9 julio, 2024

What is Piaget’s preoperational stage? main features

What is the preoperational stage?

The Piaget’s preoperational stage It is one of the four stages of cognitive development that children experience from birth until they reach full brain maturation. Being the second of the four, this stage appears at approximately 2 years of age and extends more or less until 7.

Piaget’s preoperational stage begins with the acquisition of speech. Children begin to understand symbols and practice symbolic play, but are not yet able to understand or apply concrete logic. Studying the four stages of cognitive development helps psychologists understand more about the maturation of the human brain.

In addition, these studies allow psychologists to better understand the phases that children go through on their way to becoming adults. This makes it possible to generate the most optimal conditions to promote a development full of well-being.

Characteristics of the preoperational stage

Although the acquisition of spoken language is the most striking characteristic of children at this stage of cognitive development, it is not the only one. Some of the most notable are the following:

– Lack of understanding of concrete logic.

– Increasing use of symbols, especially in the game.

– Inability to understand the other person’s point of view (egocentrism).

– Focus, or difficulty focusing on more than one aspect of a situation at the same time.

– Animism, or the belief that all objects are alive or have a purpose.

– Irreversibility.

Lack of use of concrete logic

The use of logic appears for the first time in the third stage of cognitive development, so children in the preoperational stage are still unable to use it.

This means that a child at this stage will not be able to use deduction to draw conclusions. One of the experiments in which this feature can best be seen is in the conservation of mass.

In this experiment, several children between the ages of 2 and 7 were shown a ball of plasticine. After asking them to look at its size, the researcher crushed it with his hand, giving it an elongated shape. The children were asked when there was more plasticine, if in the ball or in the «churro».

Without exception, all of the children in the preoperational stage responded that there was more plasticine in the churro, since it took up more space. This experiment was one of many done to demonstrate the lack of logic in children at this stage.

Use of symbols

Symbols are objects, words, or actions that are used to represent other concepts. The clearest example of a symbol used during the preoperational stage is language, which is nothing more than a set of sounds used to refer to other elements in the world.

However, children at this stage also use symbols during play. It is at these ages when children will use a cardboard box saying that it is a spaceship, or they will pretend to be superheroes or knights.

The use of symbols allows them to intuitively understand what is around them; In this way, memory and the first explanations of the world also appear for the first time at this stage.


One of the most interesting features of Piaget’s preoperational stage is that children in it are unable to distinguish between their own thoughts and emotions and those of others.

For example, a child at this stage whose favorite food is pizza will believe that it is also everyone’s favorite food. Due to this characteristic, children between the ages of 2 and 7 are tremendously selfish, since they do not understand that their needs can interfere with those of others.

On the other hand, they are not capable of putting themselves in other people’s shoes either, so if they know something they will think that everyone else knows it too. This characteristic has been demonstrated by several classical experiments in psychology, the best known being the three mountains experiment.

In this experiment, the child is placed in front of a table with three mountains, and is asked what another person moving at different angles will see. The child will always respond taking into account the view that he himself has, without taking into account the other person.


Because their brains are still developing, preoperational children are unable to focus on multiple aspects of the same task at the same time. Rather, they need to focus on only one part of what they are doing at a time.

This characteristic becomes even more pronounced in social situations such as gaming. In this type of task it can be seen that children can only think of one idea at a time, switching quickly between them but not being able to keep several in mind at the same time.


Another typical feature of Piaget’s preoperational stage is animism, or the belief that all nonliving objects are alive or fulfill a specific function.

However, contrary to the rest of the characteristics of this stage, animism is transformed during the years that it lasts and extends to the following stages:

Until they are 4 or 5 years old, children consider that almost all objects and things are alive and have a specific purpose.
Until age 7 or so, children believe that only moving objects are alive.
In the next stage and up to the age of 9, the child believes that only if an object moves spontaneously is it alive.
Finally, in the last stage of development (between the ages of 9 and 12), the child realizes that only animals and plants have life.


Irreversibility is the inability to find the initial starting point of a situation by looking at the final results of it. Children do not develop the reversibility of thought until a later stage of cognitive development.

An example of a task that involves reversibility of thought is giving a child a number (for example, 13) and asking him to find two numbers that add up to that result. According to Piaget, children in the preoperational stage would not be able to perform this task.


“Preoperational Stage of Cognitive Development”in: Very Well Mind. Recovered at verywellmind.com.
“Preoperational Stage”in: Simply Psychology. Recovered at simplypsichology.com.
“Piaget Cognitive Stages of Development”in: Web MD. Recovered at webmd.com.
“Psychology Classics: Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development” in Psychology in Action: psychologyinaction.org.
«Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development» in: Wikipedia. Recovered at en.wikipedia.org.

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