Cognitive development

Cognitive development entails the development of knowledge, skills, dispositions, and problem-solving capabilities, and is often used in reference to children—how they think, how they explore their surroundings, and how they figure things out.

The most well-known and often-cited theory of cognitive development was posited by French psychologist, Jean Piaget, and suggests that intelligence levels of a child continuously change and develop as a child grows and nurtures, not only through the acquiring of knowledge, but also through the child’s own construct of a mental model of the world around him/her.

In his theory, Piaget breaks down the cognitive development of a child into four distinct stages: sensorimotor; preoperational; concrete operational; and formal operational.

Sensorimotor Stage

This stage encompasses a child’s cognitive development from birth to two years of age.

It entails a child’s learning about the world through their senses, via their moving around and exploration of their environment.

Specific cognitive abilities that develop in this stage include self-recognition; object permanence; deferred imitation; and representational play.

Preoperational Stage

This stage encompasses a child’s cognitive development from age two to seven.

It entails a child’s acquirement of the ability to formulate an internal representation of the world, albeit the constructed representation is likely to be based off how the world appears to be to them rather than how the world actually is.

Specific cognitive abilities that develop in this stage include symbolic thinking; language abilities; and mental imagery. Animism is also a tendency that is often found during this stage of cognitive development.

Concrete Operational Stage

This stage encompasses a child’s cognitive development from age seven to eleven.

It entails a child’s learning of how to think logically, and an acknowledgement and consideration of how those around them might think and feel.

Specific cognitive abilities that develop in this stage include conservational thinking; mental flexibility; and imaginative reversibility.

Formal Operational Stage

This stage encompasses a child’s cognitive development from age twelve and beyond.

It entails a child’s acquirement of the ability to deal with abstract ideas, form arguments without reference or dependency on specific examples or memories, and also to deal with hypothetical problems from multiple angles, with more than one solution in mind.

Specific cognitive abilities that develop in this stage include ideation; abstract thinking; rational deduction; and problem-solving.

Of course, cognitive development doesn’t have to solely refer to the mental abilities and the evolution of said abilities in children alone. However, with that being said, it is agreed upon by most experts that our cognitive developments tend to stabilize by the time we are 18 years old, with increments that are relatively minute by the time we turn 16. And it is for this very reason that the term is often employed in the discussion of children specifically.

If you’re looking to read up on intelligence or IQ in adults instead, check out our article on Getting a Legitimate Professional IQ Test or read up on the major Theories of Intelligence. Alternatively, you can simply click here for a full list of related topics.