Preoperational Intelligence Definition Essay

Development Psychology: Child In The Preoperational Stage

A study was carried out by two third year psychology students to investigate Piaget's stage theory. A 4 years old female child was tested in task of comprehension of more and less, followed standard and modified versions of conservation and class inclusion tasks. Results indicated that child exhibited difficulties in both modified conservation and class inclusion tasks despite the removal of some confounds in standard tasks. This infers that children of pre-operational stage do lack the ability to conserve and categorize objects, as predicted by Piaget. Further research need to address children's numerical abilities, as well as attending to perceptive seductions. This research needs to compare children who are able and unable to attend to number logics, as well as modifying the class inclusion task so that perceptive seduction cannot take place.

Child in the preoperational stageMany researchers have been interested in various confounds which are present in Jean Piaget's stage theories. His studies have postulated that children in the pre-operational stage lack the ability to perform conservation and class inclusion tasks (White, Hayes, Livsey, 2005). The methodologies of the study however, have been criticized by many researchers. Flaws and alternatives found in the standard Piagetian tasks include conversational confusions, perceptual seduction, and linguistic misunderstandings (Light, 1986, Siegel, 1978, 2003, Meadows, 1988). These issues have been addressed with modifications to the standard tasks. Majority of the research have found modified tasks to be better predictors of child's abilities in conservation and class inclusion tasks. (Light, 1986, Siegel, 1978, 2003, Meadows, 1988).

According to Piaget's stage theory, children in the pre-operational stage are non-conservers (White et al, 2005). Their tendency of centration causes them to focus on only one aspect of the problem at a time (White et al, 2005). This implies that they are unable to comprehend that quantitative properties of certain objects remain unchanged despite changes in its appearance (White et al, 2005). For example, pre-operational children typically judge water of the same volume to be more, after the transformation in standard liquid conservation tasks (Siegal, 2003). A problem in this procedure however, lies within the confusion caused by children's conversational experience (Siegal, 2003). This theory proposes that rather than actually responding to the logic behind the transformations of the liquid, children misinterprets the repetition of the same question as a cue to switch their answer in order to please the adult experimenter (Siegel, 2003).

To address conversational confusion, liquid conservation tasks had been modified by the means of incidental transformation (Light, 1986). The intention of this modification is to contextualize the intentions of adults in repeating...

Loading: Checking Spelling


Read more

The Historical Development of Psychology Essay

1080 words - 4 pages The Historical Development of Psychology I am going to be looking at the history of psychology, and by using a few examples try to explain some of the theories that leading psychologists and scientist have concluded in their experiments and scientific studies. Psychology is in fact the study of the mind, how it works and what effect it has upon an individuals thoughts and general functions, the processes of the mind will...

Imaginary Companions In Child Development Essay

1652 words - 7 pages Introduction Many children experience a common phenomenon known as the imaginary companion. This usually manifests itself in the creation of an invisible person that they engage in an active relationship with. While many parents are confused about how to approach and relate to their child and their child’s imaginary companion they should be assured that the process is quite normal. Imaginary companions are not a sign of mental illness but a...

Child development: attachment in infancy.

2131 words - 9 pages ATTACHMENT IN INFANCYWhy psychologist stressed the importance of attachment behaviors in development? Many theorists agree that social contact early in a child's life is important for healthy personality development. This is the most important relationship of the child's development. As it is from best that the child derives its confidence in the world. A break...

The Sensorimotor Stage of Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

1229 words - 5 pages The theorist, Jean Piaget, was most interested in the development of children’s intellectual organization. Piaget’s theory of cognitive development begins with the sensorimotor stage. Sensorimotor intelligence is thinking by observing objects and acting in response to them. Throughout the stages the child understands that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen which is referred to as object permanence. When a child exhibits a...

The Importance of Imitation in Early Child Development?

2338 words - 9 pages The term imitation in psychological terms refers to the copying or mimicking of patterns of behaviour. This essay will evaluate the importance of imitation in infancy using the theory of Piaget contrasted with the findings of other studies that differ radically in their conclusions. The essay will show that the importance of imitation as a forerunner to symbolic representation and ultimately abstract thought can be counterbalanced by arguments...

Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development: The First Stage

523 words - 2 pages The first stage is called the Sensorimotor stage. It occupies the first two years of a child's life, from birth to 2 years old. It is called the Sensorimotor stage because in it children are occupied with sensing things and moving them. From these activities they learn what makes things happen, what the connections are between actions and their consequences. They learn to grasp and hold and what happens when they let go.      This...

The Nature of Child Development

1188 words - 5 pages Human development has been a subject of interest since ancient Greece and Rome. Different approaches derive from two basic directions: the nativists` and empiricists` ones. The latter method is to regard human development as a gradual change which has been influenced by the individual`s experience .On the other hand, the former approach has found its roots in the biological structure of the human organism which considers our development as a...

Brain Development in Victims of Child Abuse

1547 words - 6 pages Child abuse is a widespread problem in America and beyond. Every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States involving more than 6 million children(1a). For many years, experts believed that the negative effects of child abuse, such as emotional problems, flashbacks to traumatic events, and even learning problems, were psychological phenomena only, able to be cured with therapy. Now, however, beliefs are being...

Child and Youth Development in Canada

2420 words - 10 pages Background This initiative aimed to teach the parents about the importance of nutrition in child development and ways to improve lunches and long term negative effects on unhealthy eating as proper nutrition is an important part of healthy child development. Newcomers to Canada are faced with numerous challenges, and by targeting the low income immigrant parents we hoped to provide some benefit from the additional information. The initiative...

The Influence of Play on Child Development

1484 words - 6 pages Children develop normally when they are exposed to different types of play that allow them to express themselves while using their imaginations and being physically active. According to the Center for Health Education, Training and Nutrition Awareness, “Play is child’s work”; this is true because it is a child’s job is to learn and develop in their first few years of life, in order for them to do this, they play (CHETNA). Not only is playing a...

The Effects of Television on Child Development

2024 words - 8 pages The Effects of Television on Child Development (missing works cited) Our generation has been raised in a technological advanced world and there has been definite controversy over many of these innovations that this new culture has brought. An innovation that has troubled the youth of America for many years is television. Although there is no certainty to eliminate this 'plug-in drug,'; there are many ways to control and monitor your...

Jean Piaget

(August 9, 1896-September 16, 1980)
Swiss Biologist and Child Psychologist



  • Ph.D. in the Natural Sciences, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland (1918)
  • Postdoctoral studies in psychoanalysis, University of Zurich (Winter, 1918-1919)


  • Publishes his first biology paper (on the albino sparrow) at age 10 (1907)
  • Théodore Simon asks him to standardize Cyril Burt's intelligence tests with Parisian children (1920)
  • Publishes his first article on the psychology of intelligence (1921)
  • Research Director, Institut Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Geneva (1921-1925)
  • Professor of psychology, sociology and history of science, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland (1925-1929)
  • Professor of the History of Scientific Thought, University of Geneva (1929-1939)
  • Director of the International Bureau of Education, Geneva (1929-1967)
  • Director, Institute of Educational Sciences, University of Geneva (1932-1971)
  • Professor of Psychology and Sociology, University of Lausanne, Switzerland (1938-1951)
  • Professor of Sociology, University of Geneva (1939-1952)
  • Chair of Experimental Psychology, University of Geneva (1940-1971)
  • Professor of Genetic Psychology, the Sorbonne, Paris (1952-1963)
  • Founder/Director of the International Center for Genetic Epistemology, Geneva (1955-1980)
  • Founder, School of Sciences, University of Geneva (1956)
  • Emeritus Professor, University of Geneva (1971-1980)
  • Ph.D. in the Natural Sciences, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland (1918)
  • Postdoctoral studies in psychoanalysis, University of Zurich (Winter, 1918-1919)

Definition of Intelligence

"Intelligence is an adaptation…To say that intelligence is a particular instance of biological adaptation is thus to suppose that it is essentially an organization and that its function is to structure the universe just as the organism structures its immediate environment" (Piaget, 1963, pp. 3-4).

"Intelligence is assimilation to the extent that it incorporates all the given data of experience within its framework…There can be no doubt either, that mental life is also accommodation to the environment. Assimilation can never be pure because by incorporating new elements into its earlier schemata the intelligence constantly modifies the latter in order to adjust them to new elements" (Piaget, 1963, p. 6-7).

Major Contributions

  • The theory of Genetic Epistemology*

Ideas and Interests

Jean Piaget was a precocious child who demonstrated a keen interest in animal life and an encyclopedic knowledge of biology and taxonomy. When he was ten years old, he began volunteering at the Neuchâtel Museum of Natural History. The museum's director, the seventy year-old naturalist Paul Godet, took him on as his assistant and apprentice, and paid him for his work by giving him rare specimens for his personal collection (Vidal, 1994). Piaget continued to work at the museum for four years, and his interest in the natural sciences continued to grow. His professional accomplishments in this area were numerous, beginning at age ten when he published a paper on the albino sparrow, and culminating with a doctoral thesis on the classification of mollusks when he was twenty-one.

After completing his Ph.D., Piaget spent several months studying psychoanalysis at the University of Zurich. He was a promising student, and his contemporaries believed that he would eventually make important contributions to this field (Vidal, 1994). However, a serendipitous opportunity presented itself, and Piaget soon found himself working for Théodore Simon, co-author of the Binet-Simon intelligence scale. Simon placed him in Binet's laboratory, and set him to work standardizing Cyril Burt's reasoning tests on Parisian children.

Piaget thought that the standardizing task was dull, and he never finished it. However, his clinical interactions with the children were not without interest. He began to notice that children of similar ages made similar types of mistakes, and it occurred to him that Simon, Binet and Burt might be asking the wrong question: Perhaps the key to understanding human intellectual development is not in what children get wrong, but how they get it wrong. It was clear to Piaget that childish reasoning is not merely less accurate than adult reasoning; it is qualitatively different (Wadsworth 1996). From this point forward, Piaget dedicated himself to answering the question "How does knowledge grow?"

Piaget eventually came to believe that intelligence is a form of adaptation, wherein knowledge is constructed by each individual through the two complementary processes of assimilation and accommodation. He theorized that as children interact with their physical and social environments, they organize information into groups of interrelated ideas called "schemes". When children encounter something new, they must either assimilate it into an existing scheme or create an entirely new scheme to deal with it (Wadsworth 1996).

Piaget also believed that intellectual development occurs in four distinct stages. The sensorimotor stage begins at birth, and lasts until the child is approximately two years old. At this stage, the child cannot form mental representations of objects that are outside his immediate view, so his intelligence develops through his motor interactions with his environment. The preoperational stage typically lasts until the child is 6 or 7. According to Piaget, this is the stage where true "thought" emerges. Preoperational children are able to make mental representations of unseen objects, but they cannot use deductive reasoning. The concrete operations stage follows, and lasts until the child is 11 or 12. Concrete operational children are able to use deductive reasoning, demonstrate conservation of number, and can differentiate their perspective from that of other people. Formal operations is the final stage. Its most salient feature is the ability to think abstractly.

A central tenet of Piaget's Genetic Epistemology is that increasingly complex intellectual processes are built on the primitive foundations laid in earlier stages of development. An infant's physical explorations of his environment form the basis for the mental representations he develops as a preoperational child, and so on. Another important principle of Piaget's stage theory is that there are genetic constraints inherent in the human organism-You can challenge a child to confront new ideas, but you cannot necessarily "teach" him out of one stage and into another. Moreover, a child cannot build new, increasingly complex schemes without interacting with his environment; nature and nurture are inexorably linked. As Piaget put it:

Intelligence does not by any means appear at once derived from mental development, like a higher mechanism, and radically distinct from those which have preceded it. Intelligence presents, on the contrary, a remarkable continuity with the acquired or even inborn processes on which it depends and at the same time makes use of. (Piaget, 1963, p. 21)

Attempts have been made to correlate performance on Piagetian conservation tasks with standardized intelligence test scores, and the results have been mixed. (Kirk, 1977). Ultimately, an intelligence test built on a Piagetian framework would have to function very differently from intelligence tests like the Wechsler or the Stanford-Binet. In addition to recording a child's correct and incorrect responses, the test administrator would also have to ask the child to explain why he answered in a given way. Piaget suggested that one way to reconcile these two approaches would be to adopt a method clinique, whereby a traditional intelligence test could serve as the basis for a clinical interview (Elkind, 1969).

*Epistemology: n. a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.

Selected Publications

Piaget, J. (1936, 1963) The origins of intelligence in children. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Piaget, J. (1954, 1981). Intelligence and affectivity: Their relationship during child development. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Review, Inc.

Piaget, J. (1963, 2001). The psychology of intelligence. New York: Routledge.

Piaget, J. (1970). Genetic epistemology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Piaget, J. (1972). Intellectual evolution from adolescence to adulthood. Human Development, 15(1), 1-12.

Piaget, J. (1973). Memory and intelligence: New York: BasicBooks.

Piaget, J. (1974, 1980). Adaptation and intelligence: Organic selection and phenocopy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Costello, R.B. (Ed.) (1992). Random House Webster's college dictionary. New York: Random House.

Kirk, L (1977). Maternal and subcultural correlates of cognitive growth rate: The GA pattern. IN P.R. Dasen (Ed.), Piagetian psychology: Cross-cultural contributions. New York: Gardner Press.

Elkind, David. (1969). Pagetian and psychometric conceptions of intelligence. Harvard Educational Review, 39(2), 319-337.

Piaget, J. (1936, 1963) The origins of intelligence in children. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Vidal, F. (1994). Piaget before Piaget. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Wadsworth, B.J. (1996). Piaget's theory of cognitive and affective development: White Plains, NY: Longman.

Home | Interactive Map | Alphabetic Index | Time Period Index
Hot Topics | Map - PDF | References | Contributors | Comments

For further information please contact
Content questions: Dr. Jonathan Plucker (jplucker AT
Technical questions: Technical Co-Director(intelltheory AT
Copyright © 2016

Last Modified: 20 December 2016

0 thoughts on “Preoperational Intelligence Definition Essay”


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *