This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 10 table of contents.


The Swiss researcher Jean Piaget (pea-ah-ZHAY) was one of the most influential figures in developmental psychology. Piaget died in 1980 at the age of 84; he published his first article in 1904 at the age of 8. According to Kaye (1980), a long-neglected novel published by Piaget in 1918 shows that, by the age of 20 (as he was writing the novel) Piaget already saw himself carrying out something like a divine mission to study the origins of human knowledge.

Who was Piaget? How did Piaget describe himself and his concerns?

Ironically, considering his impact on psychology, Piaget did not consider himself a psychologist. He started his career as a biologist, and by late in his career preferred to call himself an epistemologist. Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It is much older than psychology, and it is part of philosophy, not an experimental science. Piaget said he was a genetic epistemologist, meaning he was interested in the origins of knowledge.

Jean Piaget

Piaget did not do experimental research in the modern sense, using control groups and statistical analyses. He employed what he called the clinical method, improvising conversations with children to understand their unique mental worlds. Piaget's experiments are what most psychologists would call demonstrations in which a child is asked a few questions or given a simple task to perform. Despite their informal nature, many of these demonstrations are quite revealing.

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