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Jean Piaget

(1896—1980) Swiss psychologist

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Swiss psychologist noted for his studies of thought processes in children and widely regarded as one of the most important psychologists of the twentieth century. His descriptions of the development of perception, reason, and logic changed the current views of children's intelligence and greatly influenced methods of child education, particularly in the USA.

Piaget began to observe behaviour patterns at an early age, publishing his observations of an albino sparrow when he was ten years old. At fifteen his writings on molluscs were known internationally and at twenty-two he obtained his doctorate from the University of Neuchâtel. After two years at the Sorbonne he was appointed director of the Institut J. -J. Rousseau in Geneva and in 1929 became the professor of psychology at the University of Geneva; in 1955 he was made director of the International Centre of Genetic Epistemology, Geneva.

Piaget had intended to study the development of thought processes in children in order to elucidate the inherent mental structures of humans. His earliest research, which focused on why children fail reasoning tests, led to the long-term study of child intelligence. He suggested that mental growth was determined by interplay of both developing innate structures and environmental influences, an interaction he termed ‘equilibration’. Equilibration supposes that when a new experience is assimilated into a child's concept of the world, the concept becomes inadequate and a new, more complex, concept must be invented to accommodate the new information. Equilibrium is then maintained until further experiences require another change of concept. Such a precept requires the existence of logic from early infancy, with intelligence being developed by progressive refinement of cognitive ability by a flexible process of trial and error. Piaget defined the development of children's thinking as a four-stage process, beginning with the sensorimotor stage in infants, who learn from experience by connecting new with older experiences. In the preoperational stage (two to seven years), a child can use words and manipulate them mentally. From seven to twelve years a child begins to think logically and can compare and differentiate, and from twelve to adulthood begins to experiment with formal logic and can think flexibly.

In his later work, Piaget attempted to describe the interactions of cognitive and emotional factors within his four-stage framework. He was a prolific writer, publishing many articles and over thirty books, including The Origin of Intelligence in Children (1954) and The Early Growth of Logic in the Child (1964).

Subjects: Social sciences

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