Cognitive Development

Cognitive development refers to the development of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision making, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood.

Cognitive development is an area of study in neuroscience and cognitive psychology that focuses on conceptual resources and other aspects of brain function development. The term cognitive development refers to developing mental skills such as information processing, reasoning, language usage, and memory, beginning in childhood and continuing into adulthood. It compares early childhood skills with adolescent and adult cognitive skills, measuring the ability to think and understand. Children begin to actively learn at birth and immediately they become aware of their surroundings and gain some understanding of their world. By evaluating cognitive development, psychologists can begin to understand the world as viewed by an individual or a particular age group. Although the factors that contribute to cognitive development have been debated and various theories proposed, the overwhelming consensus in biological and behavioral sciences is that cognitive development is influenced by gene activity in conjunction with life events and experiences within an individual's environment.

Cognitive development

The most influential and enduring theory of cognitive development was proposed by French psychologist, Jean Piaget (1896–1980), in 1952. After decades of observation of his own and other children in their natural environments as opposed to the laboratory experiments of the behaviorists, Piaget proposed a more active role for the children themselves than the environmental influences suggested by learning theory. Piaget believed that a child's knowledge was composed of schemas, basic units of knowledge used to organize past experiences and serve as a basis for understanding new ones. Schemas are continually being modified by two complementary processes, assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation refers to the process of taking in new information by incorporating it into an existing schema, that is, relating new experiences to what is already known. In contrast, accommodation is what happens when the schema itself changes to accommodate new knowledge. According to Piaget theory, cognitive development involves an ongoing attempt to achieve a balance between assimilation and accommodation, a process termed equilibration.

Piaget's stages of cognitive development

At the center of Piaget's theory is the principle that cognitive development occurs in a series of four distinct, universal stages, each characterized by increasingly sophisticated and abstract levels of thought. These stages always occur in the same order, and each builds on what was learned in the previous stage.

Modern views of cognitive development

In the decades since Piaget's theory of cognitive development became widely known, other researchers contested some of its principles, claiming that children's progress through the four stages of development is less consistent than Piaget described. Children do not always reach the different stages at the age levels he specified, and their entry into some of the stages is more gradual than was first thought. However, Piaget remained the most influential figure in modern child development research, and many of his ideas continued to be considered accurate, including the basic notion of qualitative shifts in children's thinking over time, the trend toward greater logic and less egocentrism as they get older, the concepts of assimilation and accommodation, and the importance of active learning by questioning and exploring.


—Used in psychology in reference to ideas rather than concrete objects or events. Also, the quality of expressing or dealing with ideas rather than events.
Cognitive development
—The development of the ability to think and reason, beginning in childhood and continuing into adulthood.
—Self-centered, thinking only of oneself with little regard for the ideas, feelings, or desires of others.
Information processing
—The process of gathering, manipulating, storing, retrieving, and classifying recorded information either via computer or the human mind.
—Refers to an organized pattern of thought or behavior that classifies categories of information and the relationships between them.
—Within the nervous system, having or involving both sensory and motor functions.

A child's intellectual ability is believed to be determined through a combination of heredity and environment. Thus, although a child's genetic inheritance is unchangeable, parents can enhance their children's intellectual development through environmental factors, including providing stimulating learning materials and experiences from an early age, reading to and talking with their children and helping them explore the world around them. As children mature, parents can both challenge and support each child's talents. Unlike early disruptions in physical development, which are often irreversible, it is possible to compensate for early delays or losses in cognitive development if a supportive environment is provided at a later time.

See also Cognitive therapy ; Piaget, Jean.



Crain, William. Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications, 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2011.

Ormrod, Jeanne Ellis. Essentials of Educational Psychology: Big Ideas to Guide Effective Teaching, 4th ed. Boston: Pearson Education, 2014.

Wadsworth, Barry J. Piaget's Theory of Cognitive and Affective Development: Foundations of Constructivism, 5th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Allyn & Bacon, 2003.


Simatwa, Enose M. W. “Piaget's Theory of Intellectual Development and Its Implication for Instructional Management at the Secondary School Level.” Educational Research and Reviews 5, no. 7 (July 2010): 366–71.