneva University and the centre for genetic epistemology in Geneva.

He has also earned the following major prizes:

The Balzan Prize

Piaget won the 1979 Balzan Prize for political and Social Sciences in recognition of his epistemological studies. His idea of genetic epistemology analyzes children’s social and cognitive development.

The Erasmus Prize

The Erasmianum foundation awarded Jean Piaget this prize in 1972 for his exemplary contributions to science, culture and European society in general.

The Kittay International Award for psychiatry

The Kittay Psychiatric organization awarded Piaget this prize when he was 77years old. This award acknowledged the psychiatric efforts that Piaget put in place to apply clinical concepts in a psychiatric experiment.

Piaget’s Published Works and Books

Jean Piaget has published many epistemological articles. He has published articles on molluscs and cognitive development. Additionally, he has written several books on genetic epistemology.

For every experiment he conducted, Jean documented the outcomes and published the experience.

The Moral Judgement of The Child

In this book, Piaget analyzes how moral reasoning develops throughout a child’s four cognitive development stages. He breaks the stages and expounds a child’s thoughts at each stage and how these thoughts gradually develop.

The Language And Thought of The Child

In this book, Piaget reveals how a child systematically develops a thought, an idea, and knowledge. This book also details how a child develops speech and how a younger child would synthesize an idea differently from a more advanced child.

Jean Piaget’s Quotes

Piaget has excellent quotes that continue to impact the world long after his death. Some of his famous quotes include:

“The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.” Jean Piaget.

“Intelligence is what you use when you don’t know what to do.”Jean Piaget

“What we see changes what we know. What we know changes what we see.” Jean Piaget

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who Is Jean Piaget, And What Is His Theory?

Jean Piaget is a renowned Swiss-based psychologist who invented the theory of cognitive development.

What Are The 4 Stages Of Piaget's Cognitive Development?

The four cognitive development stages, according to Piaget, are:
The sensorimotor stage
The preoperative stage
The concrete operative stage
The operative stage

What Is Jean Piaget Famous For?

Jean Piaget is famously known for his theory of cognitive development and his invention of genetic epistemology.

What Does Piaget's Theory Focus On?

Piaget’s theory focuses on how children develop their cognition, acquire knowledge, and grow their intelligence.

According To Jean Piaget, In What Stage Do Children Begin To Use Language?

According to Jean Piaget, children begin to use language at the second stage of cognitive development, the preoperative stage.

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