Theory of Cognitive Development and Jean Piaget

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Abstract:

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget was the first to study cognitive development systematically. One of his major contributions is his theory of cognitive development. However, his theory has numerous limitations and has come under frequent criticism. This essay will analyse four limitations of Piaget's theory and provide alternative accounts. The first three limitations will be presented through a cultural, social, neuroscientific point of view, and finally, end with the problems of research methods used in Piaget's study to build his theory. It is found that Piaget's theory does not combine cultural context and social context with the development itself and lacks scientific evidence. Moreover, problems in his research methods has led to inaccuracy in his theory.

Introduction:

Although Piaget's theory of cognitive development made significant contributions to children development, his theory has limitations. It has been seriously criticised and widely challenged.

Jean Piaget‘s (1896-1980) theory of cognitive development is based on the development of schemas1. According to Piaget, schemas can be adapted through three processes: assimilation2 and acommodation3 and equilibirium4. Piaget asserts that all children go through four discontinuous stages in the same sequence, namely they are: the sensorimotor stage, the pre-operational stage, the concrete operations stage and the formal operation stage.

The first stage, which is the sensorimotor stage, occurs around 0-2 years. During this stage, infants interact with the environment through limited senses and motor activities. Piaget contends that the infant at this stage do not understand 'object permanence'5.

The second stage is the pre-oprational stage. It lasts from approximately 2-7 years. Piaget believes that at this time the child is not yet able to understand concrete logic and fails to appreciate conservation6. He also identified the inability of the child to think from another person's perspective, which he termed egocentrism.

The next stage is the concrete operations stage which lasts from around 7-11 years. Piaget notes that in this period, the child is capable of thinking logically about concrete situations, but not abstract concepts. The child now can use inductive logic but have difficulties using deductive logic. Piaget also suggests that within this stage, the child develops the ability to decentre and the understanding of reversibility7.

The final stage, which is the formal operational stage, occurs around age 12 and lasts into adulthood. Piaget asserts that at this time, the child is able to think about abstract terms and develop skills such as deductive reasoning, problem solving and planning.

After a brief overview of Piaget's theory, this essay will next discuss four limitations of the theory.

(1: Piaget introduced schema and adopted it in his theory.Piaget called the schema the basic building block of intelligent behavior – a way of organizing knowledge. (http://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html) 2: assimilation: the process of adopting new knowledge into old schemas 3: accomodation: changing or modifying existing schemas

4: the ideal state when assimilation and accomodation are balanced 5: the understanding that objects continue to exist even though they cannot be seen or heard or felt

First, one of the limitations of Piaget's theory is a lack of examination on the cultural context of children development. While Piaget asserts that cognitive development is self-initiated, psychologists such as Vygotsky suggest that Piaget ignored cultural influences on cognitive development. Piaget assumes that all children, regardless of culture, progress through four discrete stages in the same order, however,  Vygotsky argues that children from different cultural backgrounds may experience these transformations differently. Swiss psychologist Pierre Dasen (1977) also argues that the development of basic cognitive...
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