Piagets Cognitive Theory
Cognitive development is the development of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision-making, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. Historically, the cognitive development of children has been studied in a variety of ways. The oldest is through intelligence tests. An example of this is the Stanford Binet Intelligence Quotient test. IQ scoring is based on the concept of mental age, according to which the scores of a child of average intelligence match his or her age. IQ tests are widely used in the United States, but they have been criticized for defining intelligence too narrowly. In contrast to the emphasis placed on a childs natural abilities by intelligence testing, learning theory grew out of work by behaviorist researchers such as John Broadus Watson and B.F. Skinner, who argued that children are completely malleable. Learning theory focuses on the role of environmental factors in shaping the intelligence of children, especially on a childs ability to learn by having certain behaviors rewarded and others discouraged. During the 1920s, a biologist named Jean Piaget proposed a theory of cognitive development of children. He caused a new revolution in thinking about how thinking develops. In 1984, Piaget observed that children understand concepts and reason differently at different stages. Piaget stated children’s cognitive strategies, which are used to solve problems, reflect an interaction between the childs current developmental stage and experience in the world.
Piaget was originally trained in areas of biology and philosophy and considered himself a kinetic 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. Piagets theory, first published in 1952, grew out of decades of extensive observation of children, including his own, in their natural environments as opposed to the laboratory experiments of the behaviorists. Although Piaget was interested in how children reacted to their environment, he proposed knowledge as composed of schemas, basic units of knowledge used to organize past experiences and serve as a basis for understanding new ones. Schemas are continually being modified by two complementary processes that Piaget termed assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation refers to the process by taking in new information by incorporating it into an existing schema. Not everything can be assimilated into existing schemas, though, and the process of accommodation must be used. In accommodation, existing schemas are modified or new schemas are created to process new information. According to Piaget, cognitive development involves an ongoing attempt to achieve a balance between assimilation and accommodation that he termed equilibration. He formulated a theory that systematically describes and explains how intellect develops. The basis of his theory is the principle that cognitive development occurs in a series of four distinct stages: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operations, and formal operations.
In the first, or sensorimotor, stage (birth to two years), knowledge is gained primarily through sensory impressions and motor activity. Through these two modes of learning, experienced both separately and in combination, infants gradually learn to control their own bodies and objects in the external world. Toward the end of Piagets career, he brought about the idea that action is actually the primary source of knowledge and that perception and language are more secondary roles. He claimed that action is not random, but has organization, as well as logic. Infants from birth to four months however, are incapable of thought and are unable to differentiate themselves from others or from the environment. To infants, objects only exist when they are insight therefore objects that are out of sight are out of mind. These infants are limited to motor reflexes, but gradually build on these reflexes to develop mote sophisticated procedures learns to generalize their activities to a wider range of situations. They learn to respond to and manipulate objects and to use them in goal-directed activity. The ultimate task for a child at this stage is to develop object permanence, which is the realization that objects and people continue to exist even when they are out of sight. This accomplishment marks the end of the sensorimotor stage.
From ages two to seven years, children are in Piagets third stage, the preoperational stage. This is a period of rapid development in language. Intelligence is demonstrated through the use of symbols and memory and imagination are developed. At this stage, thinking is still restricted. Egocentrism is predominant and they feel that everyone sees, thinks, and feels the same way they do. Children also show animistic thinking at this stage, believing that inanimate objects have feelings. A concept that is not reached yet at this age is conservation; they are not aware that a given quantity of matter remains the same if it is rearranged or changed in its appearance. Two restrictions in their thinking are centration and reversibility. Centration is the tendency to focus on only one dimension of a stimulus and ignore the other dimensions. Reversibility, which they have not yet developed, is the realization that after any change in its shape, position, or order, matter can be returned to its original state. Preoperational children also have difficulty categorizing similar objects together.
From ages 7 to 11 or 12 years, children go through the concrete operations stage. In this stage, children drift away from egocentric thinking and come to realize that people have different thoughts and feelings different from theirs. Furthermore, they can understand situations from the viewpoints of others. Intelligence is characterized by number, length, liquid, mass, weight, area, and volume. They can perform logical operations in relation to concrete external objects. They can now decipher their thinking, or focus on more than one dimension of a stimulus at a single time. They cannot solve abstract or hypothetical problems, however.
Piagets fourth and final stage, the formal operations stage, takes place from 11 or 12 to 18 and beyond. In early adolescent years, the development of the ability to reversibility and conservation to abstract, verbal, and hypothetical situations takes place. They also begin to make speculations about what might happen in the future. Adolescents are also capable of formulating and testing hypotheses, and dealing with abstract concepts like probability, ratio, and proportion. In this stage start the perception of analogies and the use of complex language forms such as metaphors and sarcasm. Teenagers can comprehend philosophy and politics and formulate theories of their own. Abstract concepts and moral values become as important as concrete objects.
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