Theory of Cognitive Development and Jean Piaget Essay

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget was the first to study cognitive development systematically. One of his major contributions is his theory of cognitive development. However, his theory has numerous limitations and has come under frequent criticism. This essay will analyse four limitations of Piaget’s theory and provide alternative accounts. The first three limitations will be presented through a cultural, social, neuroscientific point of view, and finally, end with the problems of research methods used in Piaget’s study to build his theory.

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It is found that Piaget’s theory does not combine cultural context and social context with the development itself and lacks scientific evidence. Moreover, problems in his research methods has led to inaccuracy in his theory. Introduction: Although Piaget’s theory of cognitive development made significant contributions to children development, his theory has limitations. It has been seriously criticised and widely challenged.

Jean Piaget‘s (1896-1980) theory of cognitive development is based on the development of schemas1. According to Piaget, schemas can be adapted through three processes: assimilation2 and acommodation3 and equilibirium4. Piaget asserts that all children go through four discontinuous stages in the same sequence, namely they are: the sensorimotor stage, the pre-operational stage, the concrete operations stage and the formal operation stage. The first stage, which is the sensorimotor stage, occurs around 0-2 years. During this stage, infants interact with the environment through limited senses and motor activities.

Piaget contends that the infant at this stage do not understand ‘object permanence’5. The second stage is the pre-oprational stage. It lasts from approximately 2-7 years. Piaget believes that at this time the child is not yet able to understand concrete logic and fails to appreciate conservation6.

He also identified the inability of the child to think from another person’s perspective, which he termed egocentrism. The next stage is the concrete operations stage which lasts from around 7-11 years. Piaget notes that in this period, the child is capable of thinking logically about concrete situations, but not abstract concepts. The child now can use inductive logic but have difficulties using deductive logic. Piaget also suggests that within this stage, the child develops the ability to decentre and the understanding of reversibility7.

The final stage, which is the formal operational stage, occurs around age 12 and lasts into adulthood. Piaget asserts that at this time, the child is able to think about abstract terms and develop skills such as deductive reasoning, problem solving and planning.

After a brief overview of Piaget’s theory, this essay will next discuss four limitations of the theory.?1: Piaget introduced schema and adopted it in his theory.Piaget called the schema the basic building block of intelligent behavior – a way of organizing knowledge. (http://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html) 2: assimilation: the process of adopting new knowledge into old schemas 3: accomodation: changing or modifying existing schemas 4: the ideal state when assimilation and accomodation are balanced 5: the understanding that objects continue to exist even though they cannot be seen or heard or felt First, one of the limitations of Piaget’s theory is a lack of examination on the cultural context of children development. While Piaget asserts that cognitive development is self-initiated, psychologists such as Vygotsky suggest that Piaget ignored cultural influences on cognitive development.

Piaget assumes that all children, regardless of culture, progress through four discrete stages in the same order, however, Vygotsky argues that children from different cultural backgrounds may experience these transformations differently. Swiss psychologist Pierre Dasen (1977) also argues that the development of basic cognitive processing ability varies from culture to culture. Neo-piagetian theorists such as Robbie case and Yukari Okamoto (1996) concluded from piagetian cross-cultural researches that culturally determined values or experiences have a great influence on children’s intellectual performance.

Furthermore, to emphasise on cultural influences on cognitive development, Carl Ratner mentioned in the articleHistorical and Contemporary Significance of Vygotsky’s Sociohistorical Psychology that Vygotsky and Luria (1930/1993) argued that “a significant cultural reconstruction has to take place in order for the child to shift from the stage of primitive perceptions to the next one -to the stage of competent forms of adaptation to the external world” For example, although Piagets sees that children understand conservation after the pre-operational stage (2-7 years), Joseph C.Berland illustrated in his writings that Price-Williams et al. (1969) showed that pottery making children as young as 6 were able to conserve. However, it is noted by Case and Okamoto et al. that some children from certain cultures are not able to pass conservation tests until they reach puberty while some never pass these tests.

In other words, Piaget’s theory may be limited to be more representative of children from a certain culture. Second, apart from the limitations due to Piaget ignoring cultural influences, some are related to Piaget overlooking social influences. Without considering the social context, such as the influence of adults or social surroundings, Piaget’s theory may not be applied to children under different social conditions and may have underestimated children’s abilities. Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory argues that social interaction plays a significant role in children cognitive development.

As Vygotsky quotes, “We must admit that at the beginning of each age period, there develops a completely original, exclusive, single, and unique relation, specific to the given age, between the child and reality, mainly the social reality, that surrounds him. We call this relation the social situation of development at the given age. The social situation of development represents the initial moment for all dynamic changes that occur in development during the given period. It determines wholly and completely the forms and the path along which the child will acquire ever newer personality characteristics, drawing them from the social reality as from the basic source of development, the path along which the social becomes the individual.” (p.

198) Fischer‘s dynamic skill theory and Bandura’s social cognitive theory also place emphasis on the role of social context. Apart from this, lack of consideration of social factors may have led to inaccuracy in Piaget’s experiment results that prevents his theory from being generalised to a larger population. For example, in Piaget’s conservation experiments, children may assume that something must have changed as the adult moved something, therefore failing to conserve. However, as it is noted by Peter K. Smith[->0], Helen Cowie[->1], Mark Blades[->2], McGarrigle and Donaldson (1974) recreated Piaget’s conservation experiment: having a naughty teddy bear instead of an adult to mess up a row of counters.

In this case, 72% of children in the sample group managed to conserve. Through a comparison of Piaget’s conservation experiment and McGarrigle and Donaldson’s ‘Naughty teddy’ experiment, it may be concluded that to some extent adults have influence on children’s ability performance. Therefore, without analysis of the social context of children development, Piaget’s theory may not be able to provide an accurate framework of cognitive development. Next, as Vygotsky suggests, Piaget’s theory failed to provide enough scientific evidence. Vygotsky also suggests that Piaget is overtheorizing.

Without adequate scientific facts, Piaget’s theory may not be accurate enough to be applied to contemporary developmental psychology or to education. Cognitive neuroscientists such as Mark Johnson (1996) place emphasis on a neuroscience account of cognitive development. Take this as an example of a neuroscience account of cognitive development, while Piaget concludes that children make A not B search errors because of not understanding object permanence, from a neuroscientific point of view, children may know where the object is, but they are not able to restrain from previously repeated actions.

Another limitation is due to problems of Piaget’s research methods. First, Piaget sees cognitive development as an universal process, however, his research samples were inadequate to be representative of the universe. Initially, his findings on children development were based on his observations of his own three children.

Even though he did obtain larger research samples later, most of the children of the samples came from well-educated families. Not only his sample size was small, but also his samples were not diverse. Therefore, his theory was not able to account for development of a larger population. Second, Piaget’s techniques of experimenting come under serious criticism as well. Many of his experiments, such as the conservation test and A not B error experiment, were relied on asking children basic questions.

However, his way of asking (for example, asking the question twice or using certain vocabulary) has been argued that it may have caused confusion among the children being asked. As mentioned in the article Simply Psychology, Rose and Blank (1974) contends that asking the question twice may have made the children think that their original answer was wrong. Rose and Blank carried out the conservation experiments by asking the question only once and had different results from that of Piaget’s.

Many children were able to conserve. To conclude, this essay discussed four of the limitations of Piaget’s theory. First, Piaget’s theory focuses on children developing alone instead of including cultural and social context. Next, his theory was not based on adequate scientific facts. Finally, his theory is based on results of a methodology which has problems.

Even though Piaget’s theory has its limitations, it is still widely considered as a major paradigm of children cognitive development as many later psychologists established their theories on the strengths of his. The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky, Volume 5, 1998, pp. 187-205.

Transcribed by Andy Blunden, 2008 Fischer, K. W. (1980). A theory of cognitive development: The control and construction of hierarchies of skills. Psychological Review, 87, 477-531 Bandura, A. (1977).

Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press. Peter K. Smith[->3], Helen Cowie[->4], Mark Blades[->5] (1988,1991 by Peter K.Smith and Helen Cowie; 1998, 2003 by Peter K.Smith, Helen Cowie and Mark Blades) Understanding children’s development pp.417-419,Blackwell Publishing ^Johnson co-authored, (with Jeffrey Elman[->6], Annette Karmiloff-Smith[->7], Elizabeth Bates[->8], Domenico Parisi, and Kim Plunkett) Elman, Jeffrey (1996). Rethinking Innateness: A Connectionist Perspective on Development.

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN[->9] 026255030X[->10]. McLeod, H. A. (2010). Simply Psychology;. Retrieved 16 March 2012, from http://www.simplypsychology.org/concrete-operational.html Ratner, Carl.

Historical and Contemporary Significance, from http://webpages.charter.net/schmolze1/vygotsky/ratner.htmlof Vygotsky’s Sociohistorical Psychology Vygotsky, L., & Luria, A. (1993). Research on the history of behavior. Foumart, primitive, and child. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. (Original operate published 1930)

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