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Stages of Cognitive Development

The Sensorimotor Stage

1. Piaget based the sensorimotor stage on his observations of his own children.

Reflexive- characterized by habitual and unthinking behavior; also :relating to or consisting of a reflex Reflex- noting or pertaining to an involuntary response to a stimulus, the nerve impulse from a receptor being transmitted inward to a nerve center that in turn transmits it outward to a n effector. Scheme-

Piaget's Developmental Model Piaget divided development into four stages and six substages. The first stage of development is the sensorimotor stage. This stage spans the period from birth to about 18 months. During this period of cognitive development children use their sensory and motor skills to get a feeling about the things that are in their environment. (Bee and Boyd, 2004, 149). Within this stage are five of the six substages of cognitive development that Piaget outlines. During the first month of life, substage one, the infant uses their reflexes, genetically programmed schemes, in order to explore their world. This includes sucking and looking. (Bee and Boyd, 2004, 149). During this substage the infant is not able to integrate input from more than one sense at a time, nor are they able to imitate what they observe yet. At about one month of age the infant enters into substage number two, primary circular reactions. (Bee and Boyd, 2004, 149). In this substage accommodation is used to integrate new information gained from their experiences with their environment into their pre-existing schemes. This integration is achieved through seemingly endless repetition of actions and reactions to stimuli. As accommodation occurs, schemes from a variety of senses are integrated and coordinated such as being able to look toward a sound. While the infant is obviously making cognitive strides at this point, they are still unaware that their bodily actions create a physical reaction outside of their body. Between four months and 8 months the third substage is entered and it is called secondary circular reaction. (Bee and Boyd, 2004). During this stage of cognitive development the infant becomes more aware of external factors such as movement and interactions between inanimate objects and their body movement. After making this connection the infant is able to recreate events over and over, such as kicking the side of the crib and making the hanging mobile over the crib giggle. Trial and error is a practice that is commonly used by infants in this substage. Imitation is even possible during this substage, however, it is limited to actions that are already in their set of schemes such as turning head, kicking their feet out, or grasping at objects. The fourth substage begins at 8 months and last through the infant's first birthday. This stage involves the coordination of secondary schemes. (Bee and Boyd, 2004). Unlike the previous substages, the infant is now intentionally displaying behaviors and movements to get what they want. This means-ends behavior demonstrates a developmental milestones that shows not only clear intention to act, but also the ability to utilize more than one scheme to get what is wanted. For example the baby may see a toy in their crib that is partially covered by a blanket. In order to get the toy they have to pull the blanket away and grasp for the toy in order to get it. The final substage in cognitive develop stage one is tertiary circular reaction. It occurs between 12 months and 18 months. (2004). During this substage the infant experiments with new different ways of manipulating toys and objects within their environment. This is a very active and purposeful phase where the child gathers a great deal of knowledge about their environment, how things interact with each other, and cause-and-effects.

The next major stage in Piaget's model of cognitive development is the Pre-operational stage. It occurs between 18 months and the age of six in most children. During this stage children learn to understand and use symbols. (Bee and Boyd, 2004, 149). This ability develops during substage six between the ages of 18 months and 2 years of age. During this time children realize that symbols represent physical objects in their environment and that it is separate from the object at this point. An example of this skill is that a child in this stage can point to a picture in a magazine or book and say what it is, and also point at the actual object and say what it is. They not only can distinguish two dimension symbols of three dimensional objects, they also know, or understand that the photograph or symbolic representation of an object is not the actual object. Logical thinking develops during cognitive development stage number three, concrete operational stage. (Bee and Boyd, 2004, 149). This stage occurs between the ages of 6 and 12 years of age. It is in this time period that children learn to think logically, and problem solve. The fourth and final stage of cognitive development proposed by Piaget is the formal operations stage. (Bee and Boyd, 2004, 149). It occurs during adolescents. During this stage children develop higher thinking skills like manipulation and organizing ideas, hypothetical situations, and objects in meaningful ways.

Preoperational Stage
Characteristics of the Preoperational Stage: The preoperational stage occurs roughly between the ages two and seven. Language development is one of the hallmarks of this period. Piaget noted that children in this stage do not yet understand concrete logic, cannot mentally manipulate information, and are unable to take the point of view of other people, which he termed egocentrism. During the preoperational stage, children also become increasingly adept at using symbols, as evidenced by the increase in playing and pretending. For example, a child is able to use an object to represent something else, such as pretending a broom is a horse. Role playing also becomes important during the preoperational stage. Children often play the roles of "mommy," "daddy," "doctor" and many other characters.

Egocentrism refers to the child's inability to see a situation from another person's point of view. According to Piaget, the egocentric child assumes that other people see, hear and feel exactly the same as the child does. Piaget wanted to find out at what age children decenter - i.e. become no longer egocentric. Another key featrure which children display duing this stage is animism. Animism is the belief that inanimate objects (such as toys and teddy bears) have human feelins and intenstions.

Concrete Operations Stage (7yrs-11yrs)

The Concrete Operations Stage, was Piaget's third stage of cognitive development in children. This stage was believed to have affected children aged between seven and eleven to twelve years old. During this stage, the thought process becomes more rational, mature and 'adult like', or more 'operational', Although this process most often continues well into the teenage years. The process is divided by Piaget into two stages, the Concrete Operations, and the Formal Operations stage, which is normally undergone by adolescents. In the Concrete Operational stage, the child has the ability to develop logical thought about an object, if they are able to manipulate it. By comparison, however, in the Formal Operations stage, the thoughts are able to be manipulated and the presence of the object is not necessary for the thought to take place. Belief in animism and ego centric thought tends to decline during the Concrete Operational stage, although, remnants of this way of thinking are often found in adults.

Piaget claims that before the beginning of this stage, children's ideas about different objects, are formed and dominated by the appearance of the object. For example, there appears to be more blocks when they are spread out, than when they are in a small pile. During the Concrete Operational Stage, children gradually develop the ability to 'conserve', or learn that objects are not always the way that they appear to be. This occurs when children are able to take in many different aspects of an object, simply through looking at it. Children are able to begin to imagine different scenarios, or 'what if' something were to happen. This is because they now have more 'operational' thought. Children are generally first able to conserve ideas about objects with which they are most comfortable. Once children have learnt to conserve, they learn about 'reversibility'. This means that they learn that if things are changed, they will still be the same as they used to be. For example, they learn that if they spread out the pile of blocks, there are still as many there as before, even though it looks different!

Formal Operational Stage

The formal operational stage (Piaget, 1927) begins at about age 11. As adolescents enter this stage, they gain the ability to think in an abstract manner, the ability to combine and classify items in a more sophisticated way, and the capacity for higher-order reasoning. At about age 11+ years, the child begins to manipulate ideas in its head, without any dependence on concrete manipulation; it has entered the formal operational stage. It can do mathematical calculations, think creatively, use abstract reasoning, and imagine the outcome of particular actions.

An example of the distinction between concrete and formal operational stages is the answer to the question If Kelly is taller than Ali and Ali is taller than Jo, who is tallest? This is an example of inferential reasoning, which is the ability to think about things which the child has not actually experienced and to draw conclusions from its thinking. The child who needs to draw a picture or use objects is still in the concrete operational stage, whereas children who can reason the answer in their heads are using formal operational thinking. Piaget devised several tests of formal operational thought. One of the simplest was the 'third eye problem'. Children were asked where they would put an extra eye, if they were able to have a third one, and why. Schaffer (1988) reported that when asked this question, 9-year-olds all suggested that the third eye should be on the forehead. However, 11-year-olds were more inventive, for example suggesting that a third eye placed on the hand would be useful for seeing round corners.

Formal operational thinking has also been tested experimentally using the pendulum task. The method involved a length of string and a set of weights. Participants had to consider three factors (variables) the length of the string, the heaviness of the weight and the strength of push. The task was to work out which factor was most important in determining the speed of swing of the pendulum. Participants can vary the length of the pendulum string, and vary the weight. They can measure the pendulum speed by counting the number of swings per minute. To find the correct answer the participant has to grasp the idea of the experimental method -that is to vary one variable at a time (e.g. trying different lengths with the same weight). A participant who tries different lengths with different weights is likely to end up with the wrong answer. Children in the formal operational stage approached the task systematically, testing one variable (such as varying the length of the string) at a time to see its effect. However, younger children typically tried out these variations randomly or changed two things at the same time. Piaget concluded that the systematic approach indicated the children were thinking logically, in the abstract, and could see the relationships between things. These are the characteristics of the formal operational stage.