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Theories of Cognitive Development
John Opfer

Basic Questions
1) What is innate? 2) Does children’s thinking progress through qualitatively different stages? 3) How do changes in children’s thinking occur? 4) Why do individual children differ so much from each other in their thinking? 5) How does brain development contribute to cognitive development? 6) How does the social world contribute to cognitive development?

Influential Theories of Cognitive Development

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Piaget’s theory Sociocultural theories Core-knowledge theories Information-processing theories

Jean Piaget
Beginning about 1920, Piaget developed the first ‘cognitive’ theory • infant cognition • language development • conceptual development • mathematical and scientific reasoning • moral development

Piaget’s Most Revolutionary Idea
Child as scientist 1. construct their own knowledge from experimenting on the world. 2. learn many things on their own without the intervention of older children or adults. 3. are intrinsically motivated to learn and do not need rewards from adults to motivate learning

Piaget’s Principles: What changes?
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There are distinct stages of cognitive development, with the following properties. Qualitative change: Children of different ages (and at different stages) think in different ways. Broad applicability: The type of thinking at each stage pervades topic and content areas. Brief transitions: Transitions to higher stages of thinking are not necessarily continuous. Invariant sequence: The sequences of stages are stable for all people through all time. Stages are not skipped.

Piaget’s Principles: What does not change?

Three processes work together from birth to account for continuities: Assimilation: People translate incoming information into a form they can understand. Accommodation: People adapt current knowledge structures in response to new experience. Equilibration: People balance assimilation and accommodation to create stable understanding.

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Piaget’s Principles: How do nature/nurture interact?

Nature and nurture interact to produce cognitive development. Adaptation: Children respond to the demands of the environment in ways that meet their own goals. Organization: Children integrate particular observations into a body of coherent knowledge.

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Overview of Piaget’s Stages
1. Sensorimotor stage (birth to 2 years) Knowledge tied to sensory and motor abilities Fails tests of the object concept 2. Preoperational stage (2 to 7 years) Objects and events are represented by mental symbols Fails tests of conservation 3. Concrete operational stage (7 to 12 years) Children can reason logically about concrete objects and events. Fails to engage in systematic hypothesis testing 4. Formal operational stage (12 years and up) Children can reason abstractly and hypothetically.

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Piaget’s Sensorimotor Stage
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Substage 1 (birth to 1 month): Reflexive Activity Building knowledge through reflexes (grasping, sucking). No attempt to locate objects that have disappeared Substage 2 (1 to 4 months): Primary Circular Reactions Reflexes are organized into larger, integrated behaviors (grasping a rattle and bringing it to the mouth to suck) Still no attempt to locate objects that have disappeared.

Piaget’s Sensorimotor Stage
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Substage 3 (4 to 8 months): Secondary Circular Reactions Repetition of actions on the environment that bring out pleasing or interesting results (banging a rattle). Search for objects that have dropped from view or are partially hidden Substage 4 (8 to 12 months): Coordination of Secondary Reactions Mentally representing objects when objects can no longer be seen, thus achieving “object permanence.” Search for completely hidden objects but makes “A-not-B error.”



A not B error

Piaget’s Sensorimotor Stage

Substage 5 (12 to 18 months): Tertiary Circular Reactions Actively and avidly exploring the possible...
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