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Piaget’s two Cognitive
Cognitive theories
Looks at conscious thoughts
Piaget’s cognitive development theory
Vygotsky’s social-cultural cognitive theory
Information-processing approach
Piaget’s Two Cognitive Processes
• Look at the back of the iceberg handout
• Jean Piaget’s theory states that children actively construct their understanding of the
world and go through 4 stages of cognitive development
• Organization and adaption – to make sense of our world, we organize our experience. For
example: we separate important ideas from less important ideas
• We also adapt our thinking to include new ideas – assimilation and accommodation
• Occurs when individuals incorporate new information into their existing
• Make a decision of how to fit new information into the old structure
• Occurs when individuals adjust to new information
• Change the structure to allow for new information to fit in
• A child seeing a zebra for the first time and calling it a horse. The child assimilates this information into her
schema for a horse. When the child accommodates information, she takes into consideration the different
properties of a zebra compared to a horse, perhaps calling a zebra a horse with stripes. When she eventually
learns the name of zebra, she has accommodated this information.
• A mental representation, or schema of a certain group of people (a racist schema) -- your whole life you
grew up with those around you just adding more and more information to that schema that made sense to
you (assimilation) -- you only notice information that fits your schema (assimilation) and confirms it -- then
you get to college and actually meet people from that group and realize what you have learned from real
interactions requires a radical reorganization of your schema
regarding that group (accommodation). Your new schema is completely different, not just full of additional
• Learning progresses from one stage to the next, from reflex to determined behaviour as information is first
assimilated and then accommodated
Example of Assimilation
• A 2 year old child sees a man who is bald on top of his head and has long frizzy hair on the
sides. To his father’s horror, the toddler shouts “Clown, clown” (Siegler et al., 2003).
Example of Accommodation
• In the “clown” incident, the boy’s father explained to his son that the man was not a clown
and that even though his hair was like a clown’s, he wasn’t wearing a funny costume and
wasn’t doing silly things to make people laugh.
• With this new knowledge, the boy was able to change his schema of “clown” and make this
idea fit better to a standard concept of “clown”.
What Piaget thought:
• He thought that assimilation and accommodation operate even in the very
young infant’s life
Piaget’s Four Stages of
Cognitive Development
Page 48 in your textbook
Piaget's Theory Differs From Others In
Several Ways:
• It is concerned with children, rather than all learners.
• It focuses on development, rather than learning per se, so it does not address learning of information or specific behaviors.
• It proposes discrete stages of development, marked by qualitative differences, rather than a gradual increase in number and
complexity of behaviors, concepts, ideas, etc.
• The goal of the theory is to explain the mechanisms and processes by which the infant, and then the child, develops into an
individual who can reason and think using hypotheses.
• To Piaget, cognitive development was a progressive reorganization of mental processes as a result of biological maturation
and environmental experience. Children construct an understanding of the world around them, then experience
discrepancies between what they already know and what they discover in their environment.
For this theory
• Read the textbook and write notes on your own
Summary of all stages
• 4 stages of understanding the world
• Different way of understanding the world that makes one stage more
advanced than another; knowing more information does not make the child’s
thinking more advanced
Sensorimotor stage
• Birth – 2 years
• First stage
• Infants construct an understanding of the world by coordinating sensory
experiences (seeing and hearing) with physical, motoric actions. This is where
the term sensorimotor comes from
• Their discovery stage
• They learn through trial and error
• If you place a toy under a blanket the child who has achieved object
permanence (knowing that an object still exists – child forms mental
representation of the object) knows it is there and can seek it
• The attainment of object permanence signals the transition to the next stage
of development
Blanket and Ball study
• Aim: Piaget (1963) wanted to investigate at what age children acquire object
• Method: Piaget hid a toy under a blanket, while the child was watching, and
observed whether or not the child searched for the hidden toy. Searching for the
hidden toy was evidence of object permanence. Piaget assumed that the child could
only search for a hidden toy if s/he had a mental representation of it.
• Results: Piaget found that infants searched for the hidden toy when they were
around 8-months-old.
• Conclusion: Children around 8 months have object permanence because they are
able to form a mental representation of the object in their minds.
Video of Blanket and Ball study
Preoperational stage
• 2-7 years of age
• Children begin to represent the world with words, images, and drawings
• They lack the ability to perform operations – internalized mental actions that
allow children to do mentally what they previously did physically
• The why stage
The concrete operational stage
• 7-11 years old
• Children can perform operations and logical reasoning replaces intuitive
thought, as long as reasoning can be applied to specific or concrete examples
• Example: concrete operational thinkers cannot imagine the steps necessary
to complete an algebraic equation
• Filling up 2 glasses with water – big glass / small glass (same amount of
water) – which one would a kid pick?
The formal operational stage
• 11-15 years of age
• Individuals move beyond concrete experiences and think in abstract and
more logical terms
• Adolescents develop images of ideal circumstances and begin to entertain
possibilities for the future.
• More systematic, develop hypotheses about why something happens and
then test hypotheses
• 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 (Inhelder & Piaget, 1958). 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.
• 1. Falling Temperature
2. Two Under Par
3. Fat Chance
4. Broken Heart
5. Hot Under the Collar
6. Head in the Sand
Now you try…
• Try figuring out the following wuzzle puzzles
Vygotsky’s SocialCultural Cognitive
• Explained on your iceberg handout
Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)
• Believed that children actively construct their knowledge
• But Vygotsky gave social interaction and culture far more important roles in
cognitive development than Piaget did
• Vygotsky’s theory – social-cultural cognitive theory that emphasizes how culture and social
interaction guide cognitive development
• Portrayed the child’s development as inseparable from social and cultural activities
• He believed that the development of memory, attention, and reasoning involves
learning to use the inventions of society
• Theory thought that knowledge is situated and collaborative
• Knowledge is not generated from within the individual but constructed
through interaction with other people, objects in culture
• He believed that the community plays a central role in the process of
“making meaning”
• He thought that social learning tends to come before development
• Vygotsky places emphasis on culture affecting or shaping cognitive
• Emphasis on social factors
• For example, a child might be shown pennies to represent each sound in a word
(e.g., three pennies for the three sounds in “man”). To master this word, the child
might be asked to place a penny on the table to show each sound in a word, and
finally the child might identify the sounds without the pennies. When the adult
provides the child with pennies, the adult provides a scaffold to help the child move
from assisted to unassisted success at the task (Spector, 1992). In a high school
laboratory science class, a teacher might provide scaffolding by first giving students
detailed guides to carrying out experiments, then giving them brief outlines that
they might use to structure experiments, and finally asking them to set up
experiments entirely on their own.
Video to explain