Jean Piaget and cognitive development. Cognitive development is the study of a child’s development in terms of factors such as information processing, language acquisition and conceptual resources. A part of both neuroscience and psychology, cognitive development is concerned with understanding how a child negotiates meaning when first faced with the world, and how that meaning changes as the child becomes more communicative on a verbal level with other individuals.
Key questions in this field of study include the question of when a child becomes aware of its own personality and image, and when a child comes to understand the qualities of other individuals. Many of the main theories relating to cognitive development are based on the idea of Jean Piaget. Piaget was the founder of the cognitive development school of thinking. Piaget’s work throughout the 20th century helped to redefine the ways in which developmental stages are recognised, and he focused particularly on the acquisition and manipulation of knowledge.
Piaget proposed that language is contingent on cognitive development and that the entirety of cognitive development could be reduced to two primary concepts: transformations and states. Transformations are the ways in which states are continually being influenced by time. Human intelligence, according to Piaget, is extremely adaptive and is capable of negotiating multiple complex understandings of an extremely dynamic reality. Piaget argued for a distinction between operative and figurative intelligence.
Operative intelligence, he suggested, is the active aspect of intelligence, and is concerned with adapting to dynamic changes in the environment in which the individual is operating. Figurative intelligence is the static form of intelligence, of the type that operates in the spaces between transformations. Linked to this, Piaget suggested, are the processes of assimilating and accommodating, whereby an individual learns how to deal with knowledge and learns to adapt it to experiences and beliefs.
One of the key arguments in the field of cognitive development has always been the idea of ‘nature vs. nature’: the idea that some people might be influenced in their development by intrinsic truths about their personality, while others might be influenced by environmental factors. This debate polarised opinion for many years and created a sense of nature and nurture being somehow oppositional, before psychologists began to recognise that the two are in fact non-oppositional and work in tandem. Children do eem to have certain innate qualities, but they are also affected by environmental stimuli that in some cases have long-lasting influence. There is no dichotomy between nature and nurture: they are complimentary and both are to some extent linked to the issue of cultural influences. Some cognitive development experts believe, for instance, that environmental factors (e. g. gender attitudes surrounding a newborn child) can have an influence on biological development, encouraging certain physiological traits to be emphasised.
Piaget believed that intelligence is the mechanism by which each individual maintains balance between their own persona and the environment around them. He suggested that intelligence changes drastically and rapidly during a child’s development, and can be reduced to four stages: The sensorimotor stage. This lasts from birth to the age of around 2 years, and involves the child exploring links between perceptions (such as taste, vision and sound) and motor functions. The preoperational stage.
This is the stage at which the child can form stable thoughts. However, these thoughts are almost exclusively focused on the ego, with little understanding of the perceptions of others. This occurs between the ages of approximately 2 and 7 years. The concrete operational stage. This lasts from the ages of 7 to 11 years, and involves the child developing a sense of logic. The child understands rules relating to perception, and that these rules can be manipulated. The formal operational stage.
From the age of 11 onwards, children learn to think in a more abstract way. They can process and analyse information, and they show signs of being able to reason with facts. The age ranges of these four stages of intelligence are not set in stone, and some people may be off by a few years, but Piaget believed that this represented the normal state of cognitive development. He also recognised that while these four stages indicated a smooth and logical transition from one to the next, some individuals did not experience such an easy transition.
Piaget associated troubled transitions with psychological problems experienced in both adolescence and adulthood, and he postulated that this might explain why some individuals develop strong anti-social tendencies. In recent years, Piaget’s theories have been challenged by a number of developmental psychiatrists, and developments in neuroscience have allowed for a more complex and detailed analysis of how brain formations and functions alter during childhood and adolescence. However most of the debates on the subject till take place in the context of Piagetian theories, which have remained influential thanks to the support of those who still believe that the four-stage explanation of intelligence – and its transitions over time – is the most effective explanation for the way that a child’s worldview changes as it grows. References Goswami, Usha. Cognitive development: the learning brain. London, Psychology Press, 2007. Sutherland, Peter. Cognitive development today: Piaget and his critics. London, Sage Publications, 1992. ;gt; Free essay filed in: Psychology on December 7th 2010.