Infant Cognitive Development: Sensorimotor Stage & Object Permanence

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Jean Piaget's theory of development includes cognitive development stages in which the infant evolves fast. Learn about the sensorimotor stage and the cognitive development that occurs in it, including one of the most relevant achievements of this stage: object permanence. Updated: 09/28/2021

Cognitive Development

Belle has a son named Judah, who is one-and-a-half years old. She loves watching him grow and change every day. When he was first born, he used to just stare at her blankly, but now he interacts with her in ways that make it clear that he sort of understands what's going on around him.

Human development is the process of growth and change that people go through during their lifetimes. There are many types of development. As Judah grows taller, he is physically developing. As he becomes able to stand and walk, he is demonstrating motor development. When Judah learns how to deal with feeling scared or lonely, he's developing emotionally. And when he learns how to make Belle laugh by making funny faces, he's going through social development.

One of the types of development that changes rapidly in the first two years of life is cognitive development, or growth and change in knowledge and thought processes. For example, a newborn baby doesn't understand what numbers are, but by age two, many children can count to five or even 10. Their knowledge and understanding of things has grown. Let's look closer at cognitive development in the first two years of life.

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  • 0:01 Cognitive Development
  • 1:18 Sensorimotor Stage
  • 5:18 Object Permanence
  • 6:29 Lesson Summary
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Sensorimotor Stage

One of the first psychologists to talk about cognitive development in children was Jean Piaget, who documented his theory of the different stages that children go through in their cognitive development. The first stage in Piaget's cognitive development theory is the sensorimotor stage, which occurs during the first two years of life.

During the sensorimotor stage, children are learning how to understand the environment around them. They are using their senses to figure out how the world works, and they are using their motor control to see how they can interact with the world. If you remember 'senses' and 'motor,' you can remember sensorimotor stage. Piaget divided the sensorimotor stage into six sub-stages of development that occur at different points in the first two years of life.

1. Reflexes: At the very beginning of the baby's life, he understands the environment only through reflexes, like sucking. Belle can remember how during the first month of his life Judah only stared up at her blankly. He had certain reflexes, like sucking when she put a bottle in his mouth, blinking when a light shone in his eyes, or grasping her finger when she put it in his palm. But Judah didn't really seem to understand anything about the world around him.

2. Primary circular reactions: When the baby is between one and four months old, he will discover new sensations and will begin to repeat the ones that he finds pleasurable. This stage is called 'circular' because the child is repeating the behavior, like going around in a circle. For example, one day Judah had his thumb near his mouth and began to suck on it. That first time, it was purely a reflex; he did not plan on sucking his thumb. But he found that he liked it, so he started doing it more often.

3. Secondary circular reactions: At between four and eight months old, the baby begins a new circular pattern: he acts upon his environment and then repeats an action to get a reaction. For example, one day Judah threw his toy in the air. Belle laughed at that, and so Judah began throwing his toy in the air over and over, hoping to make his mother laugh each time.

4. Coordination of reactions: Sometime between eight and twelve months, the baby will begin to act intentionally to get a reaction and to demonstrate that they understand the functions of objects. Remember that Judah discovered that he would get a reaction if he threw his toy up in the air. The first time he did it, it wasn't to get a reaction; he accidentally discovered that throwing his toy gets a reaction. But now, Judah is starting to understand that certain things have specific functions and that his actions will get the objects to work. He figures out that if he shakes his rattle, it will make noise. He has learned that the rattle's function is to make noise and that if he shakes it, he can get it to work.

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