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What is Piaget's Sensorimotor Stage of Development?

June Wai See Leung, Jessica McCallister
  • Author
    June Wai See Leung

    June Leung has a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and has taught high school students STEM topics.

  • Instructor
    Jessica McCallister

    Jessica has a Doctorate degree in Social Work

Jean Piaget suggests that as a child grows, they go through various stages of psychosocial development. The sensorimotor stage is the first stage in the four-stage model. Updated: 03/01/2022

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Piaget's Stages of Development

Jean Piaget proposed a four-stage model of psychosocial development. Inside these stages, as infants grow up, they will go through these stages in sequence. In each stage, they will acquire and master new skills that will allow them to obtain further skills as they proceed through life. The four stages are as follows:

  • Sensorimotor stage: From birth through ages 18-24 months. Infants gain awareness about the world around them and focus on their physical abilities.
  • Peroperational: From 18-24 months through age 7. Children begin to master the use of language as they develop memory and imagination.
  • Concrete operational: From age 7 to 11. Children gain the ability to think logically and are more aware of elements and attributes outside themselves.
  • Formal operational: From adolescence through adulthood. Adolescents are able to use symbols and understand abstract concepts.

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Piaget's Sensorimotor Stage

Piaget's sensorimotor stage begins as soon as the infant is born and until they are around 24 months old. This stage involves physical and cognitive skill developments in infants as they begin to interact with the environment. These skills include crawling, pulling, and holding items. They will also begin to learn about emotion and how to react to their surroundings. There are six sub-stages under the sensorimotor stage.

Sensorimotor Sub-Stages and Examples

There are six sensorimotor sub-stages: reflex, primary circular reactions, secondary circular reactions, coordination of reactions, tertiary circular reactions, and early representational thought. Infants will go through these stages in the sequence listed. These stages cannot be skipped or completed out of order; as every stage builds on the preceding stage. The following are detailed explanations and examples of these substages.

Sensorimotor Sub-Stage: Reflex

In the first stage, infants will learn about reflexes. Reflex is an involuntary reaction that happens automatically without cognitive processing and is highly repeatable. In adults, for example, when there is strong light, one would close their eyes and the pupils will constrict. In infants, there are some reflexes that are specific to them. When you press a finger on an infant's palm, they will hold onto the finger. When you tickle the area near an infant's mouth, they will start sucking. These reflexes will continue with the infant until they are around six weeks old. At this point, most of these reactions will become a conscious action instead of a reflex.

Sensorimotor Sub-Stage: Primary Circular Reactions

Primary circular reactions stage generally starts at around one to four months old. Infants begin to discover their own bodies and how they can control their movements. They will begin to perform different movements or sounds. They may also repeat certain actions as they learn how to perform and repeat them. These movements include sucking fingers, smiling, and kicking.

Sensorimotor Sub-Stage: Secondary Circular Reactions

Secondary circular reactions stage takes place between four to eight months old. Babies will begin to learn about their surroundings and objects that they can have an effect on. For example, they may find out that they can hold a toy and may also drop it onto the floor. At this stage, they consider objects that are out of sight to be non-existent. For example, when a mother plays hide-and-seek with the baby, when the mother covered herself with a towel, the baby will consider the mother to not exist. They will not attempt to search for their mother. When the mother puts away the towel, the baby will be surprised and react to the mother's reappearance. At this stage, the baby can also make more sounds on their own and can use those sounds to communicate emotion.

Sensorimotor Sub-Stage: Coordination of Reactions

The coordination of reactions stage occurs when the baby is around eight months old and will continue until around twelve months old. In this stage, the baby will understand that items that are out of sight don't disappear; and they will be able to locate where the items are. This is called the understanding of object permanence. This can be applied to the previous example. After children master object permanence, when the mother hides, they would go and attempt to find the mother behind the towel.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main characteristics of Piaget's sensorimotor stage?

This stage involves physical and cognitive skills development in infants as they begin to interact with the environment. These skills include crawling, pulling, holding items. They will also begin to learn about emotion and how to react to their surroundings. One of the benchmarks in this stage is the infant gaining the skill of object permanence, which refers to the understanding that an object doesn't disappear when they are out of sight.

What are the 6 sub-stages of sensorimotor development?

There are six sensorimotor sub-stages. They are: reflex, primary circular reactions, secondary circular reactions, coordination of reactions, tertiary circular reactions, and early representational thought stage.

What is an example of the sensorimotor stage?

Object permanence is one of the benchmarks of the sensorimotor stage. It refers to the understanding that an object doesn't disappear when they are out of sight. Babies usually obtain this skill when they are at the coordination of reaction stage, when they are around eight to 12 months old. At this stage, when the baby is presented with a ball and a bowl, when the ball is hidden under the bowl, the baby will attempt to find it. Before gaining this skill, the baby will consider the ball to no longer exist and will not search for it.

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