Piaget's theory of cognitive development

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Mechanisms of Cognitive Devleopment

Cognitive development is a result of maturation and the environment.

Schema are self-constructed programmes which allow poeple to deal with the world. These can be behavioural or cognitive.

Assimilation occurs when an existing schema is used for new imformation.

Accomidation is when an existing schema is adapted to undertsand new information which doesnt already fit.

Equillibrium is when there is an imbalance between what is understood and what is encountered. Piaget said this drives development.

Operations are logical mental rules.

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Stages in Cognitive Development

Sensorimotor (0-2 yrs) - children learn to coordinate sensory input with motor actions through circular reactions which are repeated over and over again to test the relationship. Object permenance is developed (if its hidden its not there).

Pre-operational stage (2-7 yrs) - thought becomes symbollic however not capable of reversability of thought (appearance reality distinction. This makes them egocentric.

Concrete operational stage (7-11 yrs) - develop logical thinking, reversability and decentration of thought (not focusing on one thing). They also develop conservation (understanding things stay the same even if they look different).

Formal operational stage (11+ yrs) - can solve abstract problems using hypothetico-deductive reasoning. They also desplay idealistic thinking (what would happen if changes were made).

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Stage 1 - Baillargeon et al (1991) claim infants as young as 3-4 months CAN display object permenance. They used the rolling car task: where the infants looked longer for the larger carrot behind the screen, presuming to to appear.

Stage 2 - Three mountains task: children upto 4 tended to say their own percpective. However, Hughes (1975) said they could cope if the task was more realistic e.g. the nauty doll is hiding.

Stage 3 - Beaker test: age 7 children recognised it had stayed the same.

Stage 4 - Children were given 5 beakers of colouring and told to make a yellow liquid. The children in this stage used a logical stratagy.


  • Culture bias - all children from European societies.
  • Cognitively reductionist - ignores other factors such as social concepts.
  • May have confused younger children giving unvalid data.
  • Demand characteristics - stage 2 and 3 felt like they were expected to change their answer.
  • Nature and Nurture.
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