Piaget's theory of cognitive development ^_^

These cards include:

  • What cognitive developemnt is
  • Piaget's theory of cogniitve developemnt ((An overview))
  • Mechanisms of cognitve developemt ((schema, assimilation, etc.))
  • Stages of Piaget's theory ((pre-operational, etc.))
  • Evaluative studies (Borke, Hughes, etc.))
  • Created by: Fyzah :p
  • Created on: 03-05-12 10:27

Cognitive development :D

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development = How our mental abilities develop, invcluding thinking, problem solving, maths skills and our moral development.


Piaget (1926) - Overview of his theory of cognitive development:

  • Piaget believed that children's thinking changed as they got older due to biological maturation of innate structures in their brain.
  • With age comes a variety of interactions with ones environment; therefore, a child's understanding becomes more complex due to thier experiances.
  • Nature vs. nurture debate.
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Mechanisms of cognitive development

Mechanisms involved in Piaget's thoery of cognitive development:

  • Schema:
    • Self constructed mental structures; can be cogniitve or behavioural.
  • Assmiliation:
    • Occurs when an existing schema is applied to a new object; it invloves integrating new information into an exisiting schema.
  • Accommodation:
    • When a new experinace cannot be assimiliated into an existing or new schema, it is altered or a new schema is developed to accommodate the new information.
  • Eqilibrium:
    • Has a biological origin.
    • According to Piaget, equilibrium (balance) is needed in cognitive structures.
    • An imbalance (disequilibrium) is encountered when there is a gap in what's understood and what is being presented.
    • By developing new schemas and adapting old ones, the imbalance is corrected resulting in an equilibrium.
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Piaget's stages of cognitive development

Stage 1 - Sensorimotor (0-2 years):

  • Children learn to coordinate sensory input with motor actions; they explore by using their senses and reflexes.
  • Object permanence develops before 18 months; before this, young children lose their interest in an object when it is hidden from them as they have no concept that it still exists.

Stage 2 - Pre-operational (2-7 years):

  • Symbolic thinking (use of symbols and language)
  • Children don't understand conservation; the physical properties of an object stays the smae ddespite changes in its appearance.
  • Children are egocentric.
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Piaget's stages of cognitive development (cont.)

Stage 3 - Concrete operational (7-11 years):

  • Children develop decentration - the ability to focus on more than one aspect of something.
  • They also develop conservation
  • Children at this stage develop logical thinking; Piaget said this was the most important acheivement as it provides evidence of a child's command of logical control.

Stage 4 - Formal operational (11+):

  • Children can solve problems and can use hypothetico-deductive reasoning.
  • Idealistic thinking -  they use imagination to picture how things might be like if changes were made.
  • Can reason solely on verbal statements.
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Experiments during the pre-operational stage:

The three mountain task (Piaget and Inhelder, 1956):

  • Aims to test egocentrism.
  • It was found that 4 year olds showed no awareness of the doll's view showing that htey were egocentric.
  • 6 year olds frequently chose a picture different to thier view, but rarely chose the correct picture.
  • Only at 7 or 8 years did the children consistently choose the picture that matched the doll's view, showing that they weren't egocentric.

The Policeman doll study (Hughes, 1975):

  • Hughes wanted to see if children could perspective-take when faced wit a familiar stimulus.
  • It was found that 90% of children aged 3.5 to 5 years old could complete the task correctly, showing that they weren't egocentric.
  • This contradicts Piaget's finding that only 7-8 years olds weren't egocentric.
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Experiments into conservation

Naughty teddy (McGarrigle and Donaldson, 1974):

  • They aimed to test conservation.
  • They believed that children made errors on Piaget's conservation task as he asked the same question twice, which could have acted as a demand characterisitc for the children.
  • They wanted to see if levels of conservation changed if the question was asked once.
  • It was found tht 62% of 6 year olds showed that they had number conservation.
  • By asking them the question once, children didn't have a misleading demand characteristic as a barrier to them demonstrating conservation.(
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Experiments into egocentrism

The turntable task (Borke, 1975):

  • Aimed to test egocentrism in children.
  • Similar to Piaget's three mountain task, but children were given a turntable instead of walking around the three mountains.
  • It was found that 3 year olds selected a correct view 42% of the time.
  • 4 year olds seleted teh right view 67% of the time.
  • These findings contradict those found by Piaget; Borke found that young children weren't egocentric.
  • Borke's study had a practise session which helped, Piaget would have seen practise as irrelevent.
  • It was claimed that Piaget's task confused the younger children as they were distracted by the fact that they had to walk around the three mountains.
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Experiments into object permanence

Bower and Wishart

  • They tested object permanence by placing a toy infront of a child.
  • However, unlike Piaget's experiment of using a screen (which may have distracted the child), they switched off the lights.
  • By using infra-red cameras, they monitored the children's eye movement.
  • The found that even 1-4 month old babies continued to look in the direction of the toy.
  • This showed that object permanence occured at an earlier stage than Piaget suggested (18 months).
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Evaluation of Piaget


  • Based on empirical evidence and therefore falsifiable.
  • Practical applications - contribution to education.


  • Bias in his research: Piaget used his own children and other middle-class children from the same western culture; therefore, it lacks population validity and cannot be applied to individualist and non-western cultures.
  • Researcher bias may have been shown as his own children were used.
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