Stagewise cognitive development: an application of catastrophe theory

Psychol Rev. 1992 Jul;99(3):395-417. doi: 10.1037/0033-295x.99.3.395.


In this article an overview is given of traditional methodological approaches to stagewise cognitive developmental research. These approaches are evaluated and integrated on the basis of catastrophe theory. In particular, catastrophe theory specifies a set of common criteria for testing the discontinuity hypothesis proposed by Piaget. Separate criteria correspond to distinct methods used in cognitive developmental research. Such criteria are, for instance, the detection of spurts in development, bimodality of test scores, and increased variability of responses during transitional periods. When a genuine stage transition is present, these criteria are expected to be satisfied. A revised catastrophe model accommodating these criteria is proposed for the stage transition in cognitive development from the preoperational to the concrete operational stage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Thinking*