Piaget’s Theory Of Attention and Learning


Jean Piaget is one of the most influential theorists on child development. Cognitions refer to the mental processes through which people can learn and utilize what has been learned in solving problems for a long time many people strongly believe that cognition influences the ability of different people to learn. Among the factors that influence learning is the ability to pay attention and this feature greatly in Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. About Piaget’s developmental stages, lapses in attention can affect learning at different levels.


The introduction of the essay gives a brief description of the term cognition which is a term that is commonly used in Piaget’s theory and introduces the issue to be focused on which is paying attention to learning. The body of the paper gives a detailed explanation of the main ideas in Piaget’s theory while the last section highlights the problem of paying attention and learning at the early stages as described by Piaget.

Explanation of Piaget’s theory

According to Shaffer and Kipp (2009, p.249), Piaget’s theory tries to provide plausible explanations about the development of human intelligence and it mostly deals with expounding what knowledge is and how people come to acquire, transform it and use it. Piaget believed that humans experience cognitive development even without having developed language skills. Piaget regarded intelligence as a basic function that enabled organisms to adapt to the surrounding environment.

Piaget believed that cognitions develop through continuous changes that transform the basic patterns of thought which he referred to as schemes. Schemes act to represent the reality experienced by an individual; therefore schemes become the means through which young children interpret and organize experiences. Piaget regards cognitive development as the progressive change that occurs on these schemes or structures. Besides this, he believed that children are born with reflexes which they use to interpret their environments (Coon& Mitterer 97).

According to Piaget, two intellectual processes can explain how children organize schemes. These processes include adaptation and organization. The organization involves combining new schemes with the existing ones to form more complex schemes and this enables further learning. The organization enables adaptation (the process of adjusting to he environment) to take place. Adaptation is facilitated by two complementary namely; assimilation and accommodation (Wood, 1998, p.53). During assimilation, children interpret new experiences based on their existing schemes while in accommodation the child modifies the existing schemes to learn and understand new experiences. Piaget believed that these two processes worked together to promote cognitive development(Damon&Lerner138).

In his theory, Piaget describes four stages that lead towards complete cognitive development in which there are differences in equilibration (achieving a balance between accommodation and assimilation). He further explains that the level of thinking changes at each of the stages to become more complex and sophisticated. Piaget describes the stages as occurring successively with each preceding stage building upon what was learned on the previous stage (Sutherland 8).

Johnston (2003, p. 64) explains the first stage in Piaget’s theory is known as the sensorimotor stage and occurs during infancy. In addition, the stage has six subdivisions. During this stage, intelligence can be seen through various means like motor activity at first, followed by the use of symbols and language. The capacity of the child to imagine continues to develop. The second stage which is called the pre-operational stage begins in toddlerhood and ends during childhood. At this stage, the child can use symbols and language well. The Child’s ability to imagine and remember is quite advanced. One of the developments that are widely noted at this stage is the dominance of egocentric thinking whereby the child is only able to make judgments about things based on their perspective only (Hardy &Heyes 91).

Salkind (2004, p.254) explains that the next stage is called the concrete operational stage and occurs from school-age till adolescence. At this stage, the individual can relate to concrete objects and systematically arrange their thinking. At this point, egocentric thinking starts to diminish as the individual can think about and manipulate concrete concepts ranging from conservation of mass, weight, liquid, numbers, length, area and volume. The final stage, formal operation begins at adolescence and persists to adult life. Individuals who are in this stage are ale to relate to abstract concepts (|Sigelman&Rider 205).

Attention in learning

Palletta and Rome (2007, p.263) explain that many people can learn by being attentive; this helps them to perceive things in the environment through the five common senses. Piaget was able to demonstrate how paying attention played a significant part in learning in the course of his experiments.In one of this experiments, Piaget discovered that between the age of between eighteen and twenty four months, children develop the skills to symbolically solve problems by keen observation, his son Laurent was able to pull a crust of bread placed on the table using a stick as an extension of his arms.

In another experiment, Piaget tried to find out if by paying attention children could learn how to imitate.In 1951, he concluded that children had imitate schemes though their execution was rather not precise to be easily understand by people who are not keen in observing. In this particular experiment, Piaget bent his finger and some of the children mimicked this by opening and closing their entire hand. His observations led him to conclude that children can imitate starting the age of 12 months on wards; his daughter Jacqueline for example discovered her forehead by imitating Piaget’s action of rubbing his eyes (Piaget 27).

Berryman, Smythe, Lamont, and Joiner (2002, p.111), report that in another experiment done by Piaget, it was noticed that children did not develop object permanence before they were aged between eight and twelve months. Children would normally search for objects where they saw them previously and not the current location where the object was hidden from their view. This is what Piaget referred to as the A not B error. The observation ability is closely linked with the attention span. Observation is important in selecting and attending to various forms of information. Children attending to nursery school have very short attention spans compared to those older than them who can sustain their attention for longer and can select on e area on which they can focus (Bernstein& Nash 356).

Since children cannot sustain their attention for long or put their concentration on a single activity, it is advisable that to ensure effective learning, teachers should consider switching classroom activities every fifteen minutes or so to allow the children to do activities which they enjoy doing like playing (Wise &Buffington, 2004, p.356).similarly try to minimize intrusions that are likely to affect the attention of the young children. It is also possible for teachers to take advantage of selective attention among their young learners to give individualized attention to what the child would like to learn, this is what is particularly employed in the Montessori teaching method (Tian, 2009, p.41).

Works cited

Berryman, Julia., Smythe, Pamela., Lamont, Alexandra., & Joiner, Richard. Developmental Psychology and You.2nd edition. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002.

Bernstein, Douglas., & Nash, Peggy. Essentials of psychology. 4th edition.California: Cengage Learning, 2006.

Coon, Dennis., & Mittere, John. Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior.12th edition. Belmont: engage Learning, 2008.

Damon, William.,& Lerner, Richard. Handbook of Child Psychology: Theoretical models of human development. 6th edition. New Jersey. John Wiley and Sons, 2006.

Hardy, Malcolm., & Heyes, Steve. Beginning psychology. 5th Oxford University Press, 1999.

Johnston, Joni. The complete idiot’s guide to psychology. 2nd edition.USA: Alpha Books, 2003.

Paletta, Lucas.,& Rome, Erich. Attention in cognitive systems: theories and systems from an interdisciplinary viewpoint ; 4th International Workshop on Attention in Cognitive Systems, WAPCV 2007, Hyderabad, India, 2007 : revised selected papers. New York: Springer.

Piaget, Jean. Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood. London: Routledge, 1999.

Salkind, Neil. An introduction to theories of human development. California: SAGE, 2004.

Sigelman, Carol., & Rider, Elizabeth. Life-Span Human Development. 6th edition.california: Cengage Learning, 2008.

Shaffer, David., & Kipp, Katherine. Developmental Psychology: Childhood and Adolescence. 8th edition. Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2009.

Sutherland, Peter. Cognitive development today: Piaget and his critics. London: SAGE, 1992.

Tian, Sherry. Fulfilling your child’s potential: a guide to effective parenting. Singapore: Armour Publishing Pte Ltd, 2009.

Wise, Jessie.,& Buffington, Sara. The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. Charles city: Peace Hill Press, 2004.

Wood, David.How children think and learn: the social contexts of cognitive development. 2nd edition. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1998.

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