Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Piaget & Cognitive Child Development Theories

Piaget’s theory is a little different from the theories covered thus far, in that Piaget was interested in cognitive development, rather than social/psychological development.  Piaget was the first to note that children play an active role in gaining knowledge of the world.  Although it may seem obvious now, it was a novel idea at the time.  Children, Piaget said, are like “little scientists” who actively pursue knowledge & develop an understanding of the world.  If you’ve ever watched a baby at play, dropping things to see what happens, then you’ll know this to be true!  Piaget believed that children’s cognitive abilities developed in fits & starts rather than as a smooth process.  He believed at about 18 mos, 7 years & 11 or 12 years thinking abilities would take off.  Piaget coined a number of terms to describe cognitive processes.  I will not delve into a full vocabulary here, as it does not seem necessary to my ends.  This site gives a nice & relatively straightforward Piaget vocab:, if you’re interested in learning more.  Piaget’s stages are covered below in a general way.  Piaget theorized that there were substages within each stage; however, covering the substages is beyond the scope of what I’m looking to achieve.

Piaget’s Stages:
Birth – approx age 2 (or language acquisition)
Develops reflexes, such as sucking, tracking objects by watching them, the palmar grasp (when a baby closes his or her hand around an object that touches the palm).  Develops motor skills, like sitting, crawling, walking (hence the name “sensorimotor”).  Later in this stage, they start experimenting with new behavior & begin to be able to set a goal & work towards it (I’m going to get that candy & go hide in the closet & eat it all!).
Age 2 – 7
Language development takes off & the child is able to represent objects with words, images & drawings.  They are not able to perform operations, meaning tasks that require use of logic or reasoning.  Children at this age are egocentric & unable to see things from other people’s perspective, literally or figuratively.
Concrete operational
Age 7 – 11
Child begins to be able to use logic & the ability to sort objects, classify objects & begins to be able to see things from another’s perspective.  Not able to think about abstract problems or concepts.
Formal operational
Age 11 into adulthood
Abstract reasoning develops & the individual reaches their full cognitive abilities.  Adolescents can understand things that are not strictly black-and-white.

  • Critiques of Piaget’s theory:
    • Subsequent research has contradicted much of Piaget’s theory & some work suggests that some processes develop more quickly or slowly than others.  For example, an individual kid might pick up logic more quickly, but be slower in developing language or motor skills.
    • Some more recent critics suggest that development happens more smoothly than in the fits & starts that Piaget suggested.
    • Some critics believe that many individuals never reach the level of abstract reasoning that Piaget theorized all people achieve in the formal operational stage.

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