This essay will analyse the evidence both for and against the argument that development occurs in stages. There are many theories relating to child development. Many of which argue the existence of stages within the development process. One of the main theories is Piaget’s, who focused on the cognitive development of children. This essay will look at Piaget’s theory of cognitive development in children and examine any positive and negative aspects of this theory. It will also look at Freud’s theory of sexual development in children and investigate the positive and negative attributes of this theory. The final major theory that will be looked at is the information processing approach, with a brief look at positive and negative features of this particular theory.
The term development in itself can be defined as the progression of a living thing as it grows, matures and transforms throughout its lifetime (Smith, Cowie, Blades, 2003). Psychologists who study child development look at the way in which children develop. Many psychologists believe that development occurs in stages within children. Piaget particularly had a theory relating to the cognitive development of children. He believed there were four stages: the sensorimotor stage, which occurs in infancy, and is when the child uses their developing senses and motor skills to explore their environment (Kaplan, 1998). The second stage of development is the Preoperational stage, this occurs between the ages of two and seven. During this stage the child is expanding their language skills but still has a very egocentric view of the world, believing that everyone else sees certain circumstances the same way that they do (Smith, Cowie, Blades, 2003). The third stage is the Concrete Operational Stage, which occurs between the ages of seven and twelve. Throughout this particular stage, children become less egocentric and are able to see things from another person’s point of view (Kaplan, 1998). They are also able to understand "conservation of mass, length, weight and volume", (Smith, Cowie and Blades, 2003). For example this means that they comprehend that beakers of varying height and width can hold the same volume of liquid. The final stage of cognitive development according to Piaget is the Formal Operational Stage. This stage occurs from the age of twelve upwards. At this stage the child can begin to reason abstractly and think somewhat scientifically (Kaplan, 1998). Piaget came to the conclusion that development occurs in these four stages by observing children and concluding that their development does take place in stages (Smith, Cowie and Blades, 2003). Piaget also conducted experiments, such as the "water-beaker experiment". During this experiment, there are two beakers, one short and wide, the other tall and narrow, both of equal volume. The short, wide beaker is filled with water and two children aged four and seven are asked to pour the same amount of water into the tall narrow glass so that they both contain the same amount of water. The results show that the four year old is incapable of understanding that the tall narrow beaker, whilst it looks like it contains more liquid, actually contains the same amount. The seven year old, however, is able to understand the concept that they hold the same volume of liquid even though they are of a different shape to one another.
Piaget’s theory has come up against certain criticisms, for example, later studies have shown that not all stages of development are precise. Further studies have shown that some children display signs of understanding conservation before Piaget suggested it would occur (Smith, Cowie, Blades, 2003). Another criticism of this theory is that the methods Piaget used in his research were not scientific. He didn’t use controls in his experiments with children, as a result of this it can be speculated that the results were caused by another factor (Kaplan, 1998). Another criticism of Piaget’s theory is...
References: Smith, P. Cowie, H. Blades, M (2003) Understanding Children’s Development, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, UK
Kaplan, P. (1998) The Human Odyssey: Life-Span Development, Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, USA.
Eysenck, M. (2000) Psychology: A Student’s Handbook, Psychology Press, UK
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