The Psychology of Intelligence Book Summary - The Psychology of Intelligence Book explained in key points
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The Psychology of Intelligence summary

Jean Piaget

A theory of intelligence and cognitive development between birth and adolescence

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Brief summary

In 'The Psychology of Intelligence' Jean Piaget proposes that cognitive development is a progression of adaptive stages. He claims that children's understanding of the world is shaped by their experiences, and that their intelligence grows as they learn to interact with the environment.

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    The Psychology of Intelligence
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    Intelligence is action.

    When beginning a new investigation, one of the first things scientists do is define their research subject, in order to question what it is, precisely, that they’re trying to analyze. 

    In 1942, Piaget found himself in exactly this position when he gave a series of lectures on the psychology of intelligence at the Collège de France in Paris. 

    At the time, psychology, or the science of the mind, was a relatively new discipline. Even newer was research into the nature of intelligence itself, which had only emerged two decades earlier in the 1920s.

    Piaget’s subject at the time was a question as simple to state as it was complex to solve: What is intelligence? 

    The key message here is: Intelligence is action. 

    To answer his question, Piaget first considered, then rejected, earlier theories.

    One held that there’s an objective reality “out there” in the world, and a subjective world inside our heads. We perceive the outer reality through our senses and the information we read or hear from others. These perceptive “recordings” create a copy of things existing in this world, and map the relationships between them. 

    Philosophers who take this view argue that intelligence is the acquisition and correction of this information. If the “copies” are faithful, we’ll have a consistent mental system. To them, the content of intelligence – knowledge – is always acquired from the external world. 

    His experimental research with children in the 1930s, however, convinced Piaget that these philosophers were wrong. Children who performed his cognitive tests didn’t appear to be accessing objective reality and copying information from it – they were actively constructing knowledge. 

    Toddlers, he observed, poke, prod, and pull at everything around them. Later on, children perform mental actions that have the same purpose: they rotate objects, put things in order, and compare different classes of things in their minds. 

    These actions, he came to believe, define intelligence. Even if we grant that “1 plus 1 equals 2” is an objective truth, a child can only arrive at this knowledge by actively reconstructing it for herself. She must add 1 and 1 rather than leaving these two units apart; and, having combined them, she can separate them again, and end up back where she started. 

    Intelligence, Piaget concluded, consists of these exploratory actions.

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    What is The Psychology of Intelligence about?

    The Psychology of Intelligence (1947) outlines the pioneering psychologist Jean Piaget’s theory of intelligence and cognitive development between birth and adolescence. Originally delivered as a series of lectures in Paris, Piaget’s text provides a key to his highly influential research agenda and, by extension, to one of the twentieth century’s most important bodies of work on children’s psychology.

    Best quote from The Psychology of Intelligence

    Individual thought cannot remain passive in the face of ideas . . . any more than it can in the presence of physical entities.

    —Jean Piaget
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    Who should read The Psychology of Intelligence?

    • Parents fascinated by how their kids’ minds work
    • Teachers and educators 
    • Theorists and thinkers

    About the Author

    Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist best known for his contributions to the study of child development. Born in 1896, he authored over 50 books on cognitive development before his death in 1980. His ideas continue to shape debate and guide the work of psychologists, sociologists, and educationalists.

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