The University of Sussex

Reassessing Piaget's theory of sensorimotor intelligence: a view from cognitive science

Julie C. Rutkowska

This paper assesses the current status of Piaget's theory of sensorimotor intelligence in relation to three persistent issues about the abilities of human infants: the nature of initial mechanisms; the traditional view that re-presentational functioning is the outcome of infant development; and the place of general-purpose developmental processes. Varela's view of three successive paradigms for cognitive science - cognitivism, emergence and enaction - is introduced as a means for locating Piaget's ideas on action and epigenesis in relation to approaches of particular relevance to understanding infancy. The contribution of work that aims to understand how situated systems can be organized to function as autonomous agents exhibiting adaptive behaviour is considered through examples of computational work in behaviour-based robotics. This supports Piaget's stress on action, but challenges his assumptions about the outcome of infant development. Finally, the relevance to infancy, and to Piaget's theory, of Karmiloff-Smith's proposals for cognitive development through a process of representational redescription is considered.

Download compressed postscript file