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  • Piaget's theory of cognitive development Piaget's theory of cognitive development is

  • a comprehensive theory about the nature and development of human intelligence, first developed

  • by Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget . It is primarily known as a developmental

  • stage theory but, in fact, it deals with the nature of knowledge itself and how humans

  • come gradually to acquire, construct, and use it. To Piaget, cognitive development was

  • a progressive reorganization of mental processes as a result of biological maturation and environmental

  • experience. Accordingly, children construct an understanding of the world around them,

  • then experience discrepancies between what they already know and what they discover in

  • their environment. Moreover, Piaget claimed the idea that cognitive development is at

  • the center of human organism, and language is contingent on cognitive development. Below

  • is a short description of Piaget's views about the nature of intelligence, followed by a

  • description of the stages through which it develops until maturity.

  • Nature of intelligence: operative and figurative Piaget noted reality in the sense of as a

  • dynamic system of continuous change and, as such, is defined in reference to the two conditions

  • that define dynamic systems. Specifically, he argued that reality involves transformations

  • and states. Transformations refer to all manners of changes that a thing or person can undergo.

  • States refer to the conditions or the appearances in which things or persons can be found between

  • transformations. For example, there might be changes in shape or form (for instance,

  • liquids are reshaped as they are transferred from one vessel to another, humans change

  • in their characteristics as they grow older), in size (for example, a series of coins on

  • a table might be placed close to each other or far apart), or in placement or location

  • in space and time (e.g., various objects or persons might be found at one place at one

  • time and at a different place at another time). Thus, Piaget argued, if human intelligence

  • is to be adaptive, it must have functions to represent both the transformational and

  • the static aspects of reality. He proposed that operative intelligence is responsible

  • for the representation and manipulation of the dynamic or transformational aspects of

  • reality, and that figurative intelligence is responsible for the representation of the

  • static aspects of reality. Operative intelligence is the active aspect

  • of intelligence. It involves all actions, overt or covert, undertaken in order to follow,

  • recover, or anticipate the transformations of the objects or persons of interest. Figurative

  • intelligence is the more or less static aspect of intelligence, involving all means of representation

  • used to retain in mind the states (i.e., successive forms, shapes, or locations) that intervene

  • between transformations. That is, it involves perception, imitation, mental imagery, drawing,

  • and language. Therefore, the figurative aspects of intelligence derive their meaning from

  • the operative aspects of intelligence, because states cannot exist independently of the transformations

  • that interconnect them. Piaget stated that the figurative or the representational aspects

  • of intelligence are subservient to its operative and dynamic aspects, and therefore, that understanding

  • essentially derives from the operative aspect of intelligence.

  • At any time, operative intelligence frames how the world is understood and it changes

  • if understanding is not successful. Piaget stated that this process of understanding

  • and change involves two basic functions: assimilation and accommodation.

  • Assimilation and accommodation Through his study of the field of education,

  • Piaget focused on two processes, which he named assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation

  • describes how humans perceive and adapt to new information. It is the process of fitting

  • new information into pre-existing cognitive schemas. Assimilation occurs when humans are

  • faced with new or unfamiliar information and refer to previously learned information in

  • order to make sense of it. Unlike it, accommodation is the process of taking new information in

  • one's environment and altering pre-existing schemas in order to fit in the new information.

  • Through a series of stages, Piaget explains the ways in which characteristics are constructed

  • that lead to specific types of thinking. This chart is called cognitive development. To

  • Piaget, assimilation is integrating external elements into structures of lives or environments,

  • or those we could have through experience. It is through assimilation that accommodation

  • is derived. Accommodation is imperative because it is how people will continue to interpret

  • new concepts, schemas, frameworks, and more. Assimilation is different from accommodation

  • by how it relates to the inner organism due to the environment. Piaget believes that the

  • human brain has been programmed through evolution to bring equilibrium, which is what Piaget

  • believes ultimately influences structures by the internal and external processes through

  • assimilation and accommodation. Piaget's understanding is that these two functions

  • cannot exist without the other. To assimilate an object into an existing mental schema,

  • one first needs to take into account or accommodate to the particularities of this object to a

  • certain extent. For instance, to recognize (assimilate) an apple as an apple, one must

  • first focus (accommodate) on the contour of this object. To do this, one needs to roughly

  • recognize the size of the object. Development increases the balance, or equilibration, between

  • these two functions. When in balance with each other, assimilation and accommodation

  • generate mental schemas of the operative intelligence. When one function dominates over the other,

  • they generate representations which belong to figurative intelligence.

  • Sensorimotor stage The sensorimotor stage is the first of the

  • four stages in cognitive development which "extends from birth to the acquisition of

  • language". In this stage, infants progressively construct knowledge and understanding of the

  • world by coordinating experiences (such as vision and hearing) with physical interactions

  • with objects (such as grasping, sucking, and stepping). Infants gain knowledge of the world

  • from these physical actions they perform within it. They progress from reflexive, instinctual

  • action at birth to the beginning of symbolic thought toward the end of the stage.

  • The child learns that he/she is separate from the environment and that aspects of the environment

  • continue to exist, even though they may be outside the reach of the child's senses. In

  • this stage, according to Piaget, the development of object permanence is one of the most important

  • accomplishments. Object permanence is a child’s understanding that objects continue to exist

  • even though they cannot be seen or heard. Piaget divided the sensorimotor stage into

  • six sub-stages". By the end of the sensorimotor period, the

  • child sees objects as both separate from the self, and permanent.

  • Pre-operational stage Piaget's second stage, the pre-operational

  • stage, starts when the child begins to learn to speak at age two and lasts up until the

  • age of seven. During the Pre-operational Stage of cognitive development, Piaget noted that

  • children do not yet understand concrete logic and cannot mentally manipulate information.

  • Children’s increase in playing and pretending takes place in this stage. However, the child

  • still has trouble seeing things from different points of view. The children's play is mainly

  • categorized by symbolic play and manipulating symbols. Such play is demonstrated by the

  • idea of checkers being snacks, pieces of paper being plates, and a box being a table. Their

  • observations of symbols exemplifies the idea of play with the absence of the actual objects

  • involved. By observing sequences of play, Piaget was able to demonstrate that, towards

  • the end of the second year, a qualitatively new kind of psychological functioning occurs,

  • known as the Pre-operational Stage. The pre-operational stage is sparse and logically

  • inadequate in regard to mental operations. The child is able to form stable concepts

  • as well as magical beliefs. The child, however, is still not able to perform operations, which

  • are tasks that the child can do mentally, rather than physically. Thinking in this stage

  • is still egocentric, meaning the child has difficulty seeing the viewpoint of others.

  • The Pre-operational Stage is split into two substages: the symbolic function substage,

  • and the intuitive thought substage. The symbolic function substage is when children are able

  • to understand, represent, remember, and picture objects in their mind without having the object

  • in front of them. The intuitive thought substage is when children tend to propose the questions

  • of "why?" and "how come?" This stage is when children want the knowledge of knowing everything.

  • Symbolic function substage At about two to four years of age, children

  • cannot yet manipulate and transform information in a logical way. However, they now can think

  • in images and symbols. Other examples of mental abilities are language and pretend play. Symbolic

  • play is when children develop imaginary friends or role-play with friends. Children’s play

  • becomes more social and they assign roles to each other. Some examples of symbolic play

  • include playing house, or having a tea party. Interestingly, the type of symbolic play in

  • which children engage is connected with their level of creativity and ability to connect

  • with others. Additionally, the quality of their symbolic play can have consequences

  • on their later development. For example, young children whose symbolic play is of a violent

  • nature tend to exhibit less prosocial behavior and are more likely to display antisocial

  • tendencies in later years. In this stage, there are still limitations,

  • such as egocentrism and precausal thinking. Egocentrism occurs when a child is unable

  • to distinguish between their own perspective and that of another person. Children tend

  • to stick to their own viewpoint, rather than consider the view of others. Indeed, they

  • are not even aware that such a concept as "different viewpoints" exists. Egocentrism

  • can be seen in an experiment performed by Piaget and Swiss developmental psychologist

  • rbel Inhelder, known as the three-mountain problem. In this experiment, three views of

  • a mountain are shown to the child, who is asked what a traveling doll would see at the

  • various angles. The child will consistently describe what they can see from the position

  • from which they are seated, regardless of from what angle they are asked to take the

  • doll's perspective. Egocentrism would also cause a child to believe, "I like Sesame Street,

  • so Daddy must like Sesame Street, too". Similar to preoperational children's egocentric

  • thinking is their structuring of a cause and effect relationships. Piaget coined the term

  • "precausal thinking" to describe the way in which preoperational children use their own

  • existing ideas or views, like in egocentrism, to explain cause-and-effect relationships.

  • Three main concepts of causality as displayed by children in the preoperational stage include:

  • animism, artificialism and transductive reasoning. Animism is the belief that inanimate objects

  • are capable of actions and have lifelike qualities. An example could be a child believing that

  • the sidewalk was mad and made them fall down, or that the stars twinkle in the sky because

  • they are happy. Artificialism refers to the belief that environmental characteristics

  • can be attributed to human actions or interventions. For example, a child might say that it is

  • windy outside because someone is blowing very hard, or the clouds are white because someone

  • painted them that color. Finally, precausal thinking is categorized by transductive reasoning.

  • Transductive reasoning is when a child fails to understand the true relationships between

  • cause and effect. Unlike deductive or inductive reasoning (general to specific, or specific

  • to general), transductive reasoning refers to when a child reasons from specific to specific,

  • drawing a relationship between two separate events that are otherwise unrelated. For example,

  • if a child hears the dog bark and then a balloon popped, the child would conclude that because

  • the dog barked, the balloon popped. Intuitive thought substage

  • At between about the ages of 4 and 7, children tend to become very curious and ask many questions,

  • beginning the use of primitive reasoning. There is an emergence in the interest of reasoning

  • and wanting to know why things are the way they are. Piaget called it the "intuitive

  • substage" because children realize they have a vast amount of knowledge, but they are unaware

  • of how they acquired it. Centration, conservation, irreversibility, class inclusion, and transitive

  • inference are all characteristics of preoperative thought.

  • Centration is the act of focusing all attention on one characteristic or dimension of a situation,

  • whilst disregarding all others. Conservation is the awareness that altering a substance's

  • appearance does not change its basic properties. Children at this stage are unaware of conservation

  • and exhibit centration. Both centration and conservation can be more easily understood

  • once familiarized with Piaget's most famous experimental task.

  • In this task, a child is presented with two identical beakers containing the same amount

  • of liquid. The child usually notes that the beakers do contain the same amount of liquid.

  • When one of the beakers is poured into a taller and thinner container, children who are younger

  • than seven or eight years old typically say that the two beakers no longer contain the

  • same amount of liquid, and that the taller container holds the larger quantity (centration),

  • without taking into consideration the fact that both beakers were previously noted to

  • contain the same amount of liquid. Due to superficial changes, the child was unable

  • to comprehend that the properties of the substances continued to remain the same (conservation).

  • Irreversibility