Behaviorism and Cognitive Development Theories in Child Psychology


Psychology, with its diverse theories, offers profound insights into understanding human behavior and cognitive development. This exploration delves into two significant psychological theories: behaviorism, as exemplified by Watson's "Albert experiment," and the cognitive development theories proposed by Jean Piaget.

Watson's Albert experiment stands out as a pivotal exploration of behaviorism, revealing how humans can be conditioned to develop specific feelings and fears through their environment. This experiment, involving an 11-month-old boy named Albert, showcases the profound impact of external stimuli on psychological responses.

Albert Experiment

The Albert experiment unfolded in a controlled environment where Albert, alone in a room, interacted with a white rat. Initially displaying fondness for the rat, Albert's perceptions shifted when paired with a loud, disturbing noise each time he reached out to touch the rat. Watson successfully conditioned Albert to associate fear with white, furry objects, demonstrating behaviorism's power to shape emotional responses.

However, the behaviorist theory faces critique for oversimplifying human behavior. Critics argue that it reduces individuals to robotic entities devoid of free will and purpose, neglecting internal processes influencing reactions to stimuli.

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Critique of Behaviorist Theory

Despite the Albert experiment's insights, some critiques challenge the behaviorist theory. Critics argue that behaviorism oversimplifies human behavior, reducing individuals to robotic entities devoid of free will and purpose. A fundamental flaw lies in behaviorism's failure to acknowledge internal processes influencing reactions to stimuli.

The behaviorist approach dictates what knowledge the "student" will learn, in what order they will learn it, and how they will learn it, ensuring that the "student" concentrates on key points rather than holistic information.

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It also deals only with the problem and fails to search out the root cause, which often means the problem, without continuous treatment, can reoccur. Behaviorism has also been seen as a form of "brainwashing" and makes no allowances for differences in intelligence.

Limitations of Behaviorism

Behaviorism's limitations extend to its dictation of knowledge to students, predetermined learning sequences, and a focus on specific points rather than holistic information. Moreover, it neglects root causes, potentially leading to recurring problems. The perception of behaviorism as a form of "brainwashing" raises ethical concerns, and its uniform approach lacks accommodation for differences in intelligence.

However, this critique doesn't diminish the significance of the behaviorist theory in contributing to our understanding of conditioned responses and the influence of external stimuli on behavior.

Introduction to Jean Piaget

Shifting focus to cognitive development, Jean Piaget, a constructivist theorist, offers an alternative perspective. Piaget envisions children as active constructors of their reality, engaging with the environment to foster intellectual growth. His biological background emphasizes shared human experiences and genetic similarities.

Piaget's Developmental Stages

Piaget's theory introduces distinct stages of cognitive development. A crucial aspect is that a child's capacity to learn and make logical sense aligns with their stage of development. Before the age of seven, Piaget argues that children lack the readiness for certain tasks, emphasizing the role of intellectual maturity in learning.

One strength of Piaget's theory comes in the detailed supporting evidence, which he himself provided. One of his tasks investigated object permanence. He gave a baby a toy and they played happily with it. But then he covered the toy with some cloth. Even though the baby had seen the toy hidden it failed to look for it and it appeared he didn't even remember it had been there. This suggests that ideas are underpinned by detailed empirical research, which provides a sound foundation for the theory.

Strengths of Piaget's Theory

Supporting evidence fortifies Piaget's theory, as seen in tasks like investigating object permanence. His emphasis on discovery learning, sensitivity to readiness, and acceptance of individual differences has significant educational implications, encouraging active engagement for effective learning.

Impact on Primary School Teaching

Piaget's theory significantly influences primary school teaching methodologies. Active engagement, such as hands-on experiences like growing plants, aligns with Piaget's view that children learn by interacting with their environment. The approach acknowledges that children don't merely think like miniature adults.

Contributions and Criticisms of Piaget

Piaget's valuable contributions, rooted in detailed empirical research, coexist with criticisms. While he may have underestimated children's understanding, his theories serve as a foundational starting point. Piaget's influence endures, prompting ongoing research and potential adjustments to his original ideas.

Another positive aspect is that Piaget's view of children as active constructors of their own cognitive world had considerable educational implications, with its emphasis on discovery learning, sensitivity to children's readiness to learn, and acceptance of individual differences.


In conclusion, the nature/nurture debate persists, with arguments centering on the roles of nature (innateness) and nurture (environment) in child development. The interconnectedness of both factors, influencing a child's development, emphasizes the need to consider their interaction rather than viewing them in isolation.

Relationship Between Nature and Nurture

The interplay between nature and nurture is evident, showcasing the balance of innate instincts and environmental influences. Children's development reflects a dynamic interaction, where both elements contribute to shaping their unique characteristics.

Comparison of Piaget and Vygotsky

Comparing Piaget's and Vygotsky's theories underscores their profound impact on studying children's cognitive processes. Vygotsky, while not rejecting all elements of Piaget's theory, addresses weaknesses by incorporating socio-cultural factors and language, enriching the understanding of cognitive development.

Final Thoughts

The exploration of behaviorism and cognitive development theories unveils the intricate dynamics shaping human psychology. As theories evolve, researchers continue to unravel the complexities of human behavior, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted factors contributing to cognitive development.

Updated: Jan 11, 2024
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Behaviorism and Cognitive Development Theories in Child Psychology. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Behaviorism and Cognitive Development Theories in Child Psychology essay
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