Cognitive Development in Infants: Object Permanence & Sensorimotor Periods

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  • 0:57 Use of Reflexes
  • 1:20 Circular Reactions
  • 2:28 Coordination of…
  • 3:20 Tertiary Reactions
  • 3:53 Coordination of…
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

There is no time like infancy - it is the first exposure people have to the world. According to Jean Piaget, there are six stages infants go through as they develop cognitively and learn to act in their environment.

Sensorimotor Stage in Infancy

Children go through various stages of internal development as they grow. But, what is the first step into this world of development? It takes place right after birth and has been labeled by Jean Piaget as the sensorimotor stage. This stage describes a child's use of his or her senses to interact with their world. There are six substages within the sensorimotor stage: the use of reflexes, primary circular reactions, secondary circular reactions, coordination of secondary circular reactions, tertiary circular reactions and coordination of tertiary circular reactions.

Substages of the Sensorimotor Stage

Say hello to the Hamilton family. This family has agreed to let us observe their newborn, Henry, over the course of his childhood to see how these stages operate in his daily life.

The use of reflexes (1 month)

Henry is a month old, and we see him suddenly suck on his thumb and the ear of his teddy bear. He also grabs his mother's finger as her hand comes into the crib. He is exhibiting the use of his reflexes, or his automatic behavior, in response to certain stimuli. His thumb and the bear lead him to want to suck and bite, and his mother's finger draws him in to reach and grab.

Primary circular reactions (1-4 months)

We have waited a few months to check in on Henry again. Now he is repeating behaviors we saw the first month. He is continuing to suck on his thumb and grab his mother's finger, though he is no longer biting his teddy bear's ear. We are told by Piaget that in this stage, infants purposely repeat behaviors for gratification's sake. Henry may have been first doing these actions a few months ago, but he did so unintentionally. Now he is now repeating them because he likes the end result.

Secondary circular reactions (4-8 months)

Henry is now seven months old, and we see him hitting at the spinning mobile above his crib. His mother tells us that one day she picked him up out of his crib and his hand accidentally hit the toy. He gazed at it while it spun and started smiling. He then hit it on purpose, to watch it spin faster.

Now he continues to hit it from time to time as he smiles and giggles. This describes secondary circular reactions. Both this and primary circular reactions start with an accidental finding, though secondary reactions do not apply to reflexes but to chosen behavior.

Coordination of secondary circular reactions (8-12 months)

Up until this stage, Henry discovers actions and results accidentally. Now he is displaying initial actions upon his environment on purpose. For example, Henry sees part of his teddy bear underneath his blanket. He wants to grab it, so he picks up and moves his blanket out of the way, and then grabs and holds his bear.

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