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Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory

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Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory

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Children 0-2 Years Old

Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory

Swiss Theorist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was one of the most influential researchers in the area of developmental psychology during the 20th century. Piaget originally trained in the areas of biology and philosophy and considered himself a "genetic epistemologist." He was mainly interested in the biological influences on "how we come to know." He believed that what distinguishes human beings from other animals is our ability to do "abstract symbolic reasoning." Piaget was interested in how an organism adapts to its environment. Behavior is controlled through mental organizations called schemes that the individual uses to represent the world and designate action. This adaptation is driven by a biological drive to obtain balance between schemes and the environment.

Piaget hypothesized that infants are born with schemes operating at birth that he called “reflexes.” In other animals, these reflexes control behavior throughout life. However, in human beings as the infant uses these reflexes to adapt to the environment, these reflexes are quickly replaced with constructed schemes. Piaget described two processes used by the individual in its attempt to adapt: assimilation and accommodation. Both of these processes are used throughout life as the person increasingly adapts to the environment in a more complex manner. As schemes become increasingly more complex (i.e., responsible for more complex behaviors) they are termed structures. As one’s structures become more complex, they are organized in a hierarchical manner.

Stages of Cognitive Development. Piaget identified four stages in cognitive development:

1. Sensorimotor stage (Infancy). In this period (which has 6 stages), intelligence is demonstrated through motor activity without the use of symbols. Knowledge of the world is limited (but developing) because it is based on physical interactions / experiences. Children acquire object permanence at about 7 months of age (memory). Physical development (mobility) allows the child to begin developing new intellectual abilities. Some symbolic (language) abilities are developed at the end of this stage.

2. Pre-operational stage (Toddler and Early Childhood). In this period (which has two sub stages), intelligence is demonstrated through the use of symbols, language use matures, and memory and imagination are developed, but thinking is done in a nonlogical, nonreversable manner. Egocentric thinking predominates

3. Concrete operational stage (Elementary and early adolescence). In this stage (characterized by 7 types of conservation: number, length, liquid, mass, weight, area, volume), intelligence is demonstrated through logical and systematic manipulation of symbols related to concrete objects. Operational thinking develops (mental actions that are reversible). Egocentric thought diminishes.

4. Formal operational stage (Adolescence and adulthood). In this stage, intelligence is demonstrated through the logical use of symbols related to abstract concepts. Early in the period, there is a return to egocentric thought. Only 35% of high school graduates in industrialized countries obtain formal operations; many people do not think formally during adulthood.

Vygotsky’s Social Theory of Cognitive Development

Born in 1896, Lev Vygotsky grew up during the Russian revolution. He graduated from a university, where he studied law, in 1917, the year the Bolsheviks took power. Instead of practicing law, Vygotsky became a schoolteacher. He read extensively in pedagogy and psychology; he lectured at various institutes, teacher's colleges, and workers' schools (on a wide range of topics including psychology, pedagogy, art, and literature); and he conducted some elementary psychological experiments. Although he was completely self-taught, he wrote a masterful article, which was accepted at the 1924 Second Neurological Congress of Psychology in Leningrad. Luria and Kornilov heard Vygotsky's address and invited him to join their faculty at the Mos- cow State University Institute of Experimental Psychology. After a 10-year career as a psychologist, Vygotsky was dead from tuberculosis (Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1991, pp. 4-18).

Vygotsky is distinctive in the field of psychology because he articulated a profoundly social explanation of human psychology. Vygotsky regarded human psychology as entirely social. He said that psychological phenomena originate in social interaction,

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