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Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget Photo

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist and genetic epistemologist most renowned and remembered for his theory of cognitive development predominantly in children. Piaget was the first of his time to have laid importance on developmental psychology of children and to have made advances in understanding the cognitive processes in children.

Piaget was born in 1869 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland in the household of a Swiss medieval literature professor named Arthur Piaget while his mother Rebecca Jackson was of French origin. Since he was a child, Piaget displayed a keen interest in sciences – biology in specific – and the natural world. He would frequent the natural history museum as a child and stare for hours at the specimens. While attending Neuchâtel Latin High School at an age as early as 10, Piaget wrote a short scientific paper on the albino sparrow and thereon published several papers on mollusks – his key fascination – and established a standing as a malacologist.

Upon graduating from high school, Piaget enrolled at the University of Neuchâtel with zoology as his core subject area along with philosophy. Piaget graduated with a Ph.D. in zoology in 1918.

Piaget then moved to Paris, France, where he worked for a year at the Binet Institute, a boys’ institute founded by Alfred Binet. Binet held to his credit the first intelligence assessment test – Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scales and Piaget assisted Binet with scoring the assessments of the test. By this time, Piaget had developed a keen interest in psychology and his work at the Binet institute furthered that interest. Also, this served as Piaget’s first encounter with children’s cognitive processes when he noticed that there were certain questions in the test that children consistently gave wrong responses to. These questions specifically pertained to logical thinking. These observations led Piaget to the assumption that children’s thought processes inherently differed from those of adults.

Piaget began publishing his findings in 1921 and it was during this time that he returned to Switzerland and was appointed a director of the Institute J.J. Rousseau in Geneva. During this time Piaget kept developing an interest in psychology, sociology and scientific history. Between 1925 and 1929, Piaget served as a professor at the University of Neuchâtel and in 1929 joined the University of Geneva as faculty/professor of child psychology. This was a position that Piaget held and cherished until his demise.  During his tenure at the University of Geneva, Piaget also founded and established the International Centre of Genetic Epistemology at Geneva and became its director in 1955.

In 1936, Piaget crafted a systematic study of cognitive development which rendered him the first ever psychologist to have done so.  Piaget also conducted research on the intellectual capacity of his own children to establish the theory that there are stages in the development of intelligence that children pass through.

Piaget’s theory immensely contributed to areas of study in psychology, sociology, education, and genetics as it helped understand children’s psychological development better. Before Piaget’s theory, the widely held view or common assumption was that children are inherently less capable thinkers and hence do not utilize their cognitive abilities like children do. Piaget through his theory asserted that the cognitive processes of children varied significantly from that of adults. It wasn’t that the children were less competent; it was just that they perceived and responded to situations differently.

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