Jean Piaget Biography

(Swiss Psychologist Known for His Work on Child Development)

Birthday: August 9, 1896 (Leo)

Born In: Neuchâtel, Switzerland

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist and philosopher best known for his work on the cognitive development in children. He identified his field of study as ‘genetic epistemology’, a theory which combines cognitive development with epistemological view. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature, origin, extent, and limits of human knowledge. What Piaget studied was the impact of genetics on the epistemological process. An intelligent child with a curious mind, Jean Piaget’s inclination towards scientific research was evident from his childhood when he began researching on an albino sparrow when he was just 11 years old. His interests later on were directed at psychoanalysis and he assisted Alfred Binet, the developer of Binet intelligence tests in marking the tests. During this time he became interested in the process of cognitive development in young children which differed considerably form the cognitive processes of older children and adults, and this motivated him to study the development of thinking processes in children. He considered education as a very important tool of imparting knowledge and believed that only education had the power of saving future societies from possible collapse. He founded the International Center for Genetic Epistemology in Geneva and served as its director till his death.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Jean William Fritz Piaget

Died At Age: 84


Spouse/Ex-: Valentine Châtenay

father: Arthur Piaget

mother: Rebecca Jackson

children: Jacqueline Piaget, Laurent Piaget, Lucienne Piaget

Born Country: Switzerland

Quotes By Jean Piaget Educators

Died on: September 16, 1980

place of death: Geneva, Switzerland

More Facts

education: University of Neuchâtel, University of Zurich

awards: 1979 - Balzan Prize for Social and Political Sciences
- Erasmus Prize

Childhood & Early Life
He was born as the eldest son of Arthur Piaget, a professor of medieval literature and Rebecca Jackson. His father was Swiss while his mother was French.
He developed a deep interest in biology and natural sciences as a child and had already published several articles on mollusks by the age of 15.
He received education in natural sciences and philosophy before becoming a psychologist.
He received his doctorate from the University of Neuchatel in 1918 and then undertook post doctoral training at the University of Zurich from 1918 to 1919.
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He moved to France after completing his studies. He found employment at the Grange-Aux-Belles Street School for Boys which was run by Alfred Binet, the developer of Binet’s intelligence tests.
Piaget noticed a marked difference in the way younger children gave wrong answers to certain questions as opposed to older children. This led him to conclude that young children’s cognitive processes are different from older children and adults.
He returned to Switzerland in 1921 to work as director of research at the Rousseau Institute in Geneva. At that time Edouard Claparede was the director of the Institute and Piaget was familiar with his ideas on psychoanalysis.
During the 1920s, he became increasingly interested in the psychology of young children. He explained that children moved from a position of egocentrism to sociocentrism with the help of a semiclinical interview.
He served as the professor of psychology, sociology, and philosophy of science at the University of Neuchatel from 1925 to 1929.
He became the Director of the International Bureau of Education (IBE) in 1929 and held this position till 1968. He drafted the annual ‘Director’s Speech’ for the IBE Council each year and also for the International Conference on Public Education.
In 1954, he was elected the president of the International Union of Scientific Psychology and held this position till 1957.
He also served as the director of the International Centre for Genetic Epistemology in Geneva from 1955 till 1980.
He called himself a genetic epistemologist and propounded a theory of cognitive development. He gave four stages of cognitive processes in children which he had developed through years of research and by studying the cognitive development of his own children.
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He defined four stages of development in children: the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage and the formal operation stage. These stages were classified according to the abilities of the children based upon their age groups.
He served as the chief consultant at two conferences at Cornell University and the University of California in 1964. Issues related to the relationship between cognitive studies and curriculum development were addressed at the conference.
He published several influential books and papers on psychology related to the theory of cognitive development that continue to influence the works of psychologists till date.
He led an active life till his death and was the Emeritus Professor at the University of Geneva from 1971 till 1980.
Major Works
He was one of the most influential development psychologists of the 20th century who was best known for propounding the theory of cognitive development. He influenced the works of future generations of eminent psychologists studying not just human behaviour, but also the behaviour of non-human species like primates.
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Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Erasmus Prize in 1972 by the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation for his contributions to European culture, society, and social science.
He was presented honorary degrees from prestigious universities like Harvard, Manchester, Cambridge and many others for his contribution to development psychology.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Valerie Chatenay in 1923. The couple had three children whom he studied from infancy and used this research as the foundation of his work on studying cognitive development in children.
He died in 1980 at the age of 84.

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