Analysis of the Movie 'Babies' through John Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development and Bowlby’s Evolutionary Theory of Attachment

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Table of contents

  1. John Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
  2. Bowlby’s Evolutionary Theory of Attachment
  3. Contextual Influences
  4. What Did I Learn?
  5. Conclusion

The movie ‘Babies’ by Thomas Balmès takes us on a trip around the world to observe four newborn babies for the first two years of their lives. The movie looks at the relationship infants have with their parents and compares their development through a series of vignettes when each child accomplishes certain milestones. Throughout this paper I will discuss two theories that I felt were evident in the movie ‘Babies’. John Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Bowlby’s evolutionary theory of attachment both touch on major developmental factors that an infant should reach in the first 2 years.

John Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

John Piaget’s theory of cognitive development stresses that children actively construct their own knowledge as they manipulate and explore the world around them. He focused on understanding how children attain knowledge and concluded that their cognitive development takes place in multiple stages. Piaget believed that children adapt their thinking and behavior as they learn new information every day. His theory allows educators and parents to fully appreciate and understand the cognitive, social, physical, and educational growth that children go through from birth into early adulthood.

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Piaget’s theory suggests that children go through four broad stages of cognitive development, each stage is age-related and characterized by a specific way of thinking. First, is the sensorimotor stage, which starts from birth and goes to 2 years of age. This stage is very important and can be seen fluently throughout the film. An example of this stage would be sucking, grasping, looking, and listening. Following that stage would be the preoperational stage, which is from 2 to 7 years. During this stage children learn to think more symbolically and use words and pictures to represent objects. From years 7 to 11 is the concrete operational stage; children begin to think logically and critically about life events. The final is the formal operational stage; during this stage adolescents begin to think more abstractly and reason about hypothetical problems. A critical stage that I want to examine further is the sensorimotor stage. This stage has six subset stages that provide specific detailed descriptions of developmental events occurring at critical periods in the infants first two years of life.

The first stage is simple reflexes, and lasts for the first month of life. During this period, the multiple reflexes that determine the infant’s interactions with the world around them are based on their cognitive experiences. An example of this stage is the sucking reflex, this reflex causes the infant to suck on anything placed in its lips. In the movie we saw each child experience this stage. Mari from Tokyo and Hattie from San Francisco both sucked on soothers while Ponijao from Namibia sucked on various objects like sticks and rocks and Bayar from Mongolia sucked on a homemade soother from animal fat and objects around the house. Similar to the soothers or various objects, all four of the children had no trouble with breastfeeding which is a prime example of the simple reflex sucking.

The second substage is primary circular reactions. This stage is from 1 to 4 months. In this stage infants learn to coordinate single actions into integrated actives. For example, an infant might combine grasping an object and sucking on it or looking at a toy and touching it. In the movie we see the infants start to do this at various stages. Mari is a great example of this when she is playing with toys by herself in one scene, she grasps the toy and then puts it into her mouth and sucks on it. Ponijao also does this quite a lot, the child looks at something-usually a stick - picks it up and will then put it on their mouth. Hattie demonstrates this as well when she is peeling the banana and eating it. In this action she is also demonstrating her ‘pincer grasp’ which is the ability to hold an item between your index finger and thumb.

The third stage is secondary circular reactions. This stage is from 4 to 8 months and during this time infants take major strides in their cognitive horizons. They start to shift their focus from themselves and begin to act on the outside world. A child playing with a rattle and shaking it in different way to experience the different sounds it will make is an example of secondary circular reactions. We see Bayar from Mongolia playing with water in a bucket with his older brother. Bayar is splashing the water around in the bucket then dumps some onto the floor and begins to splash it. He is experiencing the different ways he can play with the water instead of just in the bucket and is demonstrating his ability to modify his cognitive scheme about playing with the water. Mari also does this when she is playing with a stick and a donut shape object. She keeps finding new ways to put the stick through the whole.

Coordination of reactions is the fourth stage and is from 8 to 12 months. During this stage infants start to use more calculated approaches to produce events and coordinating acts. They also achieve object permanence during this stage. Object permanence is the child’s ability to know that objects still exist even when they can no longer see or hear them. An example of this is when a child will push a toy out of the way to get to another toy that is under it but partially exposed.

The fifth stage is tertiary circular reactions. This stage is from 12 to 18 months. During this period infants develop deliberate variation of actions that bring desirable consequences. Rather than infants just repeating enjoyable actives they try new ones to observe weather or not there is a consequence. An example of this stage can be a child dropping a toy multiple times and observing the way it falls and it they get in trouble from their parents or not. In this movie we primarily one saw the infants up until their first birthday, so this stage was not permanent in the documentary and not observable in their behavior.

The final stage is the early representational thought/ beginnings of thoughts. It starts at 18 months and goes to 2 years. In this final period the major achievement is the capacity for mental representation or symbolic thought. Only in this final stage did Piaget argue that infants can imagine where objects are even when they cannot see them. An example for this stage is a ball rolling under a piece of furniture. Earlier on a child would not be able to predict where it would come out but now the infant has enough knowledge to be able to predict its trajectory. Again, with this category the children in the movie were too young to reach this stage so there are no movie specific examples.

Bowlby’s Evolutionary Theory of Attachment

Bowlby’s evolutionary theory of attachment suggests that children are born pre-programmed to form attachments with others. He argued that a child would only form one attachment and that attachment figure would make them feel safe and secure to explore the world around them. Bowlby believed that there should be a primary bond with the child and caregiver that was more important than other bonds, this bond was usually with the mother. The attachment figure is very important because it acts as a guide for all future social relationships the child will have in their life and if it is not properly developed then it can cause major issues for the child in the future. This theory is an example of how babies form their trust with their parents and the other caregivers in their life. If a child knows that their parent can take care of them properly, they will have an attachment to the parent because they have trust. This bodes well for children in the future when they are making new relationships with people, they won’t have a tainted view of trusting relationships because of a bad childhood experience with attachment.

According to Bowlby there are four phases of attachment. The first phase is Pre-Attachment and spans from birth to 6 weeks and involves the innate signals of the caregiver. Things like grasping, crying, smiling while looking into the adult’s or caregivers’ eyes. When the infant has a positive response, the caregivers stay close by which encourages the infant to take comfort in the adult. In this stage the infant will also recognize the mother’s face, voice and smell. They don’t yet have an attachment to the mothers and won’t become upset being left with an unfamiliar adult. The second phase is called Attachment in Making and is from 6 weeks to 6 to 8 months. In this stage infants will respond differently to familiar caregiver than strangers. The infant will interact more with someone they know compared to a complete stranger. At this stage they start to develop a sense of trust with the caregiver but do not get upset when separated from them. Clear-Cut Attachment is phase 3 and is from 6-8 months to 18 months-2 years. This is the stage when attachment to familiar caregivers starts to become prevalent. Infants will also start to show separation anxiety when their caretaker is not present and will show signs of distress or anxiety. Formation of Reciprocal Relationship is the last phase in Bowlby’s theory. This stage ranges from18 months to 2 years and on. During this phase children are not able to understand why their parents come and go but comprehend that they will come back, thus reducing their separation anxiety. At this time the child is also able to manipulate their caregiver to get his or hers way. As the child gets older, they relay less and less on their caregivers.

Bowlby also talks about secure and insecure attachment. Infants who have negative or unreliable relationship with their caregiver are more likely to develop insecure attachment. Infants that have insecure attachment have learned through experience that their caregiver is unreliable and not trustworthy. Infants with secure attachment are more trusting of adults because they have positive experiences that foster trust in the relationship. Infants with this type of attachment tend to have less extreme reactions in stressful situations because they can rely on their caregiver to calm them down.

I feel as though Ponijao, the baby from Namibia, showed secure attachment. He was able to play by himself and with others but always knew his mother was close by if he needed her. When Ponijao became upset or bothered, he was very easily soothed by his mother and seemed to have a very positive and curious attitude throughout the film. Bayar the baby from Mongolia showed the biggest insecure attachment in my opinion. He spent the most time alone out of all four babies and had the lest parental interaction. His mother only held him a handful of times and did not show affection very often. The father was only seen a few times throughout the film but never really interacting with Bayar or showing affection either. Hattie from San Francisco and Mari from Tokyo had a very similar upbringing, and both demonstrated secure attachment to their caregivers. From the start both parents of each child were very involved and made an effort to have a meaningful connection with their child. The parents would lay in bed with their child and talk to them often. They did not hessite to show affection and were constantly supervising their child which I feel will foster a positive relationship with child and parent.

Contextual Influences

Ponijao was very in touch with nature playing with rocks, sticks and dirt most of the time. Although Ponijao didn’t have any materialistic toys or books, he seemed completely content with the natural recourses around him. One thing I observed right away was the lack of a father figure in Ponijao’s life. This could be a cultural factor but, not having a father figure around for the first year of life could have a negative impact on Ponijao in the future.

Bayar was forced to entertain himself alone in the house throughout the day and had very minimal parental interaction. He did not have many toys to play with and often he just laid in bed, staring at the ceiling. We saw the mother bathing him with a very limited supply of water and I noticed early on that Bayar did not have diapers. Once Bayar was old enough to crawl, there was a scene when he was tied to the bed so he wouldn’t crawl too far. This scene upset me because not only was the infant left alone but was actually tied to something like an animal. Later on, we see him crawling in the field and interacting with the farm animals with no parental supervision once again. I think it was good for Bayar to have some interaction with the animals but being alone with them is still dangerous as animals could kick or step on the infant and hurt Bayar unintentionally. Surprisingly through all of that Bayar still seemed to be a happy baby and enjoyed being on his own.

Hattie from San Francisco and Mari from Tokyo had a very similar upbringing. They both lived in very populated cities with many resources. The girls were born in a hospital with both parents present. They both seemed to have a secure attachment with their parents from the start. The parents spent a lot of time with each infant to make a special connection. I will say, Mari’s father didn’t seem as present as the mother. For example, whenever he was watching Mari, he was always trying to do something else like talking on the phone, watching television or bringing her to his work. Both parents took their child to infant classes where they could interact with other babies. The girls didn’t seem to care for the classes and didn’t interact with any other children. Hatti and Mari had more luxuries than Ponijao and Bayar like clean water, new toys, books, doctor visits, play groups and both parents around to care for them.

What Did I Learn?

After watching this movie, it changed my opinion on parenting. I thought that Mari and Hattie would have a definite advantage over Bayar and Ponijao. Being in a big city Mari and Hattie have access to more resources than Bayar and Ponijao would never have. While saying this, the lack of resources didn’t seem to have any effect on Ponijao. His mother was always around to feed, clean and support him. They seemed to have a very strong connection right from the beginning. Unlike Ponijao, Bayar’s mother didn’t spend much time with him. She would bathe him but made minimal effort to connect with her child. From this situation I took away that even if you have limited resources, that should not affect the effort you put into parenting and hinder your connection with your child. Hattie and Mari’s parents were able to provide for their children materialistically but also made an effort emotionally.


To conclude, the early years of a human’s life is the foundation for one’s future. When shaping and supporting the experiences of children, it is important that parents are educated with the appropriate knowledge to support and encourage their infant’s development accordingly. A caregiver’s love and affection can set their child up for positive relationships in their future. Having a strong foundation from a young age sets up children to have trusting relationships with peers and adults in their later years.

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Analysis of the Movie ‘Babies’ through John Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development and Bowlby’s Evolutionary Theory of Attachment. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 13, 2024, from
“Analysis of the Movie ‘Babies’ through John Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development and Bowlby’s Evolutionary Theory of Attachment.” Edubirdie, 01 Mar. 2023,
Analysis of the Movie ‘Babies’ through John Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development and Bowlby’s Evolutionary Theory of Attachment. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 13 Jul. 2024].
Analysis of the Movie ‘Babies’ through John Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development and Bowlby’s Evolutionary Theory of Attachment [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Mar 01 [cited 2024 Jul 13]. Available from:

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