Sensorimotor Stage

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Piaget (1954, 1964) described this stage from birth to approximately 2 years is a period of rapid cognitive growth.

Piaget's method for discovering the characteristics and features of this stage was to observe this own children, and report their behavior as different ages.

Initially equipped with a set of reflex movements and a set of perceptual systems, infant quickly begins to build up direct knowledge of world around her, by relating physical actions to perceived results of those actions. Through the processes of assimilation and accommodation, these actions become progressively adapted to the world (e.g. grasping schema).

During the sensorimotor stage infants learn mostly through trial and error learning. Children initially rely on reflexes, eventually modifying them to adapt to their world. Behaviors become goal directed, progressing from concrete to abstract goals. Objects and events can be mentally represented by the child (sometimes called object permanence).

Infancy characterized by extreme egocentrism, where the child has no understanding of the world other than her own, current point of view. The main development during this stage is the understanding that objects exist and events occur in the world independently of one's own actions ('the object concept', or 'object permanence').

Object permanence means knowing that an object still exists, even if it is hidden. It requires the ability to form a mental representation (i.e. a schema) of the object. 

For example, if you place a toy under a blanket, the child who has achieved object permanence knows it is there and can actively seek it.  Before this stage, the child behaves as if the toy had simply disappeared. The attainment of object permanence generally signals the transition to the next stage.

piaget object permanence

Object Permanence Experiment

Blanket and Ball Study

Aim: Piaget (1963) wanted to investigate at what age children acquire object permanence.

Method: Piaget hid a toy under a blanket, while the child was watching, and observed whether or not the child searched for the hidden toy. Searching for the hidden toy was evidence of object permanence. Piaget assumed that the child could only search for a hidden toy if s/he had a mental representation of it.

Results: Piaget found that infants searched for the hidden toy when they were around 8-months-old.

Conclusion: Children around 8 months have abject permanence because they are able to form a mental representation of the object in their minds.

Evaluation

There is evidence that object permanence occurs earlier than Piaget claimed. Bower and Wishart (1972) used a lab experiment to study infants aged between 1 – 4 months old. 

Instead of using a Piaget’s blanket technique they waited for the infant to reach for an object, and then turned out the lights so that the object was no longer visible. They then filmed the infant using an infra red camera. They found that the infant continued to reach for the object for up to 90 seconds after it became invisible.

Further Information

Jean Piaget

Preoperational Stage

Concrete Operational Stage

Formal Operational Stage

Cognitive Development

Piaget: Cognitive Development (Undergraduate Notes)

References

Bower, T. G. R., & Wishart, J. G. (1972). The effects of motor skill on object permanence. Cognition, 1, 165–172.

Piaget, J. (1954). The construction of reality in the child (M. Cook, Trans.).

Piaget, J. (1964). Part I: Cognitive development in children: Piaget development and learning. Journal of research in science teaching, 2(3), 176-186.

Piaget, J. (1963). The Psychology of Intelligence. Totowa, New Jersey: Littlefield Adams.

How to cite this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2010). Sensorimotor Stage. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/sensorimotor.html

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