WJEC A2 Psychology PY4 - Theories of Cognitive Development

2 Theories of Cognitive Development

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Piaget's Theory (Constructivist)

  • Piaget believed children thought in qualitatively different ways to adults, used to be assumed that children were like little adults, who thought in the same way but to lesser extent. Piaget believed children thought in different ways and experienced world differently + each stage of intellectual development builds on previous
  • Piaget also suggested idea of 'Discovery Learning', where children learn things by discovering them for yourself as result of active exploration, like a "little scientist"
  • cognitive development occurs through interaction between innate capacities and environmental events. Assumed children are born with certain reflexes or simple, primitive schemas (sucking and grasping). Piaget believed schemas vital to cognitive development (mental structure that organises past experiences and provides understanding future experiences). Child matures these schemas and uses them on other stimuli in their environment, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
  • as we develop cognitively, understanding of world changes and schemas we have need to evolve, known as 'adaptation', occurring by assimilation or accommodation:

- Assimilation: incorporating new info into existing schemas (eg sucking ****** leads to sucking dummy). However child may apply wrong schema, which results in state of disequilibrium, and requires 'accommodation'

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Piaget's Theory (Constructivist)

- Accommodation: modifying an existing schema in order to deal with new situation. Restores child's equilibrium, enabling child to regain understanding and control of world around them and allow more sophisticated exploration

  • stages of cog development outlined by Piaget in his theory were based on detailed observations of his own children and friend's children. Collected in depth data from small sample using observations, clinical interviews and developmental tests
  • according to Piaget, children progress through 4 stages which are universal (applicable to all children) and invariant (sequence is same for every child). Piaget did acknowledge children show individual diff in rates of progression and although final stage may not always be reached, no stage can be missed out
  • for example, object permanence occurs during sensorimotor stage. Until 8 months, a child has no object permanence because they must be able to form a mental representation of an object that was in their view. Child will display object permanence after 8 months by reacting to disappearance of previously present object by searching for it. Eg "Teddy and Blanket Study" by Piaget (1963) which found child under 8 months lost interest in teddy when blanket covered it up, supporting theory
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Piaget's Theory (Constructivist)


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Piaget's Theory (Constructivist)

(+) Piaget's theory stimulated a vast amount of research that has increased our understanding of cognitive development

(+) "Discovery Learning" has been very influential in early years education, the emphasis being on play in nursery schools and in the first year of primary education

(-) while Piaget's theory provides description of cog dev, can be argued it doesn't explain how or why different abilities develop at different times. Piaget failed to consider effects of context, motivation, memory, understanding of lang and intentions on task performance, leading to underestimation of children's cog abilities

(+) Piaget used controlled tasks to measure child ages to perform cog abilities

(-) HOWEVER... sample was small and not representative, lacks pop validity. There was no stats tests used to analyse results, and tasks set confusing for children. Piaget based ages and stages on ability of different aged children from tasks he set. Assumed failure to perform competently on test was evidence of lack of that particular competence. However absence of performance does not imply absence of ability

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Piaget's Theory (Constructivist)

(-) Donaldson (1978) suggests tasks Piaget gave children lacked eco validity. Found that when tasks were adapted to reflect child's normal experiences (higher eco val), able to complete tasks at earlier age than Piaget suggested eg:

(-) Bower and Wishart (1972) found the way in which object is made to disappear influences infant's response to object permanence (OP); if lights turned off after infant (aged 1 - 4 months) has been looking at object, their study demonstrated that a child continues to look for object for up to 1.5 mins, suggests they remember object is there even if it's not visible before 8 months, contradicting Piaget's suggestion that OP only occurs after 8 months

(+) Goodnow (1965) in terms of culture, reported results of cross-cultural studies using large samples of American, British, African and Chinese children which showed same sequence of developing abilities described by Piaget, therefore supporting his suggestion that stages of cognitive development are universal

(-) Meadows (1995) suggests Piaget excluded contribution of others to children's cog development by suggesting children are largely independent in construction of knowledge, unlike Vygotsky's theory that suggests social interactions are crucial

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Vygotsky's Theory (Social Constructivist)

  • Vygotsky emphasised social interactions (SI) of child with other children/adults and how these affected cog development - child is seen as an "apprentice" in Vygotsky's view and his theory is referred to as "social constructivist" because of the emphasis on SI
  • unlike Piaget, Vygotsky believed many of really important discoveries made by children occur within SI and involve collaborative dialogues between a child and 'tutor' (parent, teacher or more accomplished child). Child internalises info transmitted in the dialogue and uses it to regulate future behaviour and experiences = skills have developed through SI rather than solitary discovery
  • Zone of Proximal Development is gap between what a child can learn on its own (actual developmental level) and what they can learn with an expert 'other person' (potential developmental level), again reinforcing importance of SI
  • when others, such as parent, teacher or more competent child, provide a support mechanism for child's learning so child benefits from that support and increases understanding of problem, known as scaffolding, used in teaching at schools
  • Semiotics and Role of Lang: signs and symbols culturally transmitted can influence individual thinking and cultural group, cog dev must be social process
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Vygotsky's Theory (Social Constructivist)

(+) Vygotsky's theory highlighted importance of social + cultural influences on cog dev and encouraged the use of small group, collaborative learning and peer teaching

(+) Wood and Middleton (1975)

  • supported Vygotsky's ideas about importance of scaffolding
  • designed set of wooden blocks which could be fitted together, and observed interactions between 4 yr old children and parents as child tried to assemble blocks. Tasks designed to be too difficult for most 4 yrs olds to manage alone
  • found at first parents tended to show children how to put blocks together, as child became skilled, parent would simply give verbal instructions or prompts
  • concluded parents support child's concept dev by arranging child's experience. Provide different levels of parental support as child becomes adept at task
  • shows parents give less support as child becomes more skilled at task, showing acquisition of particular skill
  • BUT... others argue it is not cog dev, unlike concepts like conservation and OP, could be argued W+M's task was not valid test of cog dev, illustrates concept of ZPD but does not demonstrate ZPD and V's theory is actually part of cog dev
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Vygotsky's Theory (Social Constructivist)

(-) a criticism of concept of ZPD is that the emphasis on instruction by others is likely to reduce child's ability to think independently. May act as a demotivator to learning and can make children lazy and unwilling to learn for themselves

(-) collaborative learning and peer-group teaching may also lead to a child as a "free-rider" who takes no part in group activities and lets everyone do all the work. Free rider not developing their cognitive ability, merely being lazy = learning will not occur

(-) Vygotsky also assumes role of parents in child's cog dev is supportive and beneficial but not always case. Parents sometimes confound a child's attempt to understand the world by making mystifying or incorrect statements because they are embarrassed or believe child should not know truth of concepts like sex and death

(+) Gredler (1992) pointed to the primitive counting system used in Papua New Guinea. Counting is done in this culture by starting at the thumb of one hand, going up the arm and down to other fingers, ending at 29 - makes it difficult to add and subtract large numbers, which influences cog dev of that culture. This counting system is an example of how culture and semiotics can affect cog dev and in this case, limit it

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tom sage


do you do made to order essay plans? i could do with a C grade plan

Aaron Wade


Will you posting the controversies essays?

Zoey Jowett


yeah uploading the first two essays I've learnt in class tonight :)

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