Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was one of the most influential researchers in the area of developmental psychology during the 20th century. Piaget originally trained in the areas of biology and philosophy and considered himself a "genetic epistemologist." He was mainly interested in the biological influences on "how we come to know." He believed that what distinguishes human beings from other animals is our ability to do "abstract symbolic reasoning." Piaget's views are often compared with those of Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), who looked more to social interaction as the primary source of cognition and behavior. This is somewhat similar to the distinctions made between Freud and Erikson in terms of the development of personality. The writings of Piaget (e.g., 1972, 1990; see Piaget, Gruber, & Voneche) andVygotsky (e.g. Vygotsky, 1986; Vygotsky & Vygotsky, 1980), along with the work of John Dewey (e.g., Dewey, 1997a, 1997b), Jerome Bruner (e.g., 1966, 1974) and Ulrick Neisser (1967) form the basis of the constructivist theory of learning and instruction. While working in Binet's IQ test lab in Paris, Piaget became interested in how children think. He noticed that young children's answers were qualitatively different than older children which suggested to him that the younger ones were not dumber (a quantitative position since as they got older and had more experiences they would get smarter) but, instead, answered the questions differently than their older peers because they thought differently. There are two major aspects to his theory: the process of coming to know and the stages we move through as we gradually acquire this ability. Process of Cognitive Development. As a biologist, Piaget was interested in how an organism adapts to its environment (Piaget described as intelligence.) Behavior (adaptation to the environment) is controlled through mental organizations called schemes that the individual uses to represent the world and...
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