Cognitive Development: Theories of Piaget and Vygotsky

Cognition is defined as a high level carried out by the human brain, including comprehension and use of speech, visual perception and construction, calculation ability, attention (information processing), memory, and executive functions such as planning, problem-solving, and self-monitoring. Jean Piaget’s viewed cognitive development as an essential prerequisite for the development of all symbolic functions (thinking, reasoning, play, etc). Lev Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development is heavily influenced by his environment and by his culture from the very beginning of knowledge acquisition. In this essay, I will compare the two theorists and take a side on whether language or cognition comes first.

On a different note, Piaget described stages of intellectual development from birth through late adolescence by beginning with sensorimotor intelligence (birth to 2 years). In this stage, the child interacts with his environment in physical and mostly unlearned ways, especially early in the stage. Preoperational thought (2 to 7 years) is when the child can categorize things in this environment and solve physical problems. Children in this stage are egocentric, meaning they assume others share their points of view. In light of egocentrism, children in this stage communicate but not interact with other children.

Piaget views private speech as egocentric or immature. Private speech is the point at which the child is beginning to use language to get things done. Piaget schemas are divided into three points which is assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration. Schemas are characterized as mental representations or actions that organize knowledge. Assimilation is when a child adds new information into the ones which are known to them. Rather, accommodation is utilized to change existing schemes to fit new information and experiences. Equilibration is a resolution of conflict to reach a balance.

According to Vygotsky’s theory, object permanence is objects that exist in time and space regardless of whether you can’t see or act on them. As cognitive development continues, the child understands objects exist even when they are not being touched, tasted, smelled, seen, or heard. Causality is the understanding that events can cause other events. For instance, if a child pushes a spoonful of strained sweet potatoes out of her mouth with her tongue. As the child develops language, she would say “no” because she would use no to speak which will cause the sweet potato to not be delivered to her stomach.

Means-end is the understanding that there are approaches to achieve a goal. Regarding language development, means-ends is important to language because it is used to complete things. The fourth principle is imitation which is a duplication of models you hear and see. Play provides children with numerous opportunities to find out about the things and individuals in their world which can go from numbers, shapes, and colors. Ultimately, children use their communication abilities, particularly language, to facilitate advances in their cognitive development.

In contrast to language, I believe cognition comes first. For example, if I was to apply Vygotsky’s theory to a classroom, I believe that principles such as scaffolding, dialogue or cultural tools are important components of a student’s knowledge acquisition. Utilizing scaffolding as a strategy would give help and offer back input while relating new information. By helping students within their zone of proximal development, I would offer them learning strategies, for example, learning with an emphasis on activity and play. The zone is the area at which a child can perform a challenging task, given appropriate help. After evaluating Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories on cognitive development, we can still learn and build on with there thoughts and theories, especially when applied in education.


  1. Hulit, L.M., Howard, M.R. & Fahey, K. ( 2011). Born to talk: An introduction to speech and language development (5th Ed.) Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.