Jean Piaget’s work on cognitive development in the child is more significant than done by any other psychologist. Besides distinguishing four major stages in the process, Piaget identifies many sub-stages within the four major ones. Piagetian work on cognitive development shall be discussed under two heads:

(a) Key concepts,

(b) Four stages or Levels of Cognition

(a) Key Concepts

Piaget worked out his four stages on the basis of the following key concepts.


‘Schemes’ are patterns of behaviour that children show in dealing with objects in space. In case of children, schemes can be simple like the pattern of behaviour shown by a child in grasping an object within his reach. It is complex in case of adults. They show it when they try to solve an intricate mathematical problem.


Assimilation takes place when the organism uses some object in the environment in the course of its activity. It occurs when the new is drawn into the old behaviour pattern and becomes part of the child’s inner organisation, For example, when something new is perceived that resembles an old, already familiar object, it is used as would be the old object. It is, however, necessary that the object or event to be assimilated must fit an existing scheme.


Accommodation refers to adjusting the old pattern to account for the new one. Hence, new activities are added to the infant’s previously learnt pattern and these are modified to accommodate them.


Piaget says that when the organism fails to handle the new situation with the help of the previously learnt pattern of behaviour, some sort of in equilibrium or imbalance is created. However, the individual tries to reduce such imbalance. He does so by focussing his attention on the stimuli that has caused the imbalance. He develops new schemes or adopts old ones until the equilibrium is restored. This process of restoring balance is called equilibrium.

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