profile: Jean Piaget - Growth & Change

30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011

profile: Jean Piaget
Growth & Change

According to Jean Piaget, children start thinking like an adult between the ages of 11 and 15. No surprise then that the start of his own adult consciousness can be traced back to events that happened when he was around that age. Aged 10 or 11 (he was precocious), the young Piaget wrote a one-page article about an albino pigeon he had spotted in his home town of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. The piece was published by a natural history journal, and Piaget’s first career was launched. Tutored by the head of the natural history museum, he became an expert on molluscs and, when his mentor died a few years later, wrote articles for various scientific journals — the editors of which all assumed he was an adult. Aged 21, he was awarded a doctoral degree from Neuchâtel University for his study of molluscs.

But it was while studying psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris that Piaget stumbled across the subject that would earn him global recognition. After meeting Théodore Simon, one of the creators of the Binet—Simon intelligence test, he was asked to apply the system to children at a school in Paris where Alfred Binet was conducting research. Although critical of the rigid nature of the tests, Piaget became fascinated by why children consistently got certain questions wrong. As he questioned the children, he not only discovered the subject he would study for the rest of his life — how knowledge develops — but also the methodology: one-to-one interviews with his subjects.

Piaget would go on to write more than fifty books and hundreds of articles, mostly about child development, although he always maintained that he was not a child psychologist but a genetic epistemologist, as his true interest was in the development of knowledge. His favourite subjects were his three children, who were the subjects for much of his early work, up to and well beyond the age of 12.


Born, Neuchâtel, Switzerland


Research Director at Rousseau Institute, Geneva


Marries Valentine Châtenay


Professor of Psychology, University of Neuchâtel


Professor of Experimental Psychology, University of Geneva


Publishes The Origin of Intelligence in Children


Establishes the International Centre for Genetic Epistemology


Dies in Geneva, Switzerland