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Theory of cognitive development Essay

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What is cognitive development? Cognitive development is the process of acquiring intelligence and increasingly advanced thought and problem solving ability from infancy to adulthood. Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is an inclusive theory about the nature and development of human intelligence first developed by Jean Piaget. It is primarily known as a developmental stage theory, but in fact, it deals with the nature of knowledge itself and how humans come gradually to acquire it, construct it, and use it.

Moreover, Piaget(1969) claims the idea that cognitive development is at the center of human organism and language is contingent on cognitive development.

Below, there is first a short description of Piaget’s views(1969) about the nature of intelligence and the description of the stages through which it develops until maturity. The first stage is sensorimotor stage (infancy). This stage ranges from birth to 2 years old. The infant uses senses and motor abilities to understand the world, beginning with reflexes and ending with complex combinations of sensor motor skills.

The child relies on seeing, touching, sucking, feeling, and using their senses to learn things about themselves and the environment. Piaget(1969) calls this the sensorimotor stage to reflect his belief that knowledge is build up from sensory perception and motor actions . An important discovery during the sensorimotor stage is the concept of “object permanence”. Object permanence is the awareness that an object continues to exist even when it is not in view.

After first year of exploration, the child exhibits repeating search as it searches for objects concealed in places found earlier, leading to object permanence towards the end of this stage. The child may also show evidence of deferred imitation, whereby it is able to imitate behaviour seen before. Piaget(1969) argues that the child cannot hold firmly the concept that objects still exist when hidden or taken away until the age of 8 months. However, Piaget(1969) underestimated the abilities of infants in number of ways.

Most researchers agree that children possess many of the abilities at an earlier age than Piaget(1969) suspected. For example Bower (1982) hid a toy behind a screen . When the screen was lifted a few second later; the toy was no longer there. Infants who were three or four months old showed surprised. This explains that some aspect of object permanence is present much earlier than was claimed by Piaget(1969). This view has that a child does not have object permanence until 8 months has been challenged by Bower and Wishard in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Piaget(1969) is also been criticised for sticking to the idea of understanding the distinct stage or periods of development (Flawell et al 1993) Research has disputed Piaget’s argument(1969) that all children will automatically or independently move to the next stage of development as they mature. Some data suggests that environmental factors may play a role in the development of formal operations. Preoperational stage (Toddler and Early Childhood) thought is the second stage in Piaget’s theory. The most important development at this time is language.

The development of languages is associated with the cognitive advances of preoperational children. In this stage, a child ranging from 2 to 7 years of age learns how to talk and walk to understand their bodies. Children at this time use symbols, they can pretend. The preoperational stage is divided into the preconceptual (2-4 years) and the intuitive (4-7years). In the preoperational stage, children use language and try to make sense of the world but have a much less experience mode of thought than adults.

In the intuitive phase, the child slowly moves away from drawing conclusions based only on concrete experiences with objects. However, the conclusions drawn are based on rather not a clear impression and perceptual judgment. Children in the preoperational stage are characterized by what Piaget(1969) called egocentric thoughts. Younger children would pick the picture of the view they themselves saw and older kids picked correctly. Preoperational children are unduly influenced by their perception of environment they tend to pay attention to only one aspect of the total situation ,this is called centration.

The experiment involves demonstrating a child’s understanding of conservation. In one conservation experiment, equal amounts of liquid are poured into two identical containers. The liquid in one container is then poured into a different shaped cup, such as a tall and thin cup, or a short and wide cup. Children are then asked which cup holds the most liquid. Despite seeing that the liquid amounts were equal, children almost always choose the cup that appears fuller. Both of Piaget test(1969) or task is the mountain task and conversation tasks come under critics.

It is believed that the three mountain task that Piaget asked three year old children to solve was too complex to test children’s ability to see someone else’s perspective. It is believed that young children can see someone else’s point of view in a simple way. Piaget(1969) was correct in that, while children are capable for showing some understanding of these concepts it does take maturity and experience before children can fully logical structures and apply them to daily life. The third is the concrete operation stage (Elementary and Early adolescence) which usually occurs between the ages of 7 to 12.

The word operation refers to logical operations or principles we use when solving problems. In this stage, the child not only uses symbols but can manipulate those symbols logically. This stage is also characterized by a loss of egocentric thinking. Egocentric thinking dissolves and children learn that others have ideas and views different from their own. They begin to pay attention to the point of view of others as a way to verify their own. They understand laws of conservation and are able to classify, understand reversibility, the ability to think backward from the end to the beginning.

The most important cognitive operation is Reversibility – where the child understands that numbers or objects can be changed, and then returned to their original state. During this stage, children can use cognitive operation only with specific concrete situations. Piaget(1969) argued that cognitive operation are usually organised into a system or structure. The other important cognitive operation is conservation that means understanding that quantity, length or number of items is unrelated to the arrangement or appearance of the object or items.

Classification on the other hand, states its meaning that the ability to name and decentring is where the child takes into account multiple aspects of a problem to identify sets of object according to appearance, size or other characteristic. The fourth stage is the formal operations stage (Adolescence and Adulthood) which follows on from the stage of concrete operations. The formal operational stage begins in most people at age twelve and continues into adulthood. This stage produces a new kind of thinking that is abstract, formal, and logical.

By this stage, the person no longer requires concrete objects to make rational judgements. He or she is capable of deductive and hypothetical reasoning. His or her ability for abstract thinking is very similar to an adult. Piaget(1969) believed that deductive logic becomes important during the formal operational stage. This type of thinking involves hypothetical situations and is often required in science and mathematics. Formal operation stage involves the problem solving. In earlier stages, children used trial-and-error to solve problems.

During the formal operational stage, the ability to systematically solve a problem in a logical and methodical way emerges. Children at the formal operational stage of cognitive development are often able to quickly plan an organized approach to solving a problem. Piaget’s theories and findings have been widely challenged. Around this time, another psychologist was offering his views on child cognitive development. Lev Vygotsky (1986-1934) was a Russian psychologist . He offered an alternative to Piaget’s stages(1969) of cognitive development.

He emphasised the general understanding that cognitive development depend very largely on social factors. According to Vygotsky (1978), any function in child’s cultural development appears two times, or on two planes. First, it appears on the social plane, and then on the psychological plane. This theory stated that students learn through social interactions and their culture that there are much different from Piaget’s theory(1969) that stated children act on their environment to learn. Our culture helps shape our cognition.

Major criticism is that the theory doesn’t take into account cultural background and education. Psychologists such as Meadows (1988) have suggested that Piaget(1969) underestimated the cognitive abilities of children. Meadows believes that Piaget(1969) ignored individual differences in his studies. It has also been argued that Piaget(1969) ignored both emotional and social influences on cognitive development. Much of the criticism of Piaget’s work(1969) is in regards to his research methods. A major source of inspiration for the theory was Piaget’s observations(1969) of his own three children.

Metholody is another aspect of Piaget theory(1969) which has frequently come under criticism . He used the clinical method, in his experiments he used basic question and answer techniques. But his questions were not standardised and tailored very much to the individual. It makes considerable demands on the language ability of the child. Criticisms have also been made of Piaget’s ideas about egocentrism. It has been argued that Piaget’s egocentrism experiments(1969), like the three mountain scene, confused the child as it was not clear what was being asked. Wheldall and Poborca (1980).

Piaget(1969) did not take into account the individual differences of children, or the differences caused by heredity, culture and education. (Durkein ,1995 ) He did little research on the emotional and personality development of children . As a conclusion, despite the numerous objections and criticism to Piaget’s theory(1969) of cognitive development, he was in fact the first psychologist to even look at how children see the world and as a consequence initiated a vast amount of further study into the area. In those terms he has made a substantial contribution to our understanding and appreciation of this complex subject area.

Much of his theory has been directly applied and accepted in modern education. Many of the criticisms of Piaget(1969) surround his underestimation of childhood abilities and also the age at which the cognitive developments are said to take place. It is not however, disputed that the changes themselves do in fact occur, so in that respect, Piaget’s work(1969) has been and still is greatly significant. Never the less, Piaget’s ideas(1969) still maintain a vital influence in both general psychology and contemporary education.

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