How Do Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s Theories of Learning and Development Compare Regarding the Influences of Social Interactions in Children Cognitive Development?

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Human brain is often described as an amazing, perfect and complex creation that differentiates humans from the other species of the world. Its study has always been a challenge for both natural and humanitarian sciences. A lot of theorizing and scientific researches have been produced to map and explain not only its biological basis but also the complex and dynamic nature of its cognitive function. The dynamic and developing nature of cognition, especially in the critical period of childhood, is nowadays widely recognized and discussed in this essay. Namely it will first attempt to outline some general features of two of the four “grand” theories regarding child development. Regarding closely cognitive development, it will examine and evaluate the sound theories of J. Piaget and L. Vygotsky, prominent figures of constructivism and social constructivism respectively. It will then review some research to explore to what extent social interactions contribute to children’s cognitive development. Interpretations of the findings will be provided to point out common ground and differences between these theories with reference also to other researchers’ work. At the end, consideration about the reasons that led both theorists to articulate their theories and a brief evaluation about their applicability in the educational practice will be presented. J. Piaget through the lens of constructive perspective was the first theorist to acknowledge that children, exactly because they are in a course of development- a fluid and changing condition, have needs quite distinctive from these of adults, as far as the acquisition of knowledge and the way of thinking are concerned. Throughout observations and research works, he resulted into the conclusion that development itself is a constructive process. Children individuals are active agents acting upon a relatively stable, passive and objective environment and they develop by forming personalized perceptions of the surrounding world–the mental representations. By constant “rehearsal” of their actions and as they receive a feedback from environment, these mental representations become more and more refined and complicated. However, there is a prerequisite for this to happen and that is maturation, which is primarily characterized by the notion of de-centration. According to his position, infants are extremely egocentric, lacking the ability to understand what is happening outside their own world or to have a theory of mind. This could only take place with passing of time, through maturation and independent discovery. From a social constructive point of view, L. Vygotsky saw development also as a constructive procedure. What differentiates him from Piaget is that he became aware that environment could only be viewed as active itself, bearing the social meanings that individuals give to it in a particular socio-historic cultural environment. In a dynamic environment only two-way relationships could be generated and therefore, as Vygotsky believed, that development was largely supported by the social context and cultural tools handed down to children. But how exactly intellectual development occurs? According to J.Piaget, development follows a predetermined series, which consists of four stages: the sensory-motor stage (from birth to 2 years), the pre-operational stage (from 2 to 6 years), the stage of concrete operations (from 6 to 12 years) and the stage of formal operations (from 12 years). Although age boundaries of these stages could be slight flexible, they are described as natural ones implying that they are biologically stipulated, invariable and universal. Transition from one stage to another is manifest by qualitative changes in the way of thinking, refinement of mental representations and elimination of egocentrism. Based on the theoretical construct of schemata, Piaget explained that children actions derive from intrinsic motivation followed by assimilation of new objects in their...
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