PSYA3 Cognition Development


Piaget and Cognition Development

Piaget concluded that cognitive development occurs through the interaction of innate capacities and environmental events. This makes his theory a Universal one.

Varient Structures: Schemas are the building blocks of knowledge that help us define, categorise and organise the world around us.

Operations are a 'string' of schemas organised in a logical way.

Functional Invariants: These aid the process and help with building, changing and linking schemas.

The process of adaption: Accomodation and Assimilation

Assimilation- The process whereby a new experience is understood in terms of an existing schema.

Accomodation- The process of modifying an existing schema.

The process of equilibration: Equilibrium and Disequilibrium

Equilibrium- The world around us makes sense.

Disequilibrium- Something in our environment does not make sense. We need to change an existing schema.

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Piaget Sensori-Motor Stage-Object Permanence

Sensori-Motor stage is the first stage, this occurs between 0-2 years. In this stage the child 'thinks' by sensing and performing actions. The childs thinking is related to motor movements and sensations ie sucking.

A key feature of this stage is Object Permanence- Object Permanence is the idea that an object still exists even if one can not physically see it.

To test object permanence Piaget devised an experiment in which he waved a toy in front of  baby then covered it with paper. He found that babies aged between 1-4 months will look at where the object disappears for a few moments but will not search for it. However, at 8months the child continues to reach for the toy. Piaget concluded that children did not have object permanence until 8 months of age.

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Evaluations of Object Permanence

Competence vs Performance- A child may have object permanence (competence) but still not be able to search (performance) (-)

Bower and Wishart (1972)- 4 month old children reached for the toy when the lights were turned out. 1 month old babies showed surprise when the toys dissapeared. Suggesting Piaget saw immature motor skills rather than object permanence (-)

Baillargeon and Graber (1988)- 8 month old saw a toy being hidden behind one of two screens. 15 seconds later they saw a hand lift the toy out of the hiding place and the hand placed it behind the other screen. The infants were only surprised when the toy came from the 'wrong' screen. Showing they did remember where the toy was hidden, therfore disproving the A not B error. (-)

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Piaget Sensori-Motor Stage-Imitation

The development of imitation is a key part of the Sensori-Motor Stage.

It allows the child to add considerably to its range of actions. It develops slowly and becomes more precise over time. Towards the end of the stage, infants will start to develop deferred imitation.

Haye, Boniface and Barr (2000)- An experimenter demonstrated a new action and infants tried to reproduce the action after an interval of time. They found infants aged 6, 12 and 18 months all showed deferred imitaion (+)

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Pre-Operational Stage (2-7 years)

The second stage of Piagets stages of development is the Pre-Operational stage which occurs between the ages of 2 and 7 years. The stage is split up in to two smaller stages; the Pre-Conceptual stage (2-4 years) and the Intuitive stage (4-7 years).

Piaget states this stage is unduly influenced by a childs own perception of the environment.

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Pre-Conceptual Stage (2-4 years)

Centration- Children tend to pay attention to only one aspect of the situation.

Egocentrism- Children don't have the ability to see from another point of view.

Realism- The tendency to regard psychological events as having physical existence.

Animism- The belief that inanimate objects are alive.

Artificialism- Tendency to consider that physical objects and events were caused by people.

Lack Reversibility- A child is unable to mentally reverse an operation.

Transductive Reasoning- The relationship between two objects are based on a single attribute ie a cat is a dog because they both have four legs.

Seriation- Children find it hard to put items in order, eg size, they can only percieve biggest or smallest.

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Intuitive Stage (4-7 years)

Child is still egocentric because this egocentrism does not disappear fully until the child is 7 or 8 years old.

Children can now think in relative terms but find it difficult to think logically.

Lack of conservation- A childs thinking is dominated by how the world looks, not how the world is. The child doesn't understand that redistribution of material does not affect mass, volume or number. Conservation is the ability to understand that things remain the same even if appearence changes. According to Piaget the ability to conserve does not appear until the stage of Concrete Operations (about 7 years) when the child develops mental rules of; Compensation and Reversibility. Compensation and Reversibility are called operations.

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Lack of Conservation Study

Piaget (1952)- Children were shown two identical cylinders with the same amount of liquid in each. The child agrees that they are the same. The liquid from one container was poured into a glass that was taller and thinner than the previous one. The child was then asked which container had the most liquid in it. The argue that there is more in the taller one as it is higher or that there is more in the smaller one because it is wider. Children below 7 could not conserve volume due to centration and lack of reversibility.

Conservation of number- Piaget- Set out two identical rows of counters. He asked children if there were the same number in each row. One row was extended in length then asked again. Children under 6 would say there were more counters in the longer row. These children were deemed 'unable to conserve'.

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Class Inclusion

Piaget and Szeminska (1941)- 20 wooden beads: 18 brown and 2 white. They experimenters asked three questions: Are all the beads wooden? (Correct), Are there more brown beads or white beads? (Correct) and Are there more brown beads or wooden beads? (Incorrect). Only children aged above six were able to answer the question correctly. Questions 1&2 require an understanding of two seperate classes of objects. Question 3 requires an understanding of overlapping and super/subordinate classes.

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Concrete Operational Stage (7-12 years)

The stage occurs between the ages of 7-12 years. This stage is when children develop the mental structure of operations and children are no longer affected by egocentrism or centration. Children can do operations such as; conservation, reversibility, seriation, transitivity and class inclusion. They can also do reversible operations.

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Formal Operational Stage (12 years+)

Children in this stage can now follow and form a logical argument. They can think abstractly, hypothetically and systematically.

Concrete operations are carried out on things, whereas formal operations are carried out on ideas.

Formal operations are tested by the pendulum problem.

Piaget did not think everybody reached this stage.

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Study showing Concrete and Formal Operations

Inhelder and Piaget (1958)

Gave adolescents five containers filled with clear liquid.

Four were 'test chemicals' and one an indicator.

When the proper combination was found it turned yellow.

Pre-Operational mixed the chemicals randomly.

Concrete Operational, though more systematic failed to test all combinations.

Formal Operational, thinkers varied one factor at a time and considered all alternatives.

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Evaluations of Piaget

Piagets work has influenced early education ie 'discovery play' (+)

The theory is universal (+)

Takes a nomothetic approach-lots of people (+)

Cognitive development theory itself has good temporal validity (+)

Considers nature and nurture (+)

Questions were not standardised-possible researcher bias (-)

Piaget often used his own children- lack of objectivity (-)

Stages are not fixed as Piaget said, Vygotsky theory contradicts Piagets (-)

Ignored other types of thinking ie mental process (-)

Studies are outdated and some are culturally biased (-)

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Piaget and Education

Discovery Learning- Child centered learning. The interaction with the environment provides the momentum for the child to push through the process of adaption and equilibrium. If children construct knowledge for themselves then it leads to deeper understanding. Core of primary education.

Readiness- New knowledge cant be too far from an existing schema.

Curriculumn- The curriculumn has to mirror Piagets stages.

The Role of the Teacher- Learning from eachother (good for egocentrism), Discovery ( push to next learning phrase), Right challenge based on a childs stage ( assess readiness), Ask questions, experiment and explore.

"Every time we teach a child something, we prevent him from discovering it themselves on their own" Piaget.

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Research into Piagets Application to Education

Danner and Day (1977) found that coaching 10 and 13 year olds did not help, supporting Piagets concept of readiness. But did with 17 year olds, suggesting that tuition helps at a later stage (+)

Driscoll (1994)- Piagets theory has informed many teaching strategies, particularly a supportive environment, the role of social interactions and peer teaching (+)

Modgil et al (1983) found using discovery learning can have an impact on poor reading and writing on those who need help (-)

Meadows (1988) found that direct tuition opposite self discovery speeded up development (could be some researcher bias though) (-)

Brainerd (1983) found that with the right training 4 year olds perform well on concrete operations (7+) (-) 

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Vygotsky Theory of Development

Vygotskys theory is similar to Piagets in that they both believe knowledge comes from interaction with the environment. However, Vygotsky saw cognitive development as being cultural and depends on how a child is brought up.

Vygotskys theory is focused around three main concepts; The Zone of Proximal Development, Scaffolding and Language and Thinking.

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The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) Scaffolding

The ZPD is the gap between what a child can do on their own and what a child can do with support. The child will not be able to take the next step in their development unless they are supported in the ZPD.

This support is known as Scaffolding. Scaffolding involoves being given clues rather than the answer. At first learning is very social and needs the input of others but over time individuals self scaffold and learning becomes an individual self-regulated activity.

Woods et al (1976)- 4-5 year olds given wooden blocks to fit together to make a pyramid. The building task was too difficult for the child to complete alone. Tutoring support that mothers gave was varied: Parents gives encouragement, Parent gives verbal instruction, Parents give a full demonstration. The full demonstration frustrated the child and verbal instructions were too difficult. Children learned best with sensitive guidance and where mothers provided help when the child got stuck.

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Language and Thinking

Vygotsky said that language is the medium by which knowledge is transmitted. He categorised speech into three age groups.

Social Speech- 0-3 years- Pre-intellectual and Adult directed.

Egocentric Speech- 3-7 years- Child talks out loud as a way of thinking.

Inner Speech- 7 years+- Child uses speech silently to control their behaviour, and uses external speech for social communication.

Berk (1994)- Investigated the role of language in problem solving and found that 6 year olds on average spent 60% of their time talking ot themselves when trying to solve a maths problem. This is empirical evidence for the concept of egocentric speech.

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Vygotskyt Four Stages of Concept Formation

Vygotsky (1934) gave children blocks with nonsense symbols on them and they had to work out what the symnbols meant. Four different approaches were observed, from which he devised stages of concept formation.

Vague Syncretic- Trial and error formation without comprehension. Similar to Piagets pre-operational stage.

Complex- Use of some strategies, but not very systematic.

Potential Concept- More systematic, with one attribute being focused on at a time, ie weight.

Mature Concept- Several attributes can be dealt with systematically, ie weight and colour. Similar to Piagets Formal Operations Stage.

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Vygotsky Evaluations

Vygotskys theory explains (which Piagets didnt) the influence of the social environment, through culture and language on cognitive development. (+)

Has stimulated a lot of interest and research into his applications to education e.g. scaffolding and peer tutoring. (+)

Schaffer (2004) believes Vygotsky neglect to emotional factors is a serious omission, with no reference to frustrations of failure, joys of success or what motivates children to achieve particular goals. (-)

Reductionist (-)

Lack of research to support the theory (-)

Strong similarities between Piaget and Vygotsky theories, and an integration of the two may be feasible and instructive (-)

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Kohlberg Theory of Moral Development

Kohlberg believed that morality develops gradually during childhood and adolescence. He was interested in how views change as people develop.

The theory is based on cognitive development- it develops in a number of innate stages in a set order. The stages are seperate as they require different types of thinking to reach the moral decision.

Moral behaviour is a direct result of moral thinking. Cognitive development is necessary for moral reasoning.

Morality occurss when biological maturation is sufficiently advanced, however, disequilibrium will also play a part as experiences that dont fit a schema will challenge current ways of thinking about morality.

To test this opinion Kohlberg creates the Heinz dilema. 

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Level 1 of Moral Development

Level 1- Pre-conventional Morality- Children dont have their own ideas of morality. They are influenced by other people.

Stage 1- Right and wrong are determined by what is and is not punishable. If stealing is wrong it is because authority figures say so and punish such behaviour. Moral behaviour is avoiding punishment.

Stage 2- Right and wrong are determined by what brings rewards and what people wants. Other peoples needs and wants are important, but only in a reciprocal sense.

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Level 2 of Moral Development

Level 2- Conventional Morality- Children begin to start internalising the moral standards of valued adult role models.

Stage 3- Moral behaviour is whatever pleases and helps others and doing what they approve of. Being moral is 'being a good person in your own eyes and the eyes of others'.

Stage 4- Being good means doing ones duty, showing respect for authority and maintainig order for its own sake. 'For the greater good'. This stage takes into account the impact on society as a whole.

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Level 3 of Moral Development

Level 3- Post-conventional Morality- Guided by what your conscious dictates but the social norms are guidlines.

Stage 5- Although laws should be respected, individual rights sometimes over-ride these laws if they become obstructive or restrictive. Life is more 'sacred' than legal priciples. Laws shouldnt always be obeyed.

Stage 6- The ultimate judge of what is moral is a persons own conscious operating in accordance with universal principles. Societies rules are arbitary and may be broken (slackened) when they conflict with universal moral principles.

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Research into Kohlbergs Theory

Kohlberg (1969) tested the moral reasoning of participants in several cultures, finding the same sequenceof moral development, suggesting that transition through the stages occurs as an innate biological process.

Kohlber (1975) gavve students a chance to cheat on a test and observed that only 15% of participants with post-conventional morality cheated, while 70% of those in pre-conventional morality did, supporting the idea that moral reasoning reflects moral behaviour.

Colby et al (1983) tested Kohlbergs origional sample for 26 years, finding that at age 10 the majority showed stage 2 moral reasoning, with a few instances of stage 1 and 3. By 22, the majority were in stages 3 and 4, with no one in stage 1. By 36, 65% were in stage 4, with only 5% progressing to stage 5. 

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Evaluations of Kohlberg

Theory has gender bias (alphabias) (-)

Deterministic (-)

Kohlberg found no evidence of stage 6 in participants and there is little evidence of stage 5. Kohlberg (1978) decided that stage 6 might not exist (-)

Stages 1 to 5 are universal according to his longitudinal study and other independent studies, suggesting that they are under genetic control. (+)

Only 12% of adults reach post-conventional morality, Atkinson et al (1990) argued that it is more of a philosophical idea than part of a normal developmental sequence. (-)

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Sense of Self

Self Recognition

Amsterdam (1972)- Tested 88 children between 3-24 months. They put a mark of paint on the childs cheek and placed them infront of a mirror, to see if they could recognise themselves. Found that 42% of them could self recognise by 18-20 months and 63% by 21-24 months.


Need to make sure the child knows what a mirror is

Low percentages (-)

Vast difference in age range- not specific (-)

Small sample size- only 88 children (-)

Standard mirror test is a reliable and respected method (+)

Face Validity (+)

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Sense of Self

Aspects of Sense of Self:

Self recognition

Gender Concept

Physical and Psychological Self

Self-referential Emotions

Self Esteem

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Sense of Self- Self Recognition

Amsterdam (1972)- Tested 88 children between 3-24 months. They put a mark of paint on a childs cheek and placed them infront of a mirror tho see if they could recognise themselves. Found that 42% could self recognise by 18-20 monts and 63% by 21-24 months.

Lewis and Brooks-Gunn (1979)- Observed children of 9-12 months smiling at their own image but not tracking their face. By 21 months 71% touch the dot on their face. Children from 18 months identified themselves from a photo, showing self recognition is possible from still images too.

Mans et al (1978)- Showed that self-recognition in Downs Syndrome children was delayed but by the age of 4, 78% could do it showing that self awareness relates to cognitive development.

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Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind is the ability to attribute mental states, nowledge, wishes, feeling and beliefs to oneself and others.

Theory of mind was origionally coined by Premack and Woodruff in 1978.

The theory of mind develops at a later stage in life.

Theory of Mind is studied by giving children false belief tasks.

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Theory of Mind Research

Wimmer and Perner (1983)- Blue cupboard/Green cupboard. Had a sample of children aged 4, 6 and 8 years old. The child watched a video of a boy who placed chocolates in the blue cupboard, then the boy (Maxi) leaves the room during which his mum moves the chocolates to the green cupboard. Maxi then returned and the child was asked where Maxi would look for the chocolates. They found that most 4 year olds incorrectly expect Maxi to look in the green cupboard. Also found that most 6 or 8 year olds correctly believe he will look in the blue cupboard. Therefore, concluding that children as young as 4 assume that Maxi will know what they know, but by the time they are 6 they realise that other people dont know the same as them.

Wellman et al (2001) got similar results in a meta-analysis of previous research. There also appears to be cross-cultural support for the findings from the results of similar studies carried out in seven different countries. Development of the ability was slower in Japan and Austria.

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Simon Baron-Cohen Theory of Mind

Simon Baron-Cohen is a key player in Theory of Mind, most of his information and research is from children who have autism.

Baron-Cohen et al (1985); The Sally Anne Saga

Children watched a video of two dolls (Sally and Anne) act out a scenario similar to the cupboard experiment.

Each child was checked to make sure they knew which doll was Sally and which was Anne.

Sally placed a marble in her basket and left the room and her basket behind. Anne remove the marble and placed it in her box. Sally then returned.

The children were asked three questions: Where is the marble really? (Reality Question), Where was the marble in the beginning? (Memory Question) and Where will Sally look for the marble? (Belief Question).

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Baron-Cohen-Sally Anne Saga Continued...

They found that all participants passed the naming, reality and memory question. However the belief question (ToM) the success rates were:

Children with no disorder-85% correctly answered

Children with Downs Syndrome-86% correctly answered

Children with Autism-20% correctly answered.

Concluded that: Children with autism seem unable to appreciate that others have different thoughts or beliefs to themselves.

This inability seems to be a very specific to autism since children with Downs Syndrome can complete the task normally.

It is thought that the 20% of autistic children who can perform this task do so by employing a very long winded method rather than instantely knowing the answer.

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Perspective Taking

Perspective taking is the ability to assume anothers perspective and understand their thoughts and feelings. Being able to differentiate between other peoples perspectives and ones own enhances the understanding of others and oneself.

Selman (1980) Proposed a role-taking theory to explain the development of perspective taking. The theory was developed through research involving inter-personal dilemas. He found that children give answers relative to their age group.

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Stages of Perspective Taking

Egocentric Viewpoint (3-6 years)- Children can not differentiate between the thoughts and feelings of others and self. They can label others feelings but do not see the cause and effect relationship between the reasons and social actions.

Social-informational role taking (6-8 years)- Children are aware that others have social perspectives based on their own reasoning, which may or may not be similar to theirs. However, children tend to focus on one perspective rather than integrating different viewpoints.

Self-reflective role-taking (8-10 years)- Children can "step into anothers shoes" and view their own thoughts, feeling and behaviour from the other perons perspective. They also recognise others cna do the same.

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Stages of Perspective Taking continued...

Mutual role-taking (10-12 years)- Children can step outside a two person situation and imaging how the self and other are viewed from a point of view of a third, impartial party.

Social and conventional system role-taking (12-15 years)- Individuals understand that mutual role-taking does not always lead to complete understanding and that people can be influenced by one or more systems of larger societal values. Social convention are seen as necessary, because they are understood by all members of the group.

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Perspective Taking Research

Epley et al (2004)- 33 children and 32 adults. Were asked to move objects around a 5x5 upright arangement of 25 boxes, 4 objects were hidden from the directors sight. Each participant did 4 trials and the director instructed participants to move objects. Eye movements were tracked. One of the trails was a critical trial. The critical trial could refer to one object from the directors view but two from the participants view. The other three trials/instructions reffered to mutually observable items. Speed of completion was recorded too.

Found that adults made significantly fewer reaching errors than children. Adults found to be looking at objects too that were not mutually observable. Adults were found to be faster at processing too.

Concluded that egocentric bias still occurs in adults but they are more likely to correct it.

Kravetz et al (1999) used Selman's methodology to compare 22 children without learning difficulties and 22 with, on levels of interpersonal understanding. Found that the severity of the learning disability was positively correlated with difficulties in interpersonal relationships.

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Mirror Neuron System

Mirror Neurons help us to understand the behaviour and thoughts of others.

Mirror Neurons are brain cells that are involved in performing an action. They are also active when we observe someone else doing the same action.

Gallese et al (1996) measured the brain activity of monkeys performing a grasping action, later when the monkeys observed other monkeys making the same action their brain activity was the same. This implies that behaviours we perform ourselves result in very similar brain activity to those similar behaviours we observe. The researchers concluded that this system allows for the action and understanding of others.

Rizolletti et al (2006)- Got human participants to watch the experimenters making various hand gestures or to make the gestures themselves. Either way the neural activity in the hands was very similar.

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Studies into Mirror Neurons

Dinstein et al (2007)- Measured brain activity in five human brain areas, known to be involved in the mirror-neuron system, while they watched or performed an action.

Although watching and performing an action resulted in the same brain areas being excited, the researchers could not say with certainty that it was the same mirror neurons firing each time.

Cheng (2007,2008)- Used a variety of neurophysiological measures and found that the presence of a gender difference in the mirror neuron system, with females exhibiting stronger motor resonance than men- perhaps reflecting the fact that more males are diagnosed with autism. (alpha bias)

Depretto et al (2000)- Found that autistic children showed less activity in the MNS as they watched or copied the expressions. The greater the autistic symptom the lower the level of activity recorded.

Phillips et al (1997)- Measured activity in the two brain structures both known to be involved in emotion and particularly in our response to disgust. Participants were either exposed to disgusting stimuli or they watched facial expressions of other people exposed to similarly disgusting things. Both brain structures responded in a similar way regardeless of whether the disgust was being experienced or observed.

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