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Piaget's theory of cognitive development is a comprehensive 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, construct, and use it. Moreover, Piaget claims the idea that cognitive development is at the centre of human organism and language is contingent on cognitive development. Below, there is first a short description of Piaget's views about the nature of intelligence and then a description of the stages through which it develops until maturity.
Piaget believed that reality is a dynamic system of continuous change, and as such is defined in reference to the two conditions that define dynamic systems. Specifically, he argued that reality involves transformations and states. Transformations refer to all manners of changes that a thing or person can undergo. States refer to the conditions or the appearances in which things or persons can be found between transformations. For example, there might be changes in shape or form (for instance, liquids are reshaped as they are transferred from one vessel to another, humans change in their characteristics as they grow older), in size (e.g., a series of coins on a table might be placed close to each other or far apart) in placement or location in space and time (e.g., various objects or persons might be found at one place at one time and at a different place at another time). Thus, Piaget argued, that if human intelligence is to be adaptive, it must have functions to represent both the transformational and the static aspects of reality. He proposed that operative intelligence is responsible for the representation and manipulation of the dynamic or transformational aspects of reality and that figurative intelligence is responsible for the representation of the static aspects of reality.
Operative intelligence is the active aspect of intelligence. It involves all actions, overt or covert, undertaken in order to follow, recover, or anticipate the transformations of the objects or persons of interest. Figurative intelligence is the more or less static aspect of intelligence, involving all means of representation used to retain in mind the states (i.e., successive forms, shapes, or locations) that intervene between transformations. That is, it involves perception, imitation, mental imagery, drawing, and language. Therefore, the figurative aspects of intelligence derive their meaning from the operative aspects of intelligence, because states cannot exist independently of the transformations that interconnect them. Piaget believed that the figurative or the representational aspects of intelligence are subservient to its operative and dynamic aspects, and therefore, that understanding essentially derives from the operative aspect of intelligence.
At any time, operative intelligence frames how the world is understood and it changes if understanding is not successful. Piaget believed that this process of understanding and change involves two basic functions: Assimilation and accommodation.
Through studying the field of education Piaget focused on accommodation and assimilation. Assimilation, one of two processes coined by Jean Piaget, describes how humans perceive and adapt to new information. It is the process of taking one’s environment and new information and fitting it into pre-existing cognitive schemas. Assimilation occurs when humans are faced with new or unfamiliar information and refer to previously learned information in order to make sense of it. Accommodation, unlike assimilation is the process of taking one's environment and new information, and altering one's pre-existing schemas in order to fit in the new information.
Through a series of stages, Piaget explains the ways in which characteristics are constructed that lead to specific types of thinking; this chart is called Cognitive Development. To Piaget, assimilation is integrating external elements into structures of lives or environments or those we could have through experience. It is through assimilation that accommodation is derived. Accommodation is imperative because it is how people will continue to interpret new concepts, schemas, frameworks, etc. Assimilation is different from accommodation because of how it relates to the inner organism due to the environment. Piaget believes that the human brain has been programmed through evolution to bring equilibrium, and to move upwards in a process to equilibriate what is not. The equilibrium is what Piaget believes ultimately influences structures because of the internal and external processes through assimilation and accommodation.
Piaget's understanding is that these two functions cannot exist without the other. To assimilate an object into an existing mental schema, one first needs to take into account or accommodate to the particularities of this object to a certain extent; for instance, to recognize (assimilate) an apple as an apple one needs first to focus (accommodate) on the contour of this object. To do this one needs to roughly recognize the size of the object. Development increases the balance or equilibration between these two functions. When in balance with each other, assimilation and accommodation generate mental schemas of the operative intelligence. When one function dominates over the other, they generate representations which belong to figurative intelligence.
The sensorimotor stage is the first of the four stages in cognitive development which "extends from birth to the acquisition of language". "In this stage, infants construct an understanding of the world by coordinating experiences (such as seeing and hearing) with physical, motoric actions. Infants gain knowledge of the world from the physical actions they perform on it. An infant progresses from reflexive, instinctual action at birth to the beginning of symbolic thought toward the end of the stage. Piaget divided the sensorimotor stage into six sub-stages":0–2 years, Infants just have senses-vision, hearing, and motor skills, such as grasping, sucking, and stepping.---from Psychology Study Guide by Bernstein, Penner, Clarke-Stewart, Roy
The first stage is called the Sensorimotor stage (birth to about age 2). In this stage knowledge of the world is limited (but developing) because it’s based on physical interactions/experiences. The child learns that he is separate from his environment and that aspects of his environment continue to exist even though they may be outside the reach of his senses. Behaviors are limited to simple motor responses caused by sensory stimuli. In this stage according to Piaget, the development of object permanence is one of the most important accomplishments at the sensorimotor stage. (Object permanence is a child’s understanding that objects continue to exist even though they cannot be seen or heard).
|1 Simple Reflexes||Birth-6 weeks||"Coordination of sensation and action through reflexive behaviors". Three primary reflexes are described by Piaget: sucking of objects in the mouth, following moving or interesting objects with the eyes, and closing of the hand when an object makes contact with the palm (palmar grasp). Over the first six weeks of life, these reflexes begin to become voluntary actions; for example, the palmar reflex becomes intentional grasping.).|
|2 First habits and primary circular reactions phase||6 weeks-4 months||"Coordination of sensation and two types of schemes: habits (reflex) and primary circular reactions (reproduction of an event that initially occurred by chance). Main focus is still on the infant's body." As an example of this type of reaction, an infant might repeat the motion of passing their hand before their face. Also at this phase, passive reactions, caused by classical or operant conditioning, can begin.|
|3 Secondary circular reactions phase||4–8 months||Development of habits. "Infants become more object-oriented, moving beyond self-preoccupation; repeat actions that bring interesting or pleasurable results." This stage is associated primarily with the development of coordination between vision and prehension. Three new abilities occur at this stage: intentional grasping for a desired object, secondary circular reactions, and differentiations between ends and means. At this stage, infants will intentionally grasp the air in the direction of a desired object, often to the amusement of friends and family. Secondary circular reactions, or the repetition of an action involving an external object begin; for example, moving a switch to turn on a light repeatedly. The differentiation between means and ends also occurs. This is perhaps one of the most important stages of a child's growth as it signifies the dawn of logic.|
|4 Coordination of secondary circular reactions stages||8–12 months||"Coordination of vision and touch--hand-eye coordination; coordination of schemes and intentionality." This stage is associated primarily with the development of logic and the coordination between means and ends. This is an extremely important stage of development, holding what Piaget calls the "first proper intelligence." Also, this stage marks the beginning of goal orientation, the deliberate planning of steps to meet an objective.|
|5 Tertiary circular reactions, novelty, and curiosity||12–18 months||"Infants become intrigued by the many properties of objects and by the many things they can make happen to objects; they experiment with new behavior." This stage is associated primarily with the discovery of new means to meet goals. Piaget describes the child at this juncture as the "young scientist," conducting pseudo-experiments to discover new methods of meeting challenges.|
|6 Internalization of Schemes||18–24 months||"Infants develop the ability to use primitive symbols and form enduring mental representations." This stage is associated primarily with the beginnings of insight, or true creativity. This marks the passage into the preoperational stage.|
By the end of the sensorimotor period, objects are both separate from the self and permanent. Object permanence is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen, heard, or touched. Acquiring the sense of object permanence is one of the infant's most important accomplishments, according to Piaget.
The Cognitive Development Approaches. By observing sequences of play, Jean Piaget was able to demonstrate that towards the end of the second year, a qualitatively new kind of psychological functioning occurs.
(Pre)Operatory Thought is any procedure for mentally acting on objects. The hallmark of the preoperational stage is sparse and logically inadequate mental operations. During this stage, the child learns to use and to represent objects by images, words, and drawings.The child is able to form stable concepts as well as mental reasoning and magical beliefs. The child however is still not able to perform operations; tasks that the child can do mentally rather than physically. Thinking is still egocentric. The child has difficulty taking the viewpoint of others. Two substages can be formed from preoperative thought.
The second stage is called Pre-operational stage (begins about the time the child starts to talk at about the age of 2). Intelligence is demonstrated through the use of symbols, language use matures, and memory and imaginations are developed. The child’s thinking is influenced by fantasy (the way the child would like things to be) and the child assumes that others see situations from his viewpoint. The child takes in informations and then changes it in his mind to fit his idea. Piaget noted that children in this stage do not yet understand concrete logic, cannot mentally manipulate information. Children’s increase in playing and pretending takes place in the pre-operational stage.
The concrete operational stage is the third of four stages of cognitive development in Piaget's theory. This stage, which follows the preoperational stage, occurs between the ages of 7 and 11 years and is characterized by the appropriate use of logic. Important processes during this stage are:
Seriation—the ability to sort objects in an order according to size, shape, or any other characteristic. For example, if given different-shaded objects they may make a color gradient.
Transitivity- Transitivity, which refers to the ability to recognize relationships among various things in a serial order. For example, when told to put away his books according to height, the child recognizes that he starts with placing the tallest one on one end of the bookshelf and the shortest one ends up at the other end.
Classification—the ability to name and identify sets of objects according to appearance, size or other characteristic, including the idea that one set of objects can include another.
Decentering—where the child takes into account multiple aspects of a problem to solve it. For example, the child will no longer perceive an exceptionally wide but short cup to contain less than a normally wide, taller cup.
Reversibility—the child understands that numbers or objects can be changed, then returned to their original state. For example, during this stage, a child understands that a favorite ball that deflates is not gone but can be filled with air again and put back into play.
Conservation—understanding that quantity, length or number of items is unrelated to the arrangement or appearance of the object or items.
Elimination of Egocentrism—the ability to view things from another's perspective (even if they think incorrectly). For instance, show a child a comic in which Jane puts a doll under a box, leaves the room, and then Melissa moves the doll to a drawer, and Jane comes back. A child in the concrete operations stage will say that Jane will still think it's under the box even though the child knows it is in the drawer. (See also False-belief task).
Children in this stage can, however, only solve problems that apply to actual (concrete) objects or events, and not abstract concepts or hypothetical tasks.
The third stage is known as Concrete operational stage (First grade to early adolescence): Intelligence is demonstrated through logical and systematic manipulation of symbols related to concrete objects. The child develops an ability to think abstractly and to make rational judgements about concrete or observable phenomena, which in the past he needed to manipulate physically to understand. Logic: Piaget determined that children in the concrete operational stage were able to incorporate inductive logic. On the other hand, children at this age have difficulty using deductive logic, which involves using a general principle to predict the outcome of a specific event. Reversibility: An example of this is being able to reverse the order of relationships between mental categories. For example, a child might be able to recognize that his or her dog is a Labrador, that a Labrador is a dog, and that a dog is an animal, and draw conclusions from the information available, as well as apply all these processes to hypothetical situations. The abstract quality of the adolescent's thought at the formal operational level is evident in the adolescent's verbal problem solving ability. The logical quality of the adolescent's thought is when children are more likely to solve problems in a trial-and-error fashion. Adolescents begin to think more as a scientist thinks, devising plans to solve problems and systematically testing solutions. They use hypothetical-deductive reasoning, which means that they develop hypotheses or best guesses, and systematically deduce, or conclude, which is the best path to follow in solving the problem. During this stage the adolescent is able to understand such things as love, "shades of gray", logical proofs and values. During this stage the young person begins to entertain possibilities for the future and is fascinated with what they can be. Adolescents are changing cognitively also by the way that they think about social matters. Adolescent Egocentrism governs the way that adolescents think about social matters and is the heightened self-consciousness in them as they are which is reflected in their sense of personal uniqueness and invincibility. Adolescent egocentrism can be dissected into two types of social thinking, imaginary audience that involves attention getting behavior, and personal fable which involves an adolescent's sense of personal uniqueness and invincibility.
The final stage is known as Formal operational stage (adolescence and into adulthood): Intelligence is demonstrated through the logical use of symbols related to abstract concepts. At this point, the person is capable of hypothetical and deductive reasoning. During this time, people develop the ability to think about abstract concepts. Logic: Piaget 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. Abstract thought emerges during the formal operational stage. Children tend to think very concretely and specifically in earlier stages. Children begin to consider possible outcomes and consequences of actions. Problem-Solving is demonstrated when children use trial-and-error to solve problems. The ability to systematically solve a problem in a logical and methodical way emerges.
Piaget sees children’s conception of causation as a march from "primitive" conceptions of cause to those of a more scientific, rigorous, and mechanical nature. These primitive concepts are characterized as magical, with a decidedly nonnatural or nonmechanical tone. Piaget attributes this to his most basic assumption: that babies are phenomenists. That is, their knowledge "consists of assimilating things to schemas" from their own action such that they appear, from the child’s point of view, "to have qualities which in fact stem from the organism." Consequently, these "subjective conceptions," so prevalent during Piaget’s first stage of development, are dashed upon discovering deeper empirical truths. Piaget gives the example of a child believing the moon and stars follow him on a night walk; upon learning that such is the case for his friends, he must separate his self from the object, resulting in a theory that the moon is immobile, or moves independently of other agents. The second stage, from around three to eight years of age, is characterized by a mix of this type of magical, animistic, or “nonnatural” conceptions of causation and mechanical or "naturalisitic" causation. This conjunction of natural and nonnatural causal explanations supposedly stems from experience itself, though Piaget does not make much of an attempt to describe the nature of the differences in conception; in his interviews with children, he asked specifically about natural phenomena: what makes clouds move? What makes the stars move? Why do rivers flow? The nature of all the answers given, Piaget says, are such that these objects must perform their actions to "fulfill their obligations towards men." He calls this "moral explanation."
Piagetians' accounts of development have been challenged on several grounds. First, as Piaget himself noted, development does not always progress in the smooth manner his theory seems to predict. 'Decalage', or unpredicted gaps in the developmental progression, suggest that the stage model is at best a useful approximation. Furthermore, studies have found that children may be able to learn concepts supposedly represented in more advanced stages with relative ease. More broadly, Piaget's theory is 'domain general', predicting that cognitive maturation occurs concurrently across different domains of knowledge (such as mathematics, logic, understanding of physics, of language, etc.). During the 1980s and 1990s, cognitive developmentalists were influenced by "neo-nativist" and evolutionary psychology ideas. These ideas de-emphasized domain general theories and emphasized domain specificity or modularity of mind. Modularity implies that different cognitive faculties may be largely independent of one another and thus develop according to quite different time-tables. In this vein, some cognitive developmentalists argued that rather than being domain general learners, children come equipped with domain specific theories, sometimes referred to as 'core knowledge', which allows them to break into learning within that domain. For example, even young infants appear to be sensitive to some predictable regularities in the movement and interactions of objects (e.g. that one object cannot pass through another), or in human behavior (e.g. that a hand repeatedly reaching for an object has that object, not just a particular path of motion), as its be the building block out of which more elaborate knowledge is constructed. More recent work has strongly challenged some of the basic presumptions of the 'core knowledge' school, and revised ideas of domain generality—but from a newer dynamic systems approach, not from a revised Piagetian perspective. Dynamic systems approaches harken to modern neuroscientific research that was not available to Piaget when he was constructing his theory. One important finding is that domain-specific knowledge is constructed as children develop and integrate knowledge. This suggests more of a "smooth integration" of learning and development than either Piaget, or his neo-nativist critics, had envisioned. Additionally, some psychologists, such as Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner, thought differently from Piaget, suggesting that language was more important than Piaget implied.
In the recent years, several scholars attempted to ameliorate the problems of Piaget's theory by developing new theories and models that can accommodate evidence that violates Piagetian predictions and postulates. These models are summarized below.
Piaget (1967) considered the possibility of RNA molecules as likely embodiments of his still-abstract "schemes" (which he promoted as units of action) — though he did not come to any firm conclusion. At that time, due to work such as that of Holger Hydén, RNA concentrations had indeed been shown to correlate with learning, so the idea was quite plausible.
However, by the time of Piaget's death in 1980, this notion had lost favour. One main problem was over the protein which (it was assumed) such RNA would necessarily produce, and that did not fit in with observation. It then turned out, surprisingly, that only about 3% of RNA does code for protein (Mattick, 2001, 2003, 2004). Hence most of the remaining 97% (the "ncRNA") could now theoretically be available to serve as Piagetian schemes (or other regulatory roles now under investigation). The issue has not yet been resolved experimentally, but its theoretical aspects have been reviewed; (Traill 2005 / 2008).
Piaget designed a number of tasks to verify hypotheses arising from his theory. The tasks were not intended to measure individual differences, and they have no equivalent in psychometric intelligence tests. Notwithstanding the different research traditions in which psychometric tests and Piagetian tasks were developed, the correlations between the two types of measures have been found to be consistently positive and generally moderate in magnitude. A common general factor underlies them. It has been shown that it is possible to construct a battery consisting of Piagetian tasks that is as good a measure of general intelligence as standard IQ tests.
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