The Building Blocks of Cognitive Development

At CPG we focus on research of complex cognitive processes that occur in adulthood and applications to enhance these processes and skills. However, the development of these cognitive processes  begin early in life. Many of these foundational cognitive processes are influenced by games, experiences, and lessons given by the parent-child relationship in childhood. For today’s CogBlog we will review the stages of early cognitive development that form the foundation for the complex decision making processes that occur in adults.

There are numerous researchers in the field of child psychology such as Erik Erikson, Sigmund Freud, John Bowlby, and Lev Vygotsky to name a few. However, Jean Piaget is one of the main contributing researchers in the area of early cognitive development. Through his research, Piaget defined four stages of cognitive development found in children: Sensorimotor, Preoperational, Concrete Operational, and Formal Operational.

Birth to 2 Years Old: In the first stage of cognitive development, the sensorimotor stage, an infant’s knowledge base is built only on his or her sensory perceptions and motor activities. The majority of information processed in this stage is based on self-centered events from simple cause-and-effect reactions. A cognitive hurdle that is accomplished in this stage is object permanence. A child masters object permanence once he or she understands that objects still exist even when they are out of sight.

2 to 6 Years Old: The second stage of cognitive development, the preoperational stage, a child begins to learn through language and symbols. In this stage, a child is able to use objects as representation for the purpose of play. This exercise contributes to the foundation of mental representations and manipulation of information that will be mastered in future stages. Many events in this stage of development are understood based on the child’s own rules and understandings. Children understand the concept of playing “house” without a real “kitchen” or other props; however they cannot master taking another person’s perspective, known as Egocentrism.

7 to 11 Years Old: The third stage of cognitive development, the concrete operational stage, a child understands concrete events and can think logically about mental operations. During this stage, a child is able to master inductive reasoning by applying a general principle to a specific event. Two cognitive hurdles that are accomplished in this stage are spatial reasoning and mental rotation. Children begin to understand hypothetical events through these mental simulations.

12 Years Old to Adulthood: The final stage of cognitive development, the formal operational stage, adolescents begin to exercise abstract concepts such as logical thought, deductive reasoning, and systematic planning. Adolescents in this stage begin to master abstract thought by considering outcomes and consequences of events based on other information aside from personal experiences. During this stage of development problem solving is approached through logical means as opposed to trial-and-error strategies found in other stages of cognitive development.

Once a child masters one stage of development he or she progresses to the next stage and continues to build on their new cognitive skills. Without mastering these early cognitive hurdles the complex decision making processes found in adulthood may suffer in their development.

In celebration of Father’s Day, thank you to all the fathers of CPG team members who positively influenced our cognitive development that contributed to who we are today. Happy Father’s Day from CPG!


Piaget, J. (1977). Gruber, H.E.; Voneche, J.J. eds. The essential Piaget. New York: Basic Books.

Piaget, J. (1983). Piaget’s theory. In P. Mussen (ed). Handbook of Child Psychology. 4th edition. Vol. 1. New York: Wiley.

Photo Credit: CPG employees in their childhood years.



About the Author:


Cognitive Performance Group, LLC is a woman-owned small business with offices in Orlando, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio. It was founded by Dr. Karol G. Ross, Jennifer K. Phillips, and William A. Ross. The three CPG Principals developed the concept for a company to support cognitive performance improvement in industry and government. (more...)

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