Sample Psychology Essays on Piaget vs. Vygotsky


Two closely related theories exist in the sphere of psychological development; Piaget’s theory and Vygotsky’s theory. Though closely related, both theories have divergent conceptions. Piaget’s theory holds that cognitive development in individuals is a matter of personal advancements, and language is not an essential aspect of cognitive development. The theory by Vygotsky holds that cognitive development is largely shaped by an individual’s social group and culture. It also makes language an essential aspect of cognitive development. Despite the divergence in the theories, they can still be incorporated to produce a single effective theory revolving around the issue of intellectual and cognitive development in human beings.


Piaget vs. Vygotsky

Several psychological theories explore the issue of cognitive development among human beings. Two of the most profound theories are Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Vygotsky’s theory of social development. The theories employ divergent approaches to explain the process of both cognitive and intellectual development in human beings. They have similarities and differences, which can be harmonized for a better understanding and conceptualization of the human process of cognitive development.

Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development deviates from the argument that intelligence and cognitive development in humans is an innate trait. Jean Piaget argues that cognitive development is a biological process born out of the repeated interaction of an individual with his/her environment (Santrock, 2015). Piaget’s theory holds that cognitive development is born out of the amalgamation of biological maturity and environmental interaction and is not predetermined by a person’s genetic traits (Mcleod, 2018). Jean Piaget developed the theory to prove that children were not necessarily poor thinkers due to their young age but rather saw and thought about the world in a completely different manner.

Piaget’s theory asserts that cognitive development is a biological process that begins upon the birth of a child. According to Piaget’s theory, cognitive development is based on the growth and advancement of the basic mental structure of every human child which is genetically innate to humans (Mcleod, 2018). It further argues that the cognitive ability of a child develops through the continuous reorganization and formation of a child’s mental process. The mental structure of humans is based on numerous building blocks of knowledge termed schemas that enable the human brain to process present information and relate them to the past experiences and make future plans (Mcleod, 2018). Thus, the cognitive development of humans is based on the development and increase in complexity of these schemas, which acts as models for human brain operations. According to Jean Piaget, a schema is a unitary, cohesive and repeatable action or sequence of events that are grouped into memory blocks (Santrock, 2015). The memory blocks are interconnected and form a basis upon which a core meaning can be drawn (Santrock, 2015). Piaget believes that cognitive development occurs through a process of progressive adaptation, which involves the assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration of schemas. Assimilation occurs when an existing schema is utilized by an individual to deal with a foreign event or object while accommodation occurs when an already existing schema suits a foreign object or event, and therefore, has to be changed to deal with the foreign object (Santrock, 2015). On the other hand, equilibration occurs when an individual can comfortably deal with any foreign event or object through assimilation of the various schema he or she possesses.

Piaget’s theory breaks down the process of cognitive development among humans into four distinctive stages. Piaget’s stages of cognitive development are grouped according to age and include the sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage (Santrock, 2015). Based on the theory, each child goes through the above stages of cognitive development, and any variance with regard to individual differences can be attributed to an individual child’s biological maturation and environmental interaction (Santrock, 2015). The sensorimotor stage stretches from birth to two years and is termed by Piaget as the Object Permanence stage since no tangible schema is yet developed at this stage (Mcleod, 2018). In the sensorimotor stage, a child cannot still form a mental representation of any object or event. The next stage is the preoperational stage, which ranges from two to seven years. In the preoperational stage, a child can only think and make cognitive interpretations based on symbols (Mcleod, 2018). In the preoperational stage, a child’s thinking abilities are largely egocentric, and therefore, most children find it difficult to take divergent opinions and viewpoints. The concrete operational stage lasts from seven to eleven years and is deemed by Piaget as the most important stage in human cognitive development. Piaget argues that in the concrete operational stage, a child’s cognitive development switches from egocentric to logical and operational thinking. The formal operational stage is the last stage of cognitive development and stretches from eleven years to adulthood (Mcleod, 2018). The formal operational stage is quite important in the process of cognitive development as it is the stage individuals develop the ability to think logically and rationally.

Vygotsky’s Theory of Social Development

Vygotsky’s theory incorporates aspects of social interaction in the development of human cognitive functions. The theory maintains that an individual’s culture and society largely impact his or her intellectual and cognitive development (Santrock, 2015). It supposes that language is a vital aspect in the process of cognitive development, and therefore, precedes development (Mcleod, 2018). Vygotsky argues that language is how information is transmitted; thus, it is essential in both cognitive and intellectual development. Language is important in cognitive development as it informs the essential aspect of intellectual adaptation, which is key in psychological development. Vygotsky’s theory takes a sociocultural leaning as it argues that both the intellectual and cognitive development of an individual cannot take place outside the social and cultural context of the individual. According to Santrock (2015), humans are born while in possession of basic intellectual capabilities, including elementary mental functions such as attention, sensation, perception, and memory. Individual’s cultural activities shape the elementary mental functions of any individual, and this brings about the dissonance in people’s thinking perspectives and capabilities.

Vygotsky’s theory posits that essential and initial learning and development of an individual’s cognitive capabilities occur by apprenticeship. When an experienced and skillful teacher teaches an individual basic concepts through collaborative dialogue, the individual internalizes the information, thereby improving his or her cognitive skills (Santrock, 2015). This perspective explains why children always seem to copy every action they see their parents or older siblings perform. Vygotsky’s theory on both cognitive and intellectual development is based on the concepts of the “more knowledgeable other” and the “zone of proximal development” (Mcleod, 2018). The concept of the “more knowledgeable other” is concerned with an individual being taken under the tutelage and guidance of a more experienced fellow to learn the basic concepts of any object or action (Mcleod, 2018). The concept of the “zone of proximal development” is concerned with the difference in the intellectual development one can achieve independently, and the amount of development one can attain by being tutored by an experienced person. The “zone of proximal development” determines the sphere where the most sensitive and specialized instructions should be issued to an individual by his or her trainer.

How One Could Utilize Both Theories and Still Be Effective in Development

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Vygotsky’s theory of social development can be used to produce a concrete and all-round psychological development model. Piaget’s theory focuses on the importance of individual learning and the development of mental blocks as a key cognitive development model. On the other hand, Vygotsky’s theory revolves around the concept of the tutelage of an individual under another experienced person as the best form of cognitive and intellectual development. Thus, an amalgamation of both Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories can be used to ensure that both individual and collaborative learning techniques are used in the learning process of individuals. Moreover, utilizing both concepts of psychological development will ensure that the concepts of language and private speech are incorporated in the development of an individual’s cognitive abilities. The concept of private speech is a revolution in human development triggered by the amalgamation of proverbial thought and pre-intellectual thought into forms of mental functioning (Santrock, 2015). Private speech enables individuals to engage in their personal development as it gives them the ability to plan their activities (Mcleod, 2018). The amalgamation of the two theories can be used to effectively improve the development of children’s cognitive and intellectual abilities with regard to teaching. Under Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, learners are made to independently explore their world, making their observations, and therefore, informing their intellectual and cognitive development. Vygotsky’s theory, on the other hand, enables learners’ cognitive skills to be shaped by their teachers and more skilled peers. An amalgamation of both cognitive development models can ensure that modern learning models are quite effective and all-rounded.

Whether One Theory Is Better Than the Other

I believe that the theory developed by Lev Vygotsky is more effective than Piaget’s concerning cognitive development.  Vygotsky’s theory considers the fact that humans are social animals whose lives are hugely shaped and affected by their cultures. Therefore, an individual’s cognitive functions can never develop in a vacuum. Moreover, a lesson learned by an individual from his or her peers who are more experienced in any given field is always mastered more compared to that done through one’s ability. Thus, I find the theory by Vygotsky to be more persuasive on cognitive development as compared to that of Jean Piaget.




Mcleod, S. (2018). Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from

Santrock, J. (2015). Essentials of life-span development. McGraw-Hill Higher Education.