Piaget vs Vygotsky is our topic of discussion. We will discuss Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s history, their research work and their theories.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980)


Piaget has had the most profound influence on the modern history of the development of Psychology.

He was mainly concerned to explain the development of intelligence and reasoning in humans from its biological roots. Piaget began to study philosophy and scientific methodology at senior school.

He was much interested in biology and the way in which an organism adapted to their environment through experience. At the age of 11 years, Piaget published his first paper “On sighting an albino sparrow”.

He became a part-time unpaid assistant at the local natural history museum. He collected and cataloged the mollusks of the Swiss lakes. In 1918, he was awarded a doctorate for his work on the special adaptions evolved by the mollusks in the shallow waters of the Swiss lakes.

Piaget’s Work History

He left for Zurich and studied experimental psychology. He attended the lectures of Jung and other psychoanalysts and studied the writings of Freud. In 1919, he left for Paris where he came into contact with experimental studies of children.

Binet, Freud, and Baldwin made important contributions to the development of Piaget’s own theory of cognitive development. Piaget began his experimental study of children when Simon invited him to make use of Binet’s laboratory. First, he standardized a reasoning test on a sample of French children. He employed the clinical method, as he used probing questions to uncover what the children understood.

In 1921 Piaget returned to Switzerland and appointed as director of studies to the institute Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Geneva. He remained in Geneva for the rest of his life and developed a theory of how knowledge is acquired. He wrote books about thinking and language in children which became widely influential around the world.

Piaget’s technical vocabulary was adopted by James Mark Baldwin. Assimilation refers to the taking in of new information by the structures of the mind.

Previous experience is organized in Schemas and new information in either assimilated to an existing Schema or if it is inconsistent, accommodation occurs so that the schema is modified to incorporate the new information.

Thus equilibration is achieved through accommodation. The notion of equilibration is also based on the idea of achieving a natural balance between the individual and the world.

Piaget’s model of development is of a self-regulation interaction that gives rise to new forms of knowledge.

Piaget’s Stages of development

piaget vs vygotsky

Piaget described four major stages of development that extend from infancy to adulthood. These are

  • Sensorimotor
  • The pre-operational
  • The Concrete operational
  • The Formal operational

These are the Stages of intellectual development.

The ages associated with each stage are averages and may vary considerably from child to child and from culture to culture but they occur in an invariant order.

Piaget believed that the first three stages are universal, whereas he thought stage four to be characteristic of some adult thinking only in advanced, technological societies.

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development revolutionized our view of children’s thinking and learning. His work inspired more research than any other theorist, and many of his concepts are still fundamental to developmental psychology. He had a deep interest in children’s knowledge, their thinking, and the qualitative differences in their thinking as it develops.

Although he called his field genetic epistemology”, stressing the role of biological determinism, he also assigned great importance to experience. In his view, children “construct” their knowledge through assimilation and accommodation, as they expand and modify their cognitive structure based on new experiences.



Le Semeonovich Vygotsky Russian psychologist was most concerned to show how culture influences the course of development. (Culture is used as a broad term to describe the customs of a particular people at a particular time and their collective intellectual, material, scientific and artistic achievements over historical time).

Vygotsky was born in the same year as Piaget but died at the early age of 38 years. When his work was published invest, he too has had a great influence on the shaping of developmental psychology.

Vygotsky studied literature and culture history at Moscow University and graduated in 1917, year of the Soviet Revolution. In 1924, he was invited to join the institute of psychology in Moscow. Vygotsky saw culture and social organization and the historical forces that shape society, as having an important influence upon the development of the child’s mind.

Vygotsky’s Work

In 1962, when his major book “Thought and Language” was first translated into English he became well known.

Vygotsky saw a closer link between the acquisition of language and the development of thinking.

He gave much greater prominence to the importance of social interaction in the development, especially as it influenced language and though.

His approach is less committed to fixed stages in development, instead, he describes, leading activities typical of certain age periods around which intellectual development is organized, such as emotional contact in infancy, playing games in early childhood, and learning in schools.

In some respect, Vygotsky’s intellectual heritage was similar to Piaget’s. He emphasized the role that culture and social organization have upon the development of a child’s mind.

This idea can be seen very clearly in his theory of the zone of proximal Development’’.

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Piaget’s Theory Of Cognitive Development

Jean Piaget is one of the most influential figures in the study of child development.

Piaget sees the child as an organism adapting to its environment, as well as a scientist constructing its own understanding of the world.

His theory was based on the idea that children actively construct knowledge as they explore and manipulate the world around them.

Schaffer (2004) says Piaget is still the most comprehensive account of how children come to understand the world.

Actually, Piaget was interested in the development throughout childhood.

The term structuralism fits Piaget and other cognitive psychologists because they are concerned with the structure of thought.

Piaget theorized that the difference between children and adults were not confined to how much they knew, but the ‘way’ they knew.

There was a qualitative difference in the thinking of children and adults.

To Piaget’s mind is neither a blank slate on which knowledge can be written nor a mirror that reflects what it perceives.

According to Piaget, cognitive development occurs through the interaction of innate capacities with environmental events and progress through a series of hierarchical stages which are qualitatively different.

Important Terms Of Piaget‘s Theory

Schema, assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration are the important rather basic concepts of Piaget’s theory. these terms need details are given below:


A schema is the basic building block or unit of intelligent behavior. Piaget saw schemas as a mental structure which organize past experience and provide a way understanding future experience.

Schemas are a way of processing information and they change as we grow.

A schema is a theoretical construct that is generally understood as being an internalized representation of the world, or at least some part of the world.

It relates to a particular area of activity and summarized the stored knowledge and experience(which we already have related to that activity).

A schema is not the same concept, because it is used as the basis for action. The organized pattern of behavior and perception are called schema.

According to Piaget, all thinking is based on the application of schemas develop through two processes.


It accrues when a new observation is absorbed into the schema without fundamentally changing it.

It is the process by which we incorporate new information into existing schemas.

In assimilation, the individual uses the same structure in more than one way and applies existing habits and existing ideas to new objects.

The individual imposes his existing schemata on the present experience. Assimilation is a quantitative change in existing schemata that are applied to many new stimuli.

3. Accommodation

It is the process of changing one’s action to fit a new object. A schema would accommodate itself to fit new information.

In accommodation, the development of schemata is changed to fit new stimuli or experiences.

Biological activities are the result of adaptation to the physical environment.


A balance between assimilation or accommodation is referred to as equilibration.

Piaget argued that the child is motivated to develop its schema is through the schemata set up a state of anxiety in the child.

The anxiety is reduced through the process of equilibration. Those experience which cannot be included within existing schemata set up a state of anxiety in the child.

The anxiety is reduced through the process of assimilation and accommodation. Once it has happened, the previous state of equilibrium is restored.

Equilibration is the process of seeking mental balance. But if existing schemas are inadequate to cope with new situations, cognitive disequilibrium occurs.

To restore the equilibrium the existing schemas must be stretched to accommodate new information.

The necessary and complementary processes of assimilation and accommodation constitute the fundamental process of adaption.


Another central concept of Piagetian theory in the idea that all cognitive development proceeds as a result of the child performing operations on its environment. ( in Piagetian terms an operation is likely to be mental and physical).

An operation is anything the child does which produces some kind of an effect.

In Infants, the operations take the form of circular reactions i.e. a sequence of actions in which a given act produces a stimulus that leads to a further act, as a continuous cycle.

Piaget grouped the different type of operations into a set of four different stages.

He argued that these stages had a biological basis that they occurred as a result of genetic maturation.

Once a child had acquired a certain level of maturity, it would then be biologically ready to move on to the next stage.

He stresses the importance of giving each child enough learning materials appropriate to each stage of development so that no areas of the mind are left underdeveloped.

Stages of Cognitive Development

piaget vs vygotsky

Each of Piaget’s four stages represents the development of intelligence and summarizes the various schemas a child has at a particular time.

Children move through these stages at different rates due to the difference in both the environment and their biological maturation.

So the ages are approximately indicated for each stage/level.

Characteristics of Stages in Piaget’s Theory

All children pass through the stages in the same sequence without skipping any (except in the case of brain damage).

The stages are the same for everyone irrespective of culture.

Fundamental aspects of the developmental process remain the same and work in the same way through the various stages. It is also referred to as functional invariants.

1: Sensorimotor Stage (0-2years)

This lasts for approximately the first two years of life. The infant learns about the world primarily through their sense (sensory), and by doing (motor).

Children experience the world through movement and their five senses e.g. looking, hearing, touching, grasping and sucking.

Piaget argued the very first schema which an infant develops is the body-schema.

Initially, the child is unable to differentiate between itself and the outside the world. Everything is just a mess of sensation for the child.

Gradually child draws a distinction between “me” and “not me”. The body schema formed the basis from which all the schemas develop for the future

I: Sub stages of Sensorimotor Stage:

The sensorimotor is divided into six sub-stages:

  • Exercising Reflexes.
  • Primary Circular Reactions.
  • Secondary Circular Reactions.
  • The Coordination of Secondary Circular Reactions.
  • Tertiary Circular Reactions.
  • The invention of new means through Mental Combinations.

Important Developments of Sensorimotor Stage

1: Object Permanence

The child becomes aware that an object still exists even if is hidden. The child develops an understanding that even if something is out of sight, it still exists.

Children also develop self-recognition and symbolism through (Language) by the end of this stage.

2: Deferred Imitations

Deferred imitation is the ability to imitate or reproduce something that ‘s been perceived but is no longer present.

3: Representational Plays

Representational (make-believe) play involves using one object as though it were another.

Like deferred imitation, this ability depends on the growing ability (of the child) to form mental images of things and people in their absence.

Deferred imitation and representational play are the indicators of general symbolic functions developed by the end of the sensorimotor stage.

2. The Pre-Operational Stage (2-7years)

In this stage children acquire representational skills as mental imagery; language has divided this stage into two sub-stages.

Pre-Conceptual Sub-Stage( 2-4)

At this stage, children start using symbols to represent physical models of the world around them.

Intuitive Sub-Stage (4-7)

At this stage, children can use relative terms but the ability to think logically is still limited.

Limitations of Abilities in Child

Piaget has explained different concepts related to this stage.


It means the child has difficulty arranging the objects on the basis of particular dimensions.


It is the belief that natural features have been designed and constructed by people.

Syntactic Thought

 It is the tendency to link together any neighboring objects or events on the basis of individual instances in common.

Transduction Reasoning

Involves drawing an inference about the relationship between two things based on a single shared attribute. This sort of reasoning leads to animism.


Is the belief that inanimate objects are alive.


It means focusing on only a single perceptual quality at a time. Until the child can ‘decenter’ it will be unable to classify things logically or systematically. Centration is also associated with the liability to conserve.


Piaget argues that in the pre-operation stage children are egocentric, as they see the world from their own standpoint and cannot appreciate that other people might see things differently.


Is the understanding that any quantity remains the same despite physical changes in the arguments of objects.

Piaget believed that preoperational children cannot conserve because their thinking is dominated by the appearance of objects.

3. The Concrete Operational Stage (7-11years)

This stage is characterized by the idea that children’s reasoning becomes focused and logical.

Children become capable of performing logical operations, but only in the presence of actual objects.

They become able to conserve, shows reversibility and more logical classification.

Children start realizing that an object can belong to more than one class. They can re-create a relationship between a part and the whole.

A significant decline can also be seen in egocentrism and growing relativism.

Reciprocity of relationship is also developed in this stage along with the seriation.

Children begin to organize objects by classes and subclasses and they can perform the mathematical operation and understand transformations.

Piaget determined that children become able to incorporate inductive reasoning, which involves drawing inferences from observations in order to make a generalization.

As their intuition is replaced by a confident use of logical values yet they face difficulty in considering hypothetical and abstract ideas.

At the end of the stage they can’t perform transitivity task i.e. to change and compare the position from one point to another e.g. A is taller than B and B is taller than C so who is taller A or C?

4. Formal Operational stage

In this stage, children develop abstract and logical thought patterns. Formal refers to the ability to follow the form of an argument without reference to its particular content.

So children can manipulate ideas or prepositions and can reason solely on the basis of verbal statements.

Children can think hypothetically. They got the ability to imagine and discuss things that have never been encountered. They can apply deductive reasoning as well.

If the information, perception or experience presented to a person fits with a structure in his mind, then that information is understood.

If it does not fit, the mind rejects it, or if the mind is ready to change, it changes itself to accommodate the information.

Like other living things the mind is also growing structure because it does not simply respond or react to experience but actively changes and adapts to the world.

The mind is not simply a passive receiver of information but an active processor, of experience.

Intelligence is a biological adaption. It evolves gradually in qualitatively different steps as the result of countless assimilation and accommodation, while attempt to reach a new balance.

Vygotsky’s Socio-Cultural Cognitive Theory (1896-1934)

socio cultural theory

He argued that children actively construct their knowledge. He gave more importance to social interaction and culture.

His theory is a socio-cultural cognitive theory that emphasizes how culture and social interaction guide cognitive development.

He argued that the development of memory, attention, and reasoning involves learning to use the inventions of society, such as language, mathematical systems, and memory strategies.

Thus in one culture children might learn to count with the help of a computer, in another they might learn by using beads.

According to Vygotsky, children social interaction with more skilled adults and peers is indispensable to their cognitive development.

Through this interaction, they learn to use the tools that help them adapt and be successful in their culture.

Vygotsky’s theory has stimulated considerable interest in the view that knowledge is situated and collaborative.

In this view, knowledge is not generated from within the individual but rather is constructed through interaction with other people and objects in the culture such as books.

This suggests that knowledge can best be advanced through interaction with others in cooperative activities.