Piaget’s Stages of Development: Object Permanence

Psychologist Jean Piaget came up with his theory of cognitive development, which suggests that development happens in four stages: sensorimotor (0 to 24 months old), preoperational (2 to 7 years old), concrete operational (7 to 11 years old), and formal operational (adolescence to adulthood).

For each developmental stage, a child has to achieve a goal or a milestone before they can move on to the next developmental stage. In this article, we will discuss Object Permanence, which is the goal of the sensorimotor stage.

Key Concept: Schema

The term “object permanence” has to do with understanding that things continue to exist even if they are no longer visible. To establish object permanence, children have to develop a mental image of an object. This mental image will stay with the child even when the object disappears. These mental images are called schemas.

For example, a child has a schema for a dog, an animal that has fur, a tail, and walks on four legs. When the child takes a walk in the park, he or she may see a cat and think that it is a dog because it also has a tail, fur and walks on four legs. The parent or caregiver of the child will then correct the child by saying that the cat is not a dog because it doesn’t bark. Once the child understands that the cat is a different animal, the child’s schema of a dog will be modified, and a new schema of a cat will emerge. Schemas are modified through the process of assimilation and accommodation.

Development of Object Permanence

According to Jean Piaget, 6 substages occur within the sensorimotor stage. Here are the substages:

·          0 to 1 month: Reflexes – infants interact with their environment through reflexes like rooting and sucking

·          1 to 4 months: New Schemas – new schemas are formed through primary circular reactions

·          4 to 8 months: Intentional Actions – children at this age initiate actions that will elicit a response

·         8-12 months: Greater Exploration – at this stage, children’s reactions to their environment are more coordinated and cohesive. A child may deliberately shake a rattle, knowing that it will create noise

·          12 to 18 months: Trial and Error – at this stage, children learn about their environment through trial and error. Children will do certain things intentionally to get reactions or attention from others. 

·          18 to 24 months: Emergence of Object Permanence – through a child’s constant interactions with his or her environment, they will have schemas of objects. 

Some Criticisms

Current research in child development and psychology has criticized Piaget’s theory because it underestimates the ability of children. Some have even questioned Piaget’s conclusions, specifically about the Object Permanence stage. Current research has shown that 4-month-old children understand that even when an item disappears, it is real and continues to exist. Young children may simply lack the physical coordination or interest in looking for the item that went missing.