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Home  arrow Chapter 11  arrow Bonus Material  arrow Profile 11-B: Jean Piaget’s Definition of Intelligence

Profile 11-B: Jean Piaget’s Definition of Intelligence

Jean Piaget (1896–1980) wrote forty books and 500 articles relating to cognitive development, knowledge, and knowing based on his observations of and interviews with children. Piaget was interested in how children think and view the world, and he concluded that children’s thinking is not "wrong" but is qualitatively different from adult thought. As Piaget himself explains it: "I noticed with amazement that the simplest reasoning task involving the part in the whole (finding the part common to two wholes) presented for normal children up to age of eleven or twelve difficulties unsuspected by the adult."1

Piaget defined intelligence as adaptation. For example, the newborn’s intelligence is expressed through reflexive motor actions such as sucking, grasping, head turning, and swallowing. Through the process of adaptation to the environment via these reflexive actions, the young child’s intelligence has its origin and is developed.

Adaptation is for Piaget, the essence of intellectual functioning, just as it is the essence of biological functioning. It is one of the two basic tendencies inherent in all species; the other is organization, the ability to integrate both physical and psychological structures into coherent systems. Adaptation takes place through organization; the organisms discriminate among the myriad stimuli and sensations by which it is bombarded and organize them into some kind of structure.2

Through this interaction with the environment that results in adaptation, the child organizes sensations and experiences. The resulting organization and processes of interaction is called intelligence.

1. R.I. Evans, Jean Piaget: The Man and His Ideas (New York: Dutton, 1973), p. 10.
2. M.A.S. Pulaski, Understanding Piaget (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), p. 9.

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