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Preoperational Stage (Piaget)

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Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development


The second of Piaget’s Jean (1896–1980) four stages of cognitive development, the preoperational stage ranges from roughly ages 2 to 7. In this stage children can verbalize thoughts but think intuitively rather than logically. The key development of this stage is learning to form internal representations.


The preoperational stage occurs before children acquire operational thinking, which is the ability to use logical thought. Children in this stage can carry out overt behaviors such as counting but are not yet able to use mental operations such as adding and subtracting, which are considered internalized behaviors. The rules regarding operations are logical since they never produce contradictions, and Piaget describes preoperations as infralogical because they usually generate contradictory conclusions [1]. For instance, a child in the preoperational stage may say that the purpose of clouds is to make the wind blow, or that grass grows because bugs run around...

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  1. Brainerd, C. J. (1978). Piaget’s theory of intelligence. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.

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  2. Miller, P. H. (2002). Theories of developmental psychology (4th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.

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  3. Piaget, J. (1977). The essential piaget. In Howard E. Gruber, & J. Jacques Voneche Gruber (Ed.), New York: Basic Books.

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

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Aspiranti, K.B. (2011). Preoperational Stage (Piaget). In: Goldstein, S., Naglieri, J.A. (eds) Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development. Springer, Boston, MA.

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