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Students are required to submit a written essay on one theory of human development. 

Psychosexual theory

Cognitive developmental theory 

Learning theories • Social role theory

Life course theory

Psychosocia I theory

Cognitive social historical theory

Dynamic systems theory 

Your written essay should include at least 5 (scholarly) journal articles read, in addition to any textbook references. The format of your assessment will be discussed in greater detail during tutorials. 

Do not utilise sources such as and other such web materials as these in no way constitute academic references for the purpose of your assignments. If you rely on such sources for theoretical support, you will be deemed not to have met the requirements of the assessment. 

Human Development Across the Lifespan

Development in humans across their life span takes place in all stages of life starting from birth until death and the types of development vary. Human beings develop biologically, physically, emotionally and psychologically (Dacey, Travers & Flore, 2009). The present paper will focus on the cognitive development in humans. This will be done by drawing upon the theory of Cognitive development. Jean Piaget was the first theorist who had developed the Cognitive development theory focusing especially on children.

The essay will provide a thorough explanation of the theory followed by a review of literature including recent researches on the topic. Further, the essay will analyze the findings from the literature review and provide a better understanding of human development across the lifespan.

The Cognitive Developmental Theory states that individuals, especially children, pass through certain stages of cognitive development at different age (Archer and McCarthy, 2007). As they grow up, their cognitive ability also grows from the influence of several factors. Piaget was of the view that cognition has a profound effect on behavior. According to his theory, children begin to develop their cognitive ability from a very small age however; their level of growth differs.  

Piaget’s interest in children’s cognitive development grew while he worked in Paris at the Alfred Binet Laboratories to conduct IQ test for children. While conducting the tests, Piaget discovered that children belonging to similar age groups gave same kind of wrong answers. After questioning the children about their way of thinking about problems, he was able to find out that young children know as much as the older children but the difference is in their way of thinking. With time, he unearthed several other factors that cause children of same ages to think similar. He held that children do have innate ideas from birth ideas nor learn from adults but “construct their own understandings of the world based on their experiences” (Sigelman & Rider, 2014). This process of constructing the understandings and learning from own experience is termed as constructivism, as proposed by Piaget (Karmiloff-Smith, 2018). To give an instance, children in the preschool stage might invent ideas that the adults did not teach them such as children fall ill if they lie or sun is alive because it moves across the sky and so on.

Gradually, the theory of Cognitive development took concrete shape and encompassed several behaviors of children that demonstrated their cognitive capability at different ages (Corey, 2009). At the core of the Cognitive theory of development are the three concepts – schemas, adaptation process including equilibrium, assimilation and accommodation, and the four stages of development (Berk, 2008). Schemas are, according to Piaget, the fundamental factors of cognitive models that enable individuals to form an intellectual depiction of the world. He opined that intellectual growth is a process of adjusting or adapting to the world. The adaptation happens during assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation means dealing with a new situation or an object using an already existing schema. Accommodation on the other hand, occurs when the already existing schema fails to work and must be changed to cope with new situation or object (Zhiqing, 2015). Equilibration is the force that pushes development along the life course. In Piaget’s views, cognitive development progresses in leaps and bounds as opposed to the common belief that it progresses steadily.

The Cognitive Developmental Theory and Piaget

The assimilation, accommodation and equilibration result in the four stages of cognitive development that include the sensorimotor stage, the pre-operational stage, the concrete operational stage and the formal operational stage. Piaget holds that children go through these four stages in the identical manner and their development is decided by the communication with the environment as well as biological maturation. During the first sage, the child achieves ‘object permanence’ meaning the knowledge that an object exists even if it is not within the sight. Schema is formed in this stage. The second stage is characterized by the ability of the child to think about objects symbolically. The thinking however, remains ‘egocentric’ as the child finds it difficult to understand others’ viewpoints. In the third stage, the child’s development sees a major turning point as she or he is able to think logically. The last stage sees children develop the capability to reflect about conceptual concepts and test hypotheses logically.

Piaget’s cognitive development theory revolutionized the field of human development across lifespan and it is seen as a relevant theory even today. However, other development theorists criticized this theory as being rigid. Lev Vygotsky was one of the major critics of cognitive development theory who opined that although development involved experience with physical objects, historical and cultural factors, language in particular play an important role. He proposed a theory of Social Development where he put emphasis on factors such as family, teachers and friends that have great influence on a child’s development. Apart from Vygotsky, other theorists like Jerome Bruner who viewed development as a continuous process rather than a set of stages. According to Bruner, language development is a result of cognitive development rather than its consequence, as Piaget believed.

Over the years, numerous studies on the effectiveness and relevance of cognitive theory of development have been conducted. the findings of these studies reveal that although the cognitive development theory does not entirely explain human development, it did lay the foundation for studying human development. Cowan (2014) views that Piaget’s theory of cognitive development provided a solid ground from where people, especially the teachers could understand a child’ behavior. The authors are of the view that whether or not anyone agrees with the theory, it has set a milestone in the field of human development. However, Flannery and Bers (2013) believe that considering development only through some set stages limits the scope of further understanding. They put forward the argument that many college students also fail at the second or third stage of cognitive development and that less than one-third of individuals “ever reach the formal operational stage”. The argument is valid because not many people experience the same development because they do not necessarily pass through the four stages systematically.

The Process of Cognitive Development

Toner (2016) conducted a study on the Australian children living in remote areas between the age of 5 to 14 years and found that these children demonstrated different abilities at different stages than those studied by Piaget. The author drew the conclusion that cognitive growth is not entirely “dependent on maturation but on cultural factors too”. Further, several scholars have also researched on the research techniques used by Piaget to form his theory. As Reinecke (2003) has found, “Piaget’s methods of observation and clinical interviews are more open to biased interpretation than other methods”. They argue that since he had performed the study alone, his observations and interpretations are more likely to be subjective.

Apart from the cognitive development theory of human development proposed by Piaget, several other theorists also focused on other areas of human development. Erik Erikson proposed a psychosocial theory of development comprising of eight stages through which human beings mature or develop. While Erikson’s theory focused on the complete development process of humans, Piaget’s cognitive development theory focuses on the thought process of individuals. Zalenski and Raspa (2016) while supporting Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development, states that Erikson’s stages of development encompass all age-groups but Piaget’s cognitive development stages do not include the later stages of human life. it is clear that most of the studies criticizing the cognitive development theory have demonstrated problems with the set stages of development.

However, many studies have also revealed that Piaget’s theory of cognitive development holds great value to studying human behavior especially the children. According to Fuentealba et al. (2017), “Piaget’s ideas have generated a huge amount of research, which has increased people’s understanding of cognitive development. Further, Engeström (2018) comments that the cognitive theory of development have particularly helped people to understand and communicate with children effectively. It has had a great contribution in the field of education.

The above explanation and review of literature indicate the cognitive development theory has been a revolutionary theory of human development, which laid the foundation for other theories. The literature on this theory provides a clear understanding of the reason this theory became so popular and the reason for other counter theories challenging it. It was found that the four stages of development as proposed by this theory encompassed human development from birth to adolescence and adulthood. However, the arguments presented by the critics revealed that humans do not necessarily pass through all the four stages and hence, the theory has some flaws.


To conclude, it can be stated that the cognitive theory of development has been a milestone in studying human development across lifespan. The theory provided an opportunity for people to view development from a critical and theoretical perspective rather than just a general perspective. The essay has provided an extensive discussion on the theory and presented arguments both in favor and against it through a review of literature. In addition, the essay has presented a broad explanation of the theory and its significance and relevance in the contemporary world to understand human development further.


Archer and McCarthy (2007). Theories of Counselling and Psychotherapy: Contemporary applications. 1st ed. New Jersey: Pearson Education, pp.53-60.

Berk, L. E. (2008). Child development. Boston: Allyn and Bacon/Pearson.

Corey, G. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Cowan, N. (2014). Working memory underpins cognitive development, learning, and education. Educational Psychology Review, 26(2), 197-223.

Dacey, Travers, & Flore. (2009). Human Development across Lifespan (1st ed., pp. 32-35). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Engeström, Y. (2018). Expansive learning: Towards an activity-theoretical reconceptualization. In Contemporary theories of learning (pp. 46-65). Routledge.

Flannery, L. P., & Bers, M. U. (2013). Let’s dance the “robot hokey-pokey!” Children’s programming approaches and achievement throughout early cognitive development. Journal of research on technology in education, 46(1), 81-101.

Fuentealba, C., Sánchez-Matamoros, G., Badillo, E., & Trigueros, M. (2017). Thematization of derivative schema in university students: nuances in constructing relations between a function's successive derivatives. International journal of mathematical education in science and technology, 48(3), 374-392.

Karmiloff-Smith, A. (2018). Précis of Beyond modularity: A developmental perspective on cognitive science. In Thinking Developmentally from Constructivism to Neuroconstructivism(pp. 64-94). Routledge.

Reinecke, . (2003). Cognitive Therapy across the Lifespan: Evidence and Practice. Cambridge University Press.

Sigelman, C. K., & Rider, E. A. (2014). Life-span human development. Cengage Learning.

Toner, J. (2016). Jean Piaget: Learning and the stages of athlete development. In Learning in Sports Coaching (pp. 105-116). Routledge.

Zalenski, R. J., & Raspa, R. (2016). Facing death: palliative care, Erik Erikson, and the final stage of life. Journal of palliative medicine, 19(8), 804-805.

Zhiqing, Z. (2015). Assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration: A schema-based perspective on translation as process and as product. In International Forum of Teaching and Studies (Vol. 11, No. 1/2, p. 84). American Scholars Press, Inc..

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