Jean Piaget has been perhaps the most influential developmental psychologist of the twentieth century. His studies of the growth of intelligence in Swiss school children became the basis of a general theory of intelligence that has since been applied in the fields of psychology, education, anthropology, and primatology, to name just a few. While his theory was based on studies of children, it was always Piaget's intention that the theory be applicable to all sequences of development; human children simply provided the most complete and observable sequence.
The theory is a stage theory. Human children pass through a sequence of stages that is invariant. The rate at which they pass through the stages varies from individual to individual, but the sequence itself is necessary; no stage can be skipped, because it is a prerequisite for the succeeding stage. The theory is also a structural theory. It conceives of intelligence as a set of principles used to organize behavior, principles that are ultimately patterns of brain activity. But these principles are not learned in a simple behaviorist sense. Rather, simple genetically determined structures are elaborated during maturation into more and more sophisticated kinds of organization (Wynn 1985). It is the action of the individual in his environment that leads to this elaboration. In other words, the individual does not passively receive new principles but must construct them himself (Piaget 1970).
Mr. Piaget's developmental scheme consists of four major stages: sensorimotor, pre-operations, concrete operations, and propositional operations. Sensorimotor is the intelligence of action. The way a new born infant would grasp something would be a prime example. Not long after birth, the infant will be able to turn the simple task of gripping into gripping and tugging, perhaps for examination or maybe to suck on. Sensorimotor intelligence lacks any actual thought though. That leads me to my next stage, preoperational...
References: Wynn, T. World Archaeology, Vol. 17, No. 1, Studying Stones (Jun., 1985), pp. 32-43
Piaget, J. Genetic Epistemology. (Trans. E. Duckworth) 1970. New York: Viking.
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