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Theories of Development Cognitive Development • Early psychologists believed that children were not capable of meaningful thought and that there actions were purely random • This view was changed by Swiss psychologists Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) who believed that indeed children are capable of meaningful thought and that their actions were intentional • He proposed his theory of cognitive development which is today will very relevant to psychology Key Principles of Piaget’s Theory • Piaget proposed that cognitive development occurs as we explore and adapt to our changing world • He described the process of adaptation as the use of the environment to learn and make adjustments to our understanding • According to Piaget, adjustment occurs through two processes: – Assimilation – Accomodation Assimilation • The process of taking in new information and making it a part of an existing mental idea • It is making sense of new information using existing information • An example: – A child who calls all large, metal moving object “cars” because this is the only vehicle that they are otherwise familiar with – A child who calls all medium sized furry animals “dogs” because this is the only animal that they are familiar with Accommodation • Sometimes we can’t just assimilate new information into existing ideas and we need to change the existing idea to meet the new information • Accommodation refers to changing an existing mental idea to fit new information • Involves restructuring existing ideas and is therefore more complicated than assimilation • An example: – A child realises that a bus behaves differently to a car and so reorganises there ideas to include the notion that there are different vehicles that do different jobs. Schemas • Piaget believed that assimilation and accommodation are a part of behaviour and allow a child to develop and adapt to their world. • He also believed that assimilation and accommodation lead to the formation of schemas- mental representations of things and what they are. We form schemata through experience and constantly modify and change them using assimilation and accommodation. Cognitive Development • Cognitive development continues throughout the lifespan. • From the time we are born, we encounter new situations and information. We try to understand and make sense of these experiences by assimilating them into our existing schemata of the world. If we are unable to assimilate these experiences we are forced to accommodate (or else ignore) them. In this way, we continually modify our existing ideas of the world. • According to Piaget, this ongoing process forms the basis for the development of our cognitive abilities. Piaget’s 4 Stage Theory • Piaget proposed that we move through 4 distinct stages in our cognitive development • Each stage is associated with a particular age although there is some individual variation • Piaget proposed that each stage must be progressed through in order- an individual cannot skip stages • Each stage describes the thinking capable by an individual stage in that stage • Piaget also outlined key accomplishments that occur at each stage and that may signal an individuals progression into the next stage. Stage 1: Sensorimotor Stage • Birth to 2 Years • Infants understand their world by connecting sensory experiences with motor abilities • Accomplishments: – Object Permanence: object still exist even when they cannot be seen or touched (object permanence task) – Goal Directed Behaviour: behaviour carried out with a particular purpose in mind Stage 2: Pre-operational Stage • 2 – 7 years • Characterised by the ability think more complexly and internalise events i.e. Imagine things in their minds Accomplishments: -Egocentrism: capable of seeing the world from their own perspective only (mountain task) -Animism: everything that exists has some form of consciousness e.g. The snow man was described as “hurt” and “sick” by these children Stage 2: Pre-opertational Stage • Accomplishment continued: – Transformation: understanding that something can change from form to another – Centration: the ability to focus only on one aspect or feature at a time (counter task) e.g. When asked if the long row of 6 counters had more counters than the 6 counters bunched up this 5 year old would say yes (counter task) – Reversibilty: the ability to follow a line of reasoning back to its starting point Stage 3: Concrete Operational Stage • 7 to 12 years • Thinking revolves around what they can “see”; that is, what is “concrete” • Accomplishments: – Conservation: the understanding that an object does not change its weight, mass, volume or area when the object changes its shape or appearance • Conservation of Volume- (beaker task) • Conservation of Mass- (play dough task) – Classification: the ability to organise information into categories based on similarities (classification task) Stage 4: Formal Operational Stage • 12 years and over • Evidence of complex thought processes and more sophisticated thinking • Accomplishments: – Abstract Thinking: an individual does not need to see or visualise things in order to understand them e.g. Do you understand the concept honesty? Or can you answer the questions “what is the different between the brain and the mind?” – Logical Thinking: an individual is able to develop strategies to solve problems and test these strategies – Idealistic Thinking: Aspire to be the “ideal”, have dreams for the future and set goals Strengths of Piaget’s Theory • Many aspects of Piaget’s theory have been supported by a great body of research conducted by many different psychologists over time • His theory has had useful applications to education and the “readiness” of children to start to learn to read, write and study mathematics. His theory is also used be educators to develop appropriates learning tasks for students at the different stages of their development and schooling. Criticisms of Piaget’s Theory • However research has suggested that Piaget underestimated the abilities of children. • The gaps missed by Piaget are thought to be the result of the methods he used to study children. As research has become more sophisticated researchers have been able to better measure the abilities of infants. • See Box 5.12. Criticisms of Piaget’s Theory • It has been found that preoperational children are able to correctly complete conservation tasks when these tasks are modified in small ways. • It is also believed that Piaget overestimated children’s language abilities. It appears that for some tasks the children do not lack the cognitive ability to complete the task but rathe r the ability to communicate this understanding or fully comprehend the task in the first place. • Piaget’s theory was also based on a very small sample size and he often studies only his own three children.