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Cognitive Development of Infants

Discussant: Linsley H. Malinao

Cognitive of relating to being or involving conscious intellectual activity (such as thinking, reasoning, or remembering )

Babies, Newborns, and Infants

Though the terms "baby," "newborn," and "infant" are frequently used synonymously, the exact definition depends on the source you consult.
1. Newborn usually refers to a baby from birth to about 2 months of age.
2. Infants can be considered children anywhere from birth to 1 year old.
3. Baby can be used to refer to any child from birth to age 4 years old, thus encompassing newborns, infants, and toddlers.

Babies are not only growing physically during the first 2 years of life, but also cognitively (mentally). Every day while they interact with and learn about their
environment they are creating new connections and pathways between nerve cells both within their brains, and between their brains and bodies. While physical
growth and change is easily observed and measured in precise terms such as in inches and pounds, cognitive change and development is a little harder to determine
as clearly. Therefore, much about what experts know about mental and cognitive development is based on the careful observation of developmental theorists and
their theories, such as Piaget's theory of cognitive development and Erickson's psychosocial stages. Bronfenbrenner's ecological model also helps explain infant
mental growth to some extent.

According to Piaget, newborns interact with their environment entirely through reflexive behaviors. They do not think about what they're going to do, but
rather follow their instincts and involuntary reactions to get what they need: food, air, and attention. Piaget believed that as babies begin to grow and learn about
their environment through their senses, they begin to engage in intentional, goal-directed behaviors. In other words, they begin to think about what they want to
accomplish, how to accomplish it, and then they do it. This is also when infants develop object permanence, which is the ability to understand that something still
exists even if it can't be seen. These two milestones, goal-directed behavior and object permanence, are the highlights and major accomplishments of infant
cognitive development.
Piaget separated infancy into six sub-stages, which have been adjusted somewhat over the years as new research and discoveries have occurred.
The Sensorimotor stage is the first of four stages proposed by Jean Piaget to describe the cognitive development of infants, children, and adolescents. Piaget
was a developmental biologist who became interested in closely observing and recording the intellectual abilities of children. Piaget proposed that cognitive
development progressed in stages and categorized these stages by children’s ages.
Birth to approximately 2 years is the sensorimotor stage. The preoperational stage (ages 2-7) moves from toddlerhood through early childhood. The concrete
operational stage is from ages 7-12. The formal operational stage occurs from 12 years into adulthood.
Piaget recognized that children could pass through the stages at various ages other than what he proposed as normal, but he insisted that cognitive development
always follows this sequence and that stages could not be skipped. Each stage marked new intellectual abilities and a more complex understanding of the world.
The term “sensorimotor” was used by Piaget, because he believed that infants were dependent on their senses and their physical abilities to understand their
world. Because they can see, hear, taste, and smell from birth, they combine these senses with their emerging physical abilities to interact with objects by grasping,
shaking, banging, and tasting them. Their growing perceptions are based on past experiences, cognitive awareness, and their current use of their senses.
During their early experiences, infants are only aware of what is immediately in front of them. Because they don’t understand how things react, they are
constantly learning about the world through trial and error by shaking or throwing things and putting things in their mouths.
Young infants are extremely egocentric; they have no understanding of the world apart from their own current point of view. A significant development during
the sensorimotor stage is their understanding that objects exist and that events occur in the world independently from their own actions. Initially, objects only exist
to infants when they can actually sense them and interact with them. They cease to exist to infants when they can no longer see them or sense them. When infants
have achieved the ability to form a mental representation of the object, they will realize that the object still exists and can actively seek it. This ability is known as
achieving object permanence.
Piaget determined that cognitive development involved six substages in the sensorimotor stage:
Sensorimotor stage:
Stage 1 Reflexive activity (newborns between birth and 1 month)
Which lasts from birth to approximately 1 month. According to Piaget, while babies are engaging in reflexive actions such as sucking when offered a bottle
or the breast, or other reflexes covered earlier in this article, they are learning about their environment and how they can interact with it. Babies don't think about
behaving reflexively; they simply act out those reflexes automatically.Stage 1 – Reflexes (newborns between birth and 1 month). Infants exercise, refine, and
organize the reflexes of sucking, looking, listening, and grasping.
Stage 2 Primary circular reactions (infants between 1 and 4 months)
The ages of 1 to 4 months. During this time, babies intentionally repeat actions that bring them pleasure and desired outcomes. In other words, they do things
on purpose because it feels good or it gets them what they want. For example, a small infant may suck on her fist because it feels good to her and it soothes her.
Researchers believe that babies of this age may also develop expectancy about cause and effect situations. Babies will begin to see that a pattern of events is
connected, and begin to expect the second event after they experience the first event. For example, a baby of this age may learn that when they see a bottle, they
expect they will soon be fed.
Stage 3 Secondary circular reactions (infants between 4 and 8 months).
Infants repeat actions that involve objects, toys, clothing, or other persons. They might continue to shake a rattle to hear the sound or repeat an action that elicits
a response from a parent to extend the reaction.
Stage 4 Coordination of secondary circular reactions (infants between 8 and 12 months).
At this stage, infants’ behavior becomes goal directed in trying to reach for an object or finding a hidden object indicating they have achieved object
permanence. Emerging motor skills allow them to incorporate more of their environment into their activities.
Stage 5 Tertiary circular reactions (toddlers between 12 and 18 months).
Toddlers become creative at this stage and experiment with new behaviors. They try variations of their original behaviors rather than repeating the same
Stage 6 Mental combinations (toddlers between 18 and 24 months).
True problem solving emerges at this stage where toddlers can mentally consider solutions to problems before taking any action. A more advanced concept of
object permanence develops, which indicates that they are leaving the period of sensorimotor development and moving toward the preoperational period of
Cognitive Development for Infants 0-12 months

Beginning at birth the construction of thought processes, such as memory, problem solving, exploration of objects etc, is an important part of an infant’s
cognitive development. An infant needs to interact with their environment in order to learn about it. By using their senses, infants educate themselves about the
world around them

Cognitive Development Milestones

From 0 to 3 months

An infant needs to interact with their environment in order to learn about it. By using their senses, infants educate themselves about the world around them. An
infant will develop preferences for certain experiences such as playing peek-a-boo (or) having a bath. They love repetition and also enjoy new experiences.

Milestones Achieved

 looks toward direction of sound  looks at edges, patterns with light/dark contrast and faces

 eyes track slow moving target for brief period  imitates adult tongue movements when being held/talked to

 turns head towards bright colours and lights  learns through sensory experiences

 recognizes bottle or breast  repeats actions but unaware of ability to cause actions

 turns head towards sound  begins to reach for objects that please them

From 3 to 6 months

During this stage infants begin to organize their world through repeated interactions in their environment. Even though an infant doesn't have words to describe
concepts such as soft, small, hard or big, they are already beginning to understand these concepts by using their senses. An infant's memory is also central to
cognitive development. They can only remember objects for only a few minutes. However, by the end of this stage their ability to remember objects extends to
a week or two.

Milestones Achieved

 understands cause and effect (pick up a rattle, shake it, makes sound)  repeats accidentally caused actions that are interesting

 enjoys games such as peek-a-boo or pat-a-cake

 places objects in mouth for further exploration.
 enjoys toys, grabbing objects, scrunching paper
 begins to reach for objects  explores objects by looking at and mouthing them

 swipes at dangling objects  explores objects with mouth

 shakes and stares at toy placed in hand  explores with hands and mouth

 becomes bored if left alone for long periods of time  struggles to get objects that are out of reach

 opens mouth for spoon

From 6 to 12 months

From here on, infants will enjoy a stimulating environment which will enable them to develop skills and concepts faster. Activities and toys will become a focal
point as infants begin to engage and interact with purpose.

Milestones Achieved

 enjoys simple action songs  moves obstacle to get at desired toy  responds to own name

 searches for partly hidden object  bangs two hand held objects together  makes gestures to communicate

 able to coordinate looking, hearing and  prefers certain foods  points to something they want
 responds to music with body motion
 understands some things parent or familiar  shows interest in picture books and  shows surprise
adults say to them listening to stories
 explores objects in many different ways
 drops object to be picked up  begins to understand gestures (shaking, banging, throwing, dropping)

 accomplishes simple goals  responds to ‘bye bye’  finds hidden objects easily

 smiles at image in the mirror  listens attentively to sound-making toys  looks at correct picture when image is
and music named
 enjoys playing with water
 notices difference  imitates gestures

Infants receive the same information as everyone else but perceive it differently based on abilities, experiences and developmental level. Perception is an
infant’s way of interacting with all the possibilities in their environment.


“Stages of Intellectual Development In Children and Teenagers” Child Development Institute. > 19 June 2017.

“Piaget Stages of Development.” WebMD.

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Frost, Joe L., Sue Wortham, and Stuart Reifel. Play and Child Development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 2001. p. 125.

Op. cit., “Piaget Stages of Development.”

McLeod, Saul. “Sensorimotor Stage.” SimplyPsychology.

< > 19 June 2017.

“The Stages of Cognitive Development.” Jean Piaget.

< > 19 June 2017.