Jean Piaget proposed a theory of cognitive development that describes how children's thinking processes evolve over time. According to Piaget, cognitive development occurs in four distinct stages:
1. Sensorimotor Stage (Birth to 2 years): In this stage, infants learn about the world through their senses and motor actions. Initially, they have limited understanding of objects and their properties. However, as they develop object permanence (the understanding that objects continue to exist even when out of sight), they begin to engage in purposeful actions and develop basic problem-solving skills.
2. Preoperational Stage (2 to 7 years): During this stage, children start to use symbols, such as words and images, to represent objects and events. They engage in pretend play and develop language skills. However, their thinking is still egocentric, meaning they struggle to see things from others' perspectives. They also exhibit animistic thinking, attributing human-like qualities to inanimate objects.
3. Concrete Operational Stage (7 to 11 years): In this stage, children become more logical and can think more systematically. They can understand conservation (the idea that certain properties of objects remain the same despite changes in appearance) and can perform mental operations on concrete objects. They also develop the ability to understand reversibility and can solve simple mathematical problems.
4. Formal Operational Stage (11 years and beyond): During this final stage, individuals develop the ability to think abstractly and hypothetically. They can engage in deductive reasoning, solve complex problems, and think about multiple possibilities. They can also think about their own thinking (metacognition) and engage in hypothetical-deductive reasoning.
It is important to note that not all individuals reach the formal operational stage, as cognitive development can vary based on various factors such as cultural influences and educational opportunities.