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Jean Piagets Theory of Cognitive Development

Outline
(1) General introduction. (2) Sensory-Motor period. (3) Pre-operational period. (4) Concrete operations. (5) Formal operations. (6) Evaluation.

I: Terms and concepts.

Genetic Epistemology: A constructivist theory


No innate ideas...not a nativist theory. Nor is the child a tabula rasa with the real world out there waiting to be discovered. Instead, mind is constructed through interaction with the environment; what is real depends on how developed ones knowledge is

How does Piaget describe developmental change?


Development occurs in stages, with a qualitative shift in the organization and complexity of cognition at each stage. Thus, children not simply slower, or less knowledgeable than adults instead, they understand the world in a qualitatively different way. Stages form an invariant sequence.

Stages of Cognitive Development


(1) Sensorimotor (0-2 years) (2) Pre-operational (2-7 years) (3) Concrete Operational (7-11 years) (4) Formal Operational (11-16 years)

What develops? Cognitive structures


Cognitive structures are the means by which experience is interpreted and organized: reality very much in the eye of the beholder Early on, cognitive structures are quite basic, and consist of reflexes like sucking and grasping. Piaget referred to these structures as schemes.

How do cognitive structures develop?


Through assimilation and accomodation. Assimilation: The incorporation of new experiences into existing structures. Accommodation: The changing of an old structures so that new experiences can be processed. Assimilation is conservative, while accommodation is progressive.

Why accommodate?
Normally, the mind is in a state of equilibrium: existing structures are stable, and assimilation is mostly occurring. However, a discrepant experience can lead to disequilibrium or cognitive instability Child forced to accommodate existing structures.

Active view of development


Child as scientist Mental structures intrinsically active constantly being applied to experience Leads to curiosity and the desire to know Development proceeds as the child actively refines his/her knowledge of the world through many small experiments

Instructional learning viewed as relatively unimportant


Teachers should not try to transmit knowledge, but should provide opportunities for discovery Child needs to construct or reinvent knowledge adult knowledge cannot be formally communicated to the child Limited importance of socio-cultural context; importance of peer interaction.

II: The Sensorimotor Period (0-2 years)


Only some basic motor reflexes grasping, sucking, eye movements, orientation to sound, etc By exercising and coordinating these basic reflexes, infant develops intentionality and an understanding of object permanence.

II: The Sensorimotor Period (0-2 years)


Intentionality refers to the ability to act in a goal-directed manner in other words, to do one thing in order that something else occurs. Requires an understanding of cause and effect

II: The Sensorimotor Period (0-2 years)


Object permanence refers to the understanding that objects continue to exist even when no longer in view. Need to distinguish between an action and the thing acted on.

Stage 1 (0-1 month)


Stage of reflex activity. Many reflexes like reaching, grasping sucking all operating independently. Objects like "sensory pictures". Subjectivity and objectivity fused. Schemes activated by chance: No intentionality.

Stage 2 (1-4 months)


Stage of Primary Circular Reactions. Infants behaviour, by chance, leads to an interesting result & is repeated. Circular: repetition. Primary: centre on infant's own body. Example: thumb-sucking.

Object concept at stage 2


Passive expectation: if object disappears, infant will continue looking to the location where it disappeared, but will not search. In the infant mind, the existence of the object still very closely tied to schemes applied to experience

Intentions at stage 2
Intentionality beginning to emerge: infant can now self-initiate certain schemes (e.g., thumb-sucking)

Stage 3 (4-8 months)


Stage of Secondary Circular Reactions Repetition of simple actions on external objects. Example: bang a toy to make a noise.

Intentionality at stage 3
Poor understanding of the connection between causes and effect limits their ability to act intentionality. Magical causality accidentally banging toy makes many interesting things happen

Object concept at stage 3


Visual anticipation. If infant drops an object, and it disappears, the infant will visually search for it. Will also search for partially hidden objects But will not search for completely hidden objects.

Stage 4 (8-12 months)


Co-ordination of secondary circular reactions. Secondary schemes combined to create new action sequences.

Intentionality at Stage 4
First appearance of intentional or in Piagets terms, means-end behavior. Infant learns to use one secondary scheme (e.g., pulling a towel) in order that another secondary scheme can be activated (e.g., reaching and grasping a toy)

Object concept at stage 4


Infant will search for hidden objects. Does infant understand the object as something that exists separate from the scheme applied to find the object? No. Evidence? A not B error.

The A not B task The A not B task

A trials

The A not B task The A not B task

A trials

The A not B task The A not B task

A trials

The A not B task The A not B task

A trials

The A not B task The A not B task

A trials

The A not B task The A not B task

A trials

The A not B task The A not B task

B trials

The A not B task The A not B task

B trials

The A not B task


??

B trials

A not B error
Infant continues to search at the first hiding location after object is hidden in the new location. Object still subjectively understood. Object remains associated with a previously successful scheme.

Stage 5 (12-18 months)


Stage of Tertiary Circular Reactions. Actions varied in an experimental fashion. Pursuit of novelty New means are discovered. Limited to physical actions taken on objects

Object concept at stage 5.


Can solve A not B. Cannot solve A not B with invisible displacement (Example from Piaget).

Stage 5 and invisible displacement


Can only imagine the object as existing where it was last hidden. Invisible displacement requires the infant to mentally calculate the new location of the object.

Stage 6 (18-24 months)


Can solve object search with invisible displacement. Infants now mentally represent physically absent objects. Understands object as something that exists independently of sensory-motor action.

Stage 6 (18-24 months)


Sensori-motor period culminates with the emergence of the Symbolic function An idea or mental image is used to stand-in for a perceptually absent object Trial-and-error problem solving does not need to enacted but can undertaken through mental combination.

Summary
Sensori-motor period culminates in the emergence of symbolic representation. Object permanence understood. Basic means-ends skills have emerged.

Piaget Part 2
Beyond the sensorimotor period

III: The pre-operational period


Symbolic thought without operations. Operations: logical principles that are applied to symbols rather than objects. 3 examples: reversibility, compensation, and identity In the absence of operations, thinking is governed more by appearance than logical necessity.

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation


Conservation of liquid

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation


Why do pre-operational children fail problems of conservation? Because their thinking is not governed by principles of reversibility, compensation and identity

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation


Reversibility: The pouring of water into the small container can be reversed.

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation


Compensation: A decrease in the height of the new container is compensated by an increase in its width

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation


Identity: No amount of liquid has been added or taken away.

Pre-operational thinking and problems of conservation


Why do pre-operational children fail problems of conservation? Because their thinking is not governed by principles of reversibility, compensation and identity If children applied these principles, they would conclude liquid is conserved

Characteristics of Pre-Operational Thinking


Not governed by logical operations Consequently, it appears egocentric (e.g., 3 mountains task) and intuitive (e.g., conservation tasks)

3 Mountains Task

Doll 1

Doll 2

Child

3 Mountains Task

Doll 1

Doll 2

Child

Characteristics of Pre-Operational Thinking


(1) Egocentric (2) Intuitive problem solving is not reasoned or logical

Nature of intuitive reasoning


No reversibility Cannot mentally undo a given action. Perceptual centration Focus on only one dimension of a problem. States versus transformations Transformations relating different states ignored.

What makes Pre-operational thinking stage-like?


Because it appears to be a general characteristic of childrens thinking at this age.

What makes Pre-operational thinking stage-like?


Because it appears to be a general characteristic of childrens thinking at this age. Examples: (1) Other conservation problems.

Conservation of mass

Conservation of mass

Conservation of mass

What makes Pre-operational thinking stage-like?


Because it appears to be a general characteristic of childrens thinking at this age. Examples: (1) Other conservation problems.

What makes Pre-operational thinking stage-like?


Because it appears to be a general characteristic of childrens thinking at this age. Examples: (1) Other conservation problems. (2) Emotion reasoning.

Emotion reasoning

What makes Pre-operational thinking stage-like?


Because it appears to be a general characteristic of childrens thinking at this age. Examples: (1) Other conservation problems. (2) Emotion reasoning. (3) Moral reasoning.

What makes Pre-operational thinking stage-like?


Because it appears to be a general characteristic of childrens thinking at this age. Examples: (1) Other conservation problems. (2) Emotion reasoning. (3) Moral reasoning. focus on consequences

IV: Concrete operational thinking (7-12 years)


Qualitatively different reasoning in conservation problems. Flexible and decentered. Co-ordination of multiple dimensions. Logical vs. empirical problem solving. Reversibility. Awareness of transformations.

IV: Concrete operational thinking (7-12 years)


Physical operations now internalized and have become cognitive Still, logic directed at physical or concrete problems

Horizontal decalage
Different conservation problems solved at different ages. Some claim it is a threat to Piagets domain general view of cognitive development Example: volume vs mass But, invariant sequence observed.

V: Formal operations
Thought no longer applied strictly to concrete problems. Directed inward: thought becomes the object of thought. Advances in use of deductive and inductive logic

V: Formal operations
Deductive thought in period of concrete operations confined to familiar everyday experience: If Sam steals Tims toy, then how will Tim feel? Formal operations: If we could eliminate injustice, would the world live in peace? Thinking goes beyond experience, more abstract

Inductive reasoning
Example: Pendulum problem Scientific thinking: from specific observations to general conclusions through hypothesis-testing

Inductive reasoning
Example: Pendulum problem

How fast?

Inductive reasoning
Formal operational children will systematically test all possibilities before arriving at a conclusion

VI: Evaluating Piaget


Difficult. An enormous theory. Covers many ages and issues in development.

Strengths
Active rather than passive view of the child. Revealed important invariants in cognitive development. Errors informative. Perceptual-motor learning rather than language important for development. Tasks.

Weaknesses
The competence-performance distinction

Competence
Knowledge, rules, and concepts that form the basis of cognition. Inferred from behaviour.

Performance
Energy level, interest, attention, language skills, motivation etc. Factors that effect the expression of a competence.

Competence-performance distinction.
Piaget attributed infants success (or lack of success) to competence. However, he gave no consideration to performance factors that may have constrained the expression of knowledge. Example: A not B

Performance-competence distinction and A not B


A not B errors thought to indicate poor understanding of objects. However, motor components of the task may constrain the expression of infants knowledge. Example: Baillergeon. Object permanence observed in 5 montholds using a looking time task.

Other examples
Borke (1975) & the 3 mountains task. Bruner (1966) & the liquid conservation task.
More detailed task analysis required.

Stages?
Stage like progression only observed if one assumes a bird-eye view. Closer inspection reveals more continuous changes (Siegler, 1988).

Summary
Piagets theory is wide-ranging and influential. Source of continued controversy. People continue to address many of the questions he raised, but using different methods and concepts.