University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Theory
The Cognitive Development Theory was first identified by Jean Piaget. Jean Piaget was born on August 9, 1896 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Piaget became well known by the many papers he published throughout his late teen years. Once graduating from the University of Neuchâtel, he received his Ph.D. in natural science and published two philosophical essay concerning adolescence. These two essays later became the general orientation for the first publication of the Cognitive Development Theory. According to the Jean Piaget Society by Les Smith, Piaget was married to Valentine Châtenay and soon after had three children. These children where primary examples of the study Piaget was doing concerning with the development from infancy to language. After the age of eighty-five, the Swiss psychologist died in Geneva on 1980, making him one of the most significant psychologists of the twentieth century. The objective of the theory was, and still is, the explanation by which the process of an infant, and then child develops into an adult that can both reason and comprehend.
Saul McLeod published an article, “Jean Piaget”, in the website Simply Psychology, where he quoted Piaget, “Cognitive development is a progressive reorganization of mental processes as a result of biological maturation and environmental experience. Children construct an understanding of the world around them, [and] then experience discrepancies between what they already know and what they discover in their environment” (McLeod 2). There are three basic components to Piaget’s Cognitive Theory: Schemas, the four processes that enable the transition from one stage to another, and the four stages of cognitive development. When starting with the Schema, Piaget described this word as a basic building block of intelligent behavior that a person would use by forming information using what the person saw, heard, smelled and touched. In the article, “Jean Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development”, from ICELS.ca Blog explains how a schema can be thought of as a unit of knowledge, relating to one aspect of the world including objects, actions, and abstract concepts (Unknown 4).
An example of schema is how a child will know how to grab his favorite rattle and put into his mouth because he has gained knowledge of what that object was used for. Dr. George Boeree, author of Jean Piaget, describes how a toddler that is introduced to a new object will use his “grab and thrust” schema. Dr. Boeree calls this assimilation; the toddler is relating the old schema onto the new object (Boeree 3). The child after knowing how to react with his rattle is then puzzled with the new object in front of him, he does not know how to react and therefore uses the same schema as he would with the rattle, putting the object into his mouth. However if the existing schema does not work, the toddler has to find a new approach, this is known as accommodation.
Accommodation occurs when there has been an unpleasant state of disequilibrium. Equilibrium occurs when a child’s schemas can deal with most new information through assimilation. McLeod clarifies the steps in as the four processes than enable the transition from one cognitive stage to another:
When Piaget continued to study the each of these steps more carefully, he began to see similarities between most of the children in their nature and their timing. This became the development of the stages of cognitive development.
The first stage of the cognitive development is the sensorimotor stage which can be found from the ages of zero until approximately two. In this stage the key feature is object permanence meaning how the infant uses his senses and motor abilities to understand the world. In the article, “Development of using experimenter-given cues in infant chimpanzees: longitudinal change in behavior and cognitive development”, found in Developmental Science, author Sanae Okamoto-Barth states, “Jean Piaget conducted experiments with human infants which led him to conclude that object permanence was typically achieved around seven to eight months of age” ( Okamoto-Barth 100). He clarifies how this cognitive skill develops in infants through a fixed series of steps with characteristic transitional errors. Throughout this stage there are three reactions that occur: primary circular reaction, secondary circular reaction, and tertiary circular reaction.
Between the age of one to four months, the child has the primary circular reaction. In this reaction the child responds with the same action with the object. Dr. Boeree uses the example of a baby sucking on her them, because it feels good she continues to do it (Boeree 3). Between four to twelve months the infant now uses secondary circulation which involves with the infants surroundings. Dr. Boeree’s example is a rubber ducky that the infant squeezes; the duck makes a “quack” entertaining the infant and wanting to continue the squeezing in order to get the same response again. As Okamoto-Barth stated this is the part in which object permanence is found. This ability can be recognized when the infant understands that just because an object is out of sight it does not been that it is gone, non-existent. The experiment used to know if the child had this ability was by doing the Blanket and Ball Experiment (McLeod 4). In this experiment Piaget would have a ball in front of the child and once the child got interested with the ball, he would cover it up with the blanket.
The deal was to know if the child still believed in the existence on the ball or if he believed it was gone and no longer existed. Infants of a younger age would go about and entertain themselves with different objects in their surroundings, while infants that achieved object permanence would uncover the blanket and find the ball. The third reaction found in the sensorimotor stage is the tertiary circular reaction. This can be found from the ages of one to two. This is when they start to perform trial-and-error experimentations. An example of this reaction would be when a child may try out different sounds or actions as a way of getting attention from his caregiver (Unknown 4). Children also begin to develop symbols to represent events or objects and during this time the child is quickly moving towards the mental representation and mental combination (Okamoto 105). In this occasion, the infant becomes outstanding in pretending. For example the infant will now talk, feed, and play with a doll unlike before where she would just suck on it or throw it around. Once these examples are shown in an infant, the preoperational stage is now in place.
The preoperational stage happens during the ages of two to seven. Although the child cannot think logically yet, he is acquiring language in a fast pace and is able to represent the work through mental images and symbols. However these images and symbols are only on his perception. The key feature in this stage is egocentrism. Egocentric is when a child sees things pretty much from one point of view, his own (Boeree 4). Piaget used the experiment of the Three Mountains in order to see if the child is in the preoperational stage or has advanced into the next stage. In this experiment children were asked to choose a picture that showed the scene which they had observed as well as a picture in which what Piaget had seen. Children almost always chose their own view of the mountain. According to McLeod, children experienced this task difficult because they are unable to take on another person’s perspective (McLeod 4). In this stage children also develop curiosity and the questions begin. Children tend to make up explanations when they do not have an answer because they only know so little of the world.
The third stage of the cognitive theory is the concrete operation stage which varies from the ages of seven to eleven. In this stage logic begins to play a part in the child’s life. Piaget defines a mental operation as an interiorized action, an action performed in the mind (McLeod 4). The mental operations allow the child to think about what he has done or will do. This also permits the child to have the ability to count from one to ten. The key feature in this stage is conservation and the experiment behind this is the Conservation of Numbers. According to Dr. Boeree, conservation refers to the idea that a quality remains the same despite changes in appearance (Boeree 5). The experiment that Piaget conducted was putting four marbles in a row and four below those. The child would then see that the marbles were the same distance from each other and say they were identical. However, on the other side the top row would have more distance between each other than the bottom. A child that was still in the preoperational stage would look at this and believe that that row had more than all the others. On the other hand, a concrete operations child would know that there are still four marbles and that the extent ion of the distance between each marble did not make a difference.
Children learn to understand numbers, mass, area, weight, and volume; although they may not be able to achieve them all at the same time (McLeod 6). They can now mentally reverse the direction of their thoughts and learn how to add and subtract. The child can memorize and trace his way home or remember where was the last place they left an object.
Finally, the formal operational stage is the last stage of the cognitive development. This stage begins at the age of eleven on to adulthood. During this time, people develop the ability to sustain abstract concepts, such as logical thoughts, deductive reasoning, and systematic planning (Okamoto 108). The person can now comprehend all the possible ways in which he can solve a problem and can approach it in different points of view. The experiment done in this stage is the Pendulum Task, and it is used to find the key feature of manipulation of ideas in the head, such as abstract reasoning. The pendulum task consist of three factors, the length of the string, the heaviness of the weight, and the strength of the push in order to determine the speed of swing of the pendulum. The idea was to try the experimental method of using one same variable every time. If a teenager would tried different lengths with different weights is likely to be getting the wrong answer.
Dr. Boeree states that there are four possible ways: conjunction, disjunction, implication, and incompatibility. In this experiment, conjunction is when both the string’s length and the pendulum’s weight make a difference. Disjunction would be with it is either the length or the weight but not both. Implication is the formation of a hypothesis, if this happens then this will occur. Lately, incompatibility is when the cause does not make an effect that was first hypothesized. McLeod quotes, “Operate on operations not just concrete objects” (McLeod 6). This simply means that the person has developed an inner value system and a sense of moral judgment that will be necessary for life purposes.
When it comes to schools and learning abilities, harmless experiments can be used on a child in order to know what stage he or she is in and how the school administration, teachers, and other staffs can help the child out in his learning. At times a child that takes these experiments can excel and is then placed in a higher level where he or she can learn at his pace. When a child is put in a lower class level, he can tend to get bored and then will have no need no drive to want to excel to his abilities. These experiments can also help children when they have dyslexia and need accommodations for their learning skills. Knowing and understanding these stages is not only beneficial for the students and children but also for the adults. Parents, teachers, and other adults can understand how a child best learns and that way attend them with individual learning, flexibility in the curriculum, and play with them to increase the child’s learning development.
Jean Piaget was a curious person when it came to children and how they their minds developed. He has changed how people view the children’s world and the methods in which children are studied. His ideas were put to use to understand and be able to communication with children, pertaining to the educational field. In the cognitive development theory, schema occurs first followed by the four stages of development: Sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational.
Boeree, George C. “Jean Piaget.” Personality Theories (2006). Web. 21 Oct. 2013. http://www.piaget.org/aboutPiaget.html. McLeod, Saul. “Jean Piaget- Cognitive Theory.” Simply Psychology (2009). Web. 15 Oct. 2013. http://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html. Okamoto. Sanae Barth, et al. “Development Of Using Experimenter-Given Cues In Infant Chimpanzees: Longitudinal Changes In Behavior And Cognitive Development.” Developmental Science 11.1 (2008): 98-108. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. Unknown. “Jean Piaget’s Stage of Cognitive Development.” ICELS Blog (2013). Web. 21 Oct. 2013. http://www.icels-educators-for-learning.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46&Itemid=61.