The Psychology of Intelligence | Jean Piaget

Summary of: The Psychology of Intelligence
By: Jean Piaget


Welcome to the fascinating world of “The Psychology of Intelligence” by Jean Piaget. In this enriching book, Piaget seeks to answer the complex question of what intelligence is. Delve into his theories and experimental research with children to understand how intelligence functions as actions performed by humans throughout various stages of cognitive development. You will discover how Piaget’s concepts of accommodation and assimilation, as well as the search for equilibrium, drive our interactions with the environment and our overall cognitive growth. This summary will provide you with a clear comprehension of these topics and their significance in understanding intelligence.

Piaget’s Definition of Intelligence

In 1942, Piaget questioned what intelligence truly is. He rejected earlier theories that believed intelligence is the acquisition and correction of information; instead, he found that children actively construct knowledge through exploratory actions. Piaget concluded that intelligence is action, defining it as the mental actions that toddlers and children perform when they poke, prod, pull, rotate, order, and compare different things in their minds.

The Power of Adaptation

The book delves into how adaptation governs all interactions between organisms and their environments. Piaget’s research showed that both passive and active adaptations could transform organisms. Digestion is an example of passive accommodation, while assimilation actively structures the environment. These ideas extend beyond physical interactions, as they also shape our cognitive relationship with the world.

In the early twentieth century, a young biologist named Piaget set out to understand how organisms adapt to their environment. He discovered that adaptation is the key to all interactions between living organisms and their surroundings. Piaget’s research showed that when a plant or animal is taken from its original environment, it adapts to its new surroundings to improve its energy supply or to protect itself from external forces. For example, succulents grow more leaves when taken to a cooler area, and snails develop rounder shells in response to being placed in fast-moving streams.

Passive accommodation is one way that organisms adapt to their environment. An example of this is our digestive system reacting when we eat something. Our body responds by releasing acids to aid digestion. This change is relatively passive, but the organism is still adapting. The second way organisms adapt is called assimilation. This occurs when an organism’s structure actively reshapes the environment around it. For example, when we eat an apple, our stomachs transform the apple into a substance that is compatible with our bodies, which is energy.

Adaptation goes beyond physical interactions and also shapes our cognitive relationship with the world. These active and passive adaptations are transformative, as they change the structure of the organism to suit its environment. Overall, Piaget showed that adaptation governs how all living organisms interact and survive in their environment.

Piaget’s Theory on Organizing Knowledge

Piaget’s theory rejects the idea of a separation between the mind and the world and proposes that adaptation is both physiological and cognitive. The key message is that we organize knowledge to adapt cognitively to the world. Piaget posited the existence of schemata, organized units of knowledge about the world, to explain how we do this organizing. These schemata are stored in a kind of cognitive filing cabinet and consulted when we interact with our environment. As we gain more experience, new experiences are stored away as visual representations linked to specific memories and combined to create a behavioral script. However, the development of such complex schemata is only possible after much cognitive development.

Cognitive Development through Assimilation and Accommodation

The renowned psychologist, Piaget, believed that cognitive development is driven by assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is the process of incorporating new information into existing mental structures or schemata, while accommodation involves modifying or creating new schemata. Piaget’s observation of a young child’s misidentification of a squirrel as a dog exemplifies assimilation. As the child encountered a new stimulus, he imposed his dog schema on the squirrel, charting it onto his mental map of the world. Accommodation, on the other hand, occurs when new stimuli do not fit existing schemata. This process can either create new schemata to fit the stimuli or modify existing schemata to include them. Both assimilation and accommodation are crucial in driving cognitive development. As we assimilate more stimuli, our schemata grow and adapt. However, we also need to accommodate new information to make our organization of knowledge useful. Through these two processes, we improve our mental capacity to respond appropriately to an ever-increasing number of situations.

Responding to the Environment

According to Piaget, our responses to the environment can be either external or internal. These responses are determined by our needs. The aim is to create equilibrium between ourselves and our surroundings, which is achieved through cognition. This equilibrium creates a state of balance that allows us to assimilate stimuli into existing schemata. When we encounter stimuli that cannot be assimilated into our schemata, we experience disequilibrium and must strive to restore balance through the process of equilibration. This cycle of assimilation and accommodation leads to intellectual breakthroughs that allow us to solve increasingly complex problems. Piaget’s research led him to divide these breakthroughs into specific developmental stages, which will be explored in upcoming summaries.

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