Cognition is the process involved in thinking and mental activity, such as attention, memory and problem solving. In this essay on cognitive development I will compare and contrast the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky, who were both influential in forming a more scientific approach to analysing the cognitive development process of the child active construction of knowledge. (Flanagan 1996 P.72). I will then go onto evaluate the usefulness of these theories in understanding a child's development.
Both Piaget and Vygotsky agreed that children's cognitive development took place in stages. (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P.149). However they were distinguished by different styles of thinking. Piaget was the first t reveal that children reason and think differently at different periods in their lives. He believed that all children progress through four different and very distinct stages of cognitive development. This theory is known as Piaget’s Stage Theory because it deals with four stages of development, which are sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational. (Ginsburg, Opper 1979 P. 26).
In the first stage sensorimotor, which occurs from birth to the age of two is the time in an infant’s life when the child basically deals with what is presented to him. They learn about physical objects and are concerned with motor skills and the consequences of some of their actions. (Thomson, Meggit 1997 P.107). During this stage children will learn the concept of object permanence. This is where an object will continue to exist even if it is out of sight. (Ginsburg, Opper 1979 P.48)
The preoperational stage last from two to seven years. In this stage it becomes possible to carry on a conversation with a child and they also learn to count and use the concept of numbers. This stage is divided into the preoperational phase and the intuitive phase. Children in the preoperational phase are preoccupied with verbal skills and try to make sense of the world but have a much less sophisticated mode of thought than adults. In the intuitive phase the child moves away from drawing conclusions based upon concrete experiences with objects. One problem, which identifies children in this stage, is the inability to cognitively conserve relevant spatial
information. This is when, when a material is manipulated and no longer matches the cognitive image that a child has made, that child believes the amount of material has been altered instead of just its shape. (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P.135)
During the Concrete Operational stage from ages seven to ten, children of this age are in school and they begin to deal with abstract concepts such as numbers, relationships and how to reason. They can now group certain things into categories, and put objects into size order, number order, and any other types of systematic ordering. There is a form of logical reasoning and thinking. Using logic, the child is capable of reversibility and conservation, which is the understanding of that mental operations and physical operations, can be reversed. They are now beginning to understand other people’s perspectives and views and are capable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time. In this stage a person can do mental operations but only with real concrete objects, events or situations. (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P.139).
Finally, in the formal operational stage, age twelve to fifteen, the child has become more adult-like in their thought structures and processes. They begin to reason logically, systematically and hypothetically. (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P.139). They understand meanings without the need for physical objects or images. In other words, they can imagine things that do not exist or that they have never experienced. This stage is generally like the preceding stage but at a more advanced level. The formal operational person is capable of meta-cognition, that is, thinking about thinking.
Piaget also theorised on Adaptation, and Development. The adaptation theory (also known as the Constructivist theory) involved three fundamental processes, which contributed to the child’s cognitive development. These are assimilation, accommodation, and equilibrium. Assimilation involved the incorporation of new events into pre-existing cognitive structures. Accommodation is the adjustment involved in the formation of new mental structures needed to accommodate new information. Equilibration involved the person striking a balance between himself and the environment, between assimilation and accommodation. When a child
experienced a new event, disequilibrium set in until he was able to assimilate and accommodate the new information and thus attain equilibrium. There were many different types of equilibrium between assimilation and accommodation, which varied with the levels of development