Cognitive Development AO1

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Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget developed his theory of cognitive development based on the idea that schemas are the building blocks of our development and that these schemas are adapted through assimilation and accommodation. He suggests that every child is a lone scientist and passes through a set of development stages in the same order, meaning that they are universal and invariant, and that this development is a result of biological maturation. Between the ages of 0-2 children fall into the sensori-motor stage in which schemas are mostly innate reflexes and are adapted to perform more advanced skills, such as sucking on a bottle. The biggest development in this stage is the understanding of object permanence, meaning that they develop the understanding that even though an object has disappeared from view it still exists. The skill of imitation is also developed in this first stage. The next stage is the pre-operational stage which occurs between the ages of 2-7 and this stage is characterised by language development and egocentrism, meaning that children at this stage fail to understand that others have a different way to thinking in comparison to them. The next stage is the concrete operational stage which occurs between the ages of 7-11 and it is in this stage that children start to be able to perform conservation tasks due to the development of reversibility and compensation skills. Piaget suggests that children may develop these skills to more advanced capacities as time passes by and he calls this horizontal decalage, for example children tend to understand conservation of number first, followed by conservation of mass and volume. The final stage is the formal operations stage for children and adults that are 11 and older. In this stage children develop the ability to think logically about abstract concepts and events. This allows for the simultaneous assessment of several hypotheses and therefore allows us to solve problems systematically.

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Vygotsky's Theory of Cognitive Development

Vygotsky believed that Piaget's theory overlooked the impact of cultural context on behaviour and so developed a theory of cognitive development based on the importance of social interaction and cultural tools. He argued that cultural tools, such as mobile phones, calculators and similar items, have allowed us to develop new ways of co-operating with eachother as well as organising and calculating information and this has influenced peoples' thinking and the extent to which our cognition can develop. In addition to this he suggests that we develop our cognitive skills through interaction with others. Unlike Piaget's ideal that children are lone scientists Vygotsky suggests children are apprentices and that although children are able to learn certain things everyday on their own they require the instruction of a more knowledgable other in order to develop understanding of more abstract concepts. Through social interaction children are able to see adults and older children using various skills and cultural tools to solve problems and will then internalise these skills for their own use. This internalisation of complex skills can only occur however when a child develops language ability at around the age of 7 as language allows for more complex thinking. According to Vygotsky every child has a specific zone of proximal development. This zone is defined as the difference between what a child can achieve alone and what they can achieve with the help of a more knowledgable person. A child must be working within this zone in order to develop effectively. Scaffolding is also a key feature of Vygotsky's theory and refers to the context provided by a more knowledgable person in order to develop higher cognitive skill. The most important aspect of scaffolding is that there is a gradual withdrawal of support as the child's knowledge and confidence increases as this allows for successful learning.

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Applications in Education

Both Piaget and Vygotsky's theories have applications in education. Firstly Piaget's theory suggests that a teacher should act as a facilitator, meaning that they should not be didactic but rather provide a learning environment designed to create disequilibrium in order to stimulate the adaptation of schemas. Another application of Piaget's theory is to look at the order of which topics are taught to young children. As Piaget's theory is made up of stages this would suggest that children should be taught in a specific order, for example children in the concrete operational stage should only be given concrete examples when being taught as they are yet to develop the ability to think about abstract ideas. A third application of Piaget's theory is Discovery Learning which means that the teacher should provide the children with an environment in which they are encouraged to do things themselves so they can better achieve concept formation, for example providing them with a Wendy House for role playing activities. Vygotsky's theory offers an application in which peer tutoring could be effective as it involves a more knowledgable pupil helping a novice pupil to progress and this is an application of Vygotsky's belief about social interaction. A second application for Vygotsky's theory is that a teacher should aim to assist performance within her pupils' zones of proximal development. This is because this is the zone at which the children will be most motivated and capable. If an activity is pitched lower than the ZPD then the children will find it too easy and will not be motivated whereas if it is pitched too high they will become frustrated and will be unable to achieve what is asked of them. This makes the identification of the ZPD very important. Scaffolding can also be applied to education in that teacher should reduce control when their pupils are successful but increase control when they appear to be making errors. This allows for successful development of key cognitive skills.

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Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development

Kohlberg suggests that moral development progresses through a series of stages that are universal and invariant as a result of biological maturation. This is because as we mature we develop an increasing ability to take on the perspectives of others. Each stage is defined by a different kind of thinking used to make moral judgements. Kohlberg identified these stages using a standardised procedure in which he presented 72 boys aged 10-16 with a variety of moral dilemmas. This was followed by a battery of questions to look at why the boys had made their decisions and this allowed for the complex scoring of responses. From this three levels were identified, each of which was split into two stages. The first level is pre-conventional morality in which the focus for decisions is based entirely on the consequences of actions and whether you will gain punishment or reward. This level typically fits 5-12 year olds. The second level is conventional morality in which decisions are based on upholding the law and gaining social acceptance from others. This typically fits people aged 13-15 however almost 90% of people never leave this level. The third and final level is post-conventional morality which is only achieved when a person understands that different people will have different values and beliefs and that rules can be broken in order to uphold ethics and other beliefs. In this level people make decisions based on their own universal ethical principles surrounding equality and respect for others. This tends to fit people aged 16 and over although as mentioned previously the majority of people never manage to reach this stage of development.

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Child's Sense of Self including Theory of Mind

The development of a child sense of self occurs over a set of three stages. The first stage is subjective self-awareness which is the ability to perceive oneself as distinct from others. By this we realise that we exist as a separate person and have the power to act alone. By 2 months old infants have a sense of personal agency in which they recognise that they are in charge of their own limbs. The second stage is objective self-awareness which is the ability to reflect upon oneself and this is a key milestone in a child's development. This cognitive ability is tested using the mirror test in which a red dot is placed on the child's nose and then the child is introduced to a reflection of themselves. If the child has developed objective self-awareness then they will touch their own nose but if not they will reach and touch the mirror. The ability to succeed in the mirror test often occurs around the age of 18-24 months and coincides with the use of personal pronouns such as mine and me. The third stage is the the development of the categorical self. Once children realise that they exist as a seperate entity they then learn to categorise themselves in order to differentiate themselves from others.To begin with they will use concrete examples such as gender and age however as they grow older they will become more advanced and will begin to give themselves more abstract psychological labels such as kindess or intelligence. Self-esteem also develops around this time as this is the value that is placed upon the child's self-concept and the value they place on the characteristics by which they label themselves with. The way a child is treated and rewarded greatly affects the development of this self-esteem. Alongside these three stages children also develop Theory of Mind which refers to our ability to mind-read. Once a child develops theory of mind they are able to have a belief about what another person is thinking. Research has suggested that theory of mind develops suddenly at around age 4.

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Understanding of Others & Perspective Taking 1

Children's understanding of others and the ability to take the perspective of others develops as children mature. In conjunction with Piaget's theory of cognitive development pre-operational children are unable to understand others may have a different perspective from their own as they are egocentric at this stage. As children grow older they gradually decentre in line with their general cognitive development and due to this learn to understand others. Role taking can be used to facilitate this decentring process as it is a cognitive skill that allows children to understand other people's internal experiences. Role taking is greatly related to the development of Theory of Mind and Selman suggests that it is the central dynamic of social interaction. An interesting outcome of role taking comes from the finding that by age 3 children develop the ability to deceive others. This was shown in a study by Cole who found that when receiving a bad present in front of people they were able to conceal their disappointment whereas when filmed secretly alone they expressed their dissapointment obviously. Selman developed the idea of role taking by adapting the method used by Kohlberg so that he could study perspective taking. Based on the responses he received her created a five stage theory. He suggested that between 3-6 years old children are egocentric and so are largely governed by their own perspective. Then, between the ages of 6-8, children develop subjective perspective taking and become aware that others can have different perspectives from their own but they believe this to be due to others having different information to them. 

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Biological Explanations for Social Cognition 1

It is suggested that our cortical circuitry is greatly involved in our development of social cognition. This is because qualitative differences have been found through the use of brain scans in children and adults. It has been shown that the medial prefrontal cortex is involved in the perception of self and that the posterior parietal cortex is involved in perception of others. In children these areas are much more separated and so it is suggested that social cognition develops as cortical circuits develop between these two areas. Our mirror neurons are also said to be very important in the development of social cognition. Mirror Neurons were first discovered by Rizzolatti in monkeys. He was studying motor activity in monkeys and found unusual brain activity when he walked into the lab eating an ice cream. Further research resulted in the discovery that the same neuron in the brain would fire when the monkey picked up a peanut and when the researcher picked up a peanut. This would suggest that when we see another person completing an action our mirror neuron system will fire as though we ourselves have performed the action. The can be used to describe how we learn to imitate others as well as learning to understand others intentions. We must assume however that our mirror neuron system is off line, meaning that although our neurons will fire we will not always produce the action, otherwise we would be constantly imitating others. It is suggested that mirror neurons simulate others intentions and feelings so that we experience them ourselves and this might explain why we feel empathy and why we can understand other people's intentions as we experience these feelings and intentions ourselves through our mirror neuron system. 

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Understanding of Others & Perspective Taking 2

Between 8-10 years old children become self-reflective and are able to understand that two people with the same information can form different views. This means that they can appreciate another person's point of view but can only consider one point of view at a time. Between 10-12 children develop mutual role-taking skills and are able to consider several viewpoints simultaneously. After age 12 children develop social and conventional role taking in which they realise that understanding anothers point of view may not always allow for conflict to be resolved.

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Biological Explanations for Social Cognition 2

Mirror neurons also offer an explanation for the development of Theory of Mind. Galesse and Goldman describe motor neurones as being part of our mind reading system as they enable us to understand others through experiencing their actions as if they were our own. Mirror neurons offer a biological basis for simulation theory which is one of the main aspects of Theory of Mind. This is because simulation theory suggests that we read people's minds by experiencing what they are experiencing and using this information to predict their actions and feelings, which is exactly how mirror neurons work.

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