Psychology Essay: Using Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory in the I Am Sam Movie

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  9
Wordcount:  2223 Words
Date:  2021-03-26


Jean Piaget's cognitive development theory can be used to analyze characters in the I am Sam movie. Piaget's cognitive development theory states that children have mental representations of the world that they may have to change as they develop by assimilation of new information so that they may adapt to new environments and settings. Piaget cognitive theory suggests four development stages that a child has to go through in order to have a successful cognitive development. The stages are sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage and formal operational stage. The paper applies Piaget's cognitive development theory to examine cognitive development of Lucy and Sam, I Am Sam characters, a movie directed by Jessie Nelson.

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Piaget’s Sensorimotor Stage

Sensorimotor stage aptly applies in a scenario whereby Lucy starts grabbing objects (Nelson et al., 2002). Piaget's cognitive development theory states that between birth and the age of two years, during Piaget's sensorimotor stage, children acquire a mental representation of objects around him or her. During the sensorimotor stage of development, courtesy of the mental representation of objects, a child is able to know that an object still exists even if it is hidden. A child is able to understand what is in front of them during the sensorimotor stage. During the stage, children focus their interactions with an immediate environment. Given that during this stage, children do not have an idea of how things react or respond, they are persistently experimenting with new activities and objects. Sensorimotor stage activities could include grabbing new objects, throwing up things and inserting objects in their mouths. During this stage, a child also learns about the world by making mistakes. During the sensorimotor stage, a child develops an affinity for touching objects (Carey et al., 2015). Sensorimotor stage example in the film is when Lucy makes Sam's job at Starbucks difficult because she cannot stop grabbing objects. There is an instance where Lucy makes a woman spill coffee on her shirt courtesy of her affinity to grab objects. According to Piaget's cognitive development theory, object permanence is achieved during the sensorimotor stage at about seven months of age. Lucy's ability to croon the word Annie when Sam takes her to Annie's house is a manifestation that she is at the sensorimotor stage of development. During the sensorimotor stage, a child is able to pronounce a few familiar objects and nouns. Lucy croons the word Annie because Annie is familiar to her; Annie is of assistance to Sam in raising Lucy whose mother ran away after giving birth to her. Annie is the first word that Lucy pronounces. Annie was shocked but at the same time impressed when her name became the first word Lucy pronounced. From that point onwards, Annie decided to continue assisting Sam in raising Lucy by being her babysitter (Nelson et al., 2002).

Preoperational Stage of Development Examples

Piaget's preoperational development stage suitably applies in a scenario where Lucy feigns she cannot read differently in order not embarrass her father who was mentally unable to read that word. Lucy's pretense that she is not able to read a complex word proves that she was at the preoperational developmental stage. At the preoperational development stage, a person is able to make a different mental representation of an object to what he or she really perceives. According to Piaget, the preoperational stage of cognitive development lasts from about ages of two and seven years, a child is able to make an object or a word to stand for something else other than itself (Newcombe, 2013). In Lucy's case, she knew what the word stood for but she did not want to make her father feel uncomfortable because he could not read the same word. Lucy did not want his father to know that she was slowly surpassing him with regard to cognitive development. During this stage, there is development of memory and imagination. Use of language also matures and a child is able to use and understand complex words that he or she earlier found difficulty in dealing with. During this stage, a child begins to think in a non-logical irrational manner. Lucy's preoperational stage of cognitive development is also exhibited when she becomes precocious and quick in going about her daily activities. Lucy starts to read books that have complex topics and words; this is a manifestation that she is in the preoperational development stage. Sam's failure to learn complex topics and words could be an indicator that psychologically, he is stuck at the preoperational stage of moral development. When Lucy reaches a point where she can tell that his father is different from other fathers, it means that she was in the preoperational development stage. There is an instance at the park when Lucy asks his father if God meant him to be the way he was (mentally deficient) or if it was by accident? (Nelson et al., 2002). Concrete developmental stages can be used to explain Lucy's behavior. Lucy's cognitive ability makes her able to tell the difference between her father's mental state and normal people's mental states; this is an indication that she was in the concrete developmental stage. According to Piaget's cognitive developmental theory, a child's reasoning becomes more focused and logical during the concrete developmental stage (Newcombe, 2013). Lucy's grasp of logical thinking is what makes her tell the difference between her father who is mentally inefficient from normal people who are mentally healthy and do not have serious cognitive problems. Lucy's ability to lie to her schoolmates during a Halloween party that Sam is not her real father, claiming she was adopted in order to save herself from the embarrassment caused by her father is a manifestation that she was in the concrete developmental stage. Lucy's heightened learning abilities that are far much better than his father are an indication that she was going through the concrete developmental stage. It reaches a point where Lucy stops learning so that she doesn't surpass her father with regard to learning, reading and speaking. Sam's mental deficiencies deter Lucy from using her full mental potential because she does not want her father to appear stupid (Nelson et al., 2002).

What Disability Does Sam Have In I Am Sam?

Sam's mental inefficiency can be explained by Piaget's cognitive development theory. The theory suggests that mental problems commence from childhood. Sam could have been suffering from autism. Autism is a mental disease that is associated with cognitive and learning problems. Given that Sam has a problem with reading the word difficult, yet he is in his thirties, it means that he has a cognitive problem. Autism also makes people have a difficulty in linking information from different parts of the brain (Carey et al., 2015). Sam has moderate learning abilities; he has difficulty in crossing streets. Sams mental problem causes him to be arrested wrongfully by police officers who thought he was soliciting sex from a prostitute.

Given that Sam is in his thirties yet he has a mind of a seven-year-old, this implies that he is mentally inefficient. A psychologist who is assigned to assess Sam's IQ during the case involving Sam and child care services reveals that Sam has an IQ of a seven-year-old. A standardized IQ test reveals that a person is said to be mentally retarded if he or she has an IQ that is below 70. A person with an IQ that is less than 70 is likely to have serious problems in adapting to new functions and environments. Sam's obsession with the Beatles can be attributed to his impairment in adaptive functioning. Sam is obsessed with the Beatles because it was his favorite Rock band when he was growing up. In a normal scenario, Sam should have successfully transitioned to adulthood, relegating to the periphery, his childhood fantasies, obsessions and dreams. Given that Sam has the mind of a child yet he is an adult, it means he did not successfully transition from childhood to adulthood. Sam's obsession with the Beatles makes him to name his child, Lucy after one of his favorite Beatle songs called Lucy in the sky with diamonds. Sam decides to ask a lawyer by the name of Rita Harrison to represent him in his child custody case against the child services department. Sam's decision to ask Rita to represent him is majorly influenced by Rita's last name, Harrison. George Harrison was a Beatles band member. Sam is also influenced to ask Rita Harrison to represent him in his case because of the Beatles song titled lovely Rita, meter maid. Given that Sam's decision about the lawyer he wanted to represent him was influenced by his love for the Beatles, this shows that he was profoundly obsessed with the Rock band (Nelson et al., 2002).

I Am Sam Characters and Disorders

Sam's mind of a child causes a lot of embarrassment to Lucy when they go to an event dubbed Big Boy for a change. In the event, Sam insists on getting specific pancakes he is accustomed to. Had Sam transitioned successfully from childhood to adulthood, he could not have insisted on having the pancakes he is used to. Piaget's cognitive theory asserts that intellectual growth is a process of adapting to the real world. Given that Sam kept on demanding for the pancakes he was accustomed to, it means intellectually he was not an adult. Had Sam been intellectually an adult, he could have known that in life people do not always get what they want (Nelson et al., 2002). According to Piaget's cognitive development theory, adjusting to the real world is a process that takes specific steps. The steps are assimilation, accommodation and equilibration. In assimilation, a person uses his existence as a mental representation of the world to deal with a new situation or a new object. In assimilation, a person is compelled to change his mental representation if their mental representations do not work. Equilibration is the driving force behind cognitive development. Equilibrium happens when a child's mental representations deal with new information by the process of assimilation. However, a point reaches when a problem arises about fitting new information to a person's current mental representation. Immediately the information is acquired, a new schema is developed until a subsequent experience compels an individual to change his or her mental representation of the world (Newcombe, 2013).


Sam's incapacity to assimilate new information in his mental representation of the world can be seen when he dresses as Paul McCartney at Lucy's school Halloween party. This is a palpable indication that Sam has the mind of a child. From his childhood days to the present as an adult he is still interested in the Beatles, it is shocking that no other music group or musician has captured his interest and made him forget his childhood obsession with the Beatles. Sam causes Lucy embarrassment when he dresses as Paul McCartney. Lucy's schoolmates call her father mentally retarded. Questions about the ability and preparedness of Sam who is mentally deficient to take care of Lucy are raised. Given that Sam is mentally seven years old yet Lucy is soon going to be eight years old, there is fear that Lucy's heightened abilities may make it difficult for Sam to take proper care of his daughter. Sam is deemed unfit to be a parent by the Department of Family services because of his mental deficiencies (Nelson et al., 2002).


Carey, S., Zaitchik, D., & Bascandziev, I. (2015). Theories of development: In dialog with Jean Piaget. Developmental Review, 38, 36-54.

Nelson, J., Johnson, K., Penn, S., Pfeiffer, M., Wiest, D., Fanning, D., Davis, E., ... New Line Home Entertainment (Firm). (2002). I am Sam. Burbank, Calif.: New Line Home Entertainment.

Newcombe, N. S. (2013). Cognitive development: changing views of cognitive change. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 4, 5, 479-491.

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Psychology Essay: Using Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory in the I Am Sam Movie. (2021, Mar 26). Retrieved from

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