Theories of cognitive development: Jean Piaget.
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was actually not a psychologist at first; he dedicated his time to mollusc research. In fact, by the time he was 21 he’d already published twenty scientific papers on them! He soon moved to Paris, and got a job interviewing mental patients. Before long, he was working for Alfred Binet, and refining Burt’s reasoning test. During his time working at Binet’s lab, he studied the way that children reasoned. After two years of working with children, Piaget finally realised what he wanted to investigate – children’s development! He noticed that children of a younger aged answered questions qualitatively different than those of an older age. This suggested to him that younger children were not less knowledgeable, but gave different answers because they thought differently.
Piaget’s theory is based on stages, whereby each stage represents a qualitatively different type of thinking. Children in stage one cannot think the same as children in stage 2, 3 or 4 etc. Transitions from one stage to another are generally very fast, and the stages always follow an invariant sequence. Another important characteristic of his stage theory is that they are universal; the stages will work for everyone in the world regardless of their differences (except their age, of course, which is what the stages are based on!) Piaget acknowledged that there is an interaction between a child and the environment, and this is a focal point for his theory. He believed a child cannot learn unless they are constantly interacting with their environment, making mistakes and then learning from them. He defined children as “lone scientists”; he did not identify any need for teachers or adults in cognitive development. Children have all the cognitive mechanisms to learn on their own, and the interaction with their environment allows them to do so
The Key Concepts of Piaget’s theory:
Before explaining the main part of Piaget’s theory (the four stages), it’s very important to look at some of the underlying principles behind it.
* Schema (pl. Schemata, although some say “Schemas” for the plural) Possibly one of the most important concepts put forward by Piaget, Schemata help individuals understand the world they inhabit. They are cognitive structures that represent a certain aspect of the world, and can be seen as categories which have certain pre-conceived ideas in them. For example, my schema forChristmas includes: Christmas trees, presents, giving, money, green, red, gold, winter, Santa Claus etc. Someone else may have an entirely different schema, such as Jesus, birth, Church, holiday, Christianity etc. Of course, there are schemata for all kinds of things – yourself (self schemata), other people (people schemata), events/situations (event schemata) and roles/occupations (role schemata). With regards to Piaget’s theory, a child might have a pre-conceived schema for a dog. If the household has a small West Highland White Terrier as a dog, the schema might be “small, furry, four legs, white”. When the child interacts with a new dog – perhaps a Labrador, it will change to incorporate the new information, such as “big, golden, smooth etc.” This is known as: * Assimilation
Simply the process of incorporating new information into a pre-existing schema. So with the “dog” example, the child assimilated the Labrador’s information into the old dog schema. Assimilation is essentially fitting new information into schemata we already have in place. Unfortunately, this can lead to stereotyping. For example, if an old lady sees a teenager mug another person, she might assimilate “violence” or “crime” into her teenage schema. Next time she sees a teenager, her schema will be applied to them – and although they may be a kind person, she will probably show prejudice. Assimilation is normally a simple process, as new information already fits the pre-existing categories. *...
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