Swiss psychiatrist Jean Piaget was born in 1896, and died in 1980. His background was in biology, but he became fascinated with studying the psychological development of children.
Piaget was a transformational researcher in the field of child developmental psychology. In fact, he is still, to this day, the most cited psychologist in the field.
So what exactly did Piaget do? How did he change our understanding of human brain development from infancy to adulthood? In this edition of Two Guys on Your Head Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke talk about Jean Piaget and his impact on the field of cognitive psychology.
When we’re born into the world as tiny, helpless infants, our brains are essentially clueless. Imagine going from a cozy sack of fluid – with all the life-sustaining nourishment you could want – then being jolted into a world full of loud sounds, shapes, colors and movement.
How does our brain evolve from this beginning state of oblivion into a complex and remarkable machine that runs our independent, adult-function state? That question is essentially what Piaget spent his career asking and trying to answer.
Piaget was a very observant guy, and was especially interested in studying the role of the individual in development, completely independent from circumstantial social influence. Prior to Piaget, the scientific consensus went that the brain was a blank slate, and that children would learn anything you taught them.
Piaget argued that children constructed their own intelligence, as developing independent individuals, so their circumstances wouldn’t necessarily determine their outcome in cognitive development. By extension, Piaget’s theory suggested that children are responsible for the construction of their own brains through their interaction with the world. That was a huge leap forward in scientific understanding of humans in the world and how we use our minds.