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Criticisms of Piaget's Theory

"On ya bike Piaget!"



Despite the great impact that Piaget's theories have had on the development of education across the curriculum, recent research disputes a number of Piaget's principles and methods.



Some of these criticisms include:

Over simplification of structurally distinct stages

Incorrect assumptions of intellectual abilities of children

Overlooking the effects of the students' cultural and social groups

Unscientific methods

Also included in this page are some other points to consider when making use of Piaget's theories.


Over simplification of structrually distinct stages:

Data has shown that there does not seem to be the consistency of thinking at each stage of development that Piaget believed. For example, students may understand the conservation of number effectively, but may not be able to conceive the conservation of weight.

Piaget saw that conservation occured at the same level of operation, in all situations.

Recent research studies have shown that training programs can enable students to learn particular concepts before they have reached certain stages. Therefore the stages of development, are nowhere near as distinct as Piaget thought they were.


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Incorrect assumptions of the intellectual abilities of young children:

Piaget's clinical method of collecting data may have caused him to use problems with young children that were too difficult. It has therefore been shown that very young children (ie. pre-schoolers) are much more competent than Piaget had indicated in his clinical studies.

Young children can also be very social in their speech and not markedly involved in egocentric speech as Piaget believed.


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Overlooking the effects of the student's cultural and social groups:

It appears that the stages of development constructed by Piaget are representative of Western society and culture. In Piaget's work, scientific thinking and formal operations (ie. thinking without needing objects to manipulate) are prized as worthy levels to be reached by the children. In other cultures however, there may be a much higher regard for the basic level of concrete operations (ie. needing a visual stimulus to relate thinking).


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Unscientific methods:

Piaget's work is characterised by:

  • Lack of controls.
  • Small samples.
  • Absence of statistical analysis in his research.

Much of this form of critism originated from Empiricism and Logical Postivism, which dominated in American psychology at the time.

Piaget however was a Structuralist and his scientific orientation was quite different from the research traditionally done in American psychology at the time.

Piaget attempted to identify universal features of cognitive development by observing the behaviour of children in certain situations. Piaget believed that small samples and the clinical methods he used were adequate, as long as the observer identified structures common to all individuals.

It is reasonable to question the reliability of Piaget's observations due to the generality of his results. If his theory is to have a continued influence on education and psychology, it must be reviewed by the procedures of current research.


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  • Is Piaget's theory universally applicable?
  • Has Piaget's theory been confirmed by others?
  • Are Piaget's experiments adequate to develop his theories?
  • Has Piaget accounted for all cognitive processes?

Important factors underlying research results are language, cultural experiences and education.

Piaget's research however is open to critisms when looking at it's design.

- Piaget often did not design his experiments carefully enough to exclude alternate explanations.

- Piaget often theorized too much, from too little evidence.

While Piaget's research contributions to our understanding of cognitive development are substantial, his work often focused exclusively on the use of logical patterns of reasoning and largely neglected other cognitive processes that are important (eg. creatively problem solving and "right hemisphere" processes - art, etc).

He also tended to underestimate the effects of other factors such as social, motivational and educational influences of cognitive development.

His theory also does not adequately address any of the distinctly social problems confronting education today.

  • equal opportunity
  • gender roles
  • budget cuts
  • staff reductions

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