Class Notes – PSY302 Lecture 4
Chapter 4 Theories of Cognitive Development
Why developmental theories?
1. Provide a framework for understanding important phenomena
2. Raise crucial questions about human nature
3. Motivate new research studies that lead to a better understanding of children
Why not just one theory?
Because development is so complex no single theory accounts for all of it.
Theories of cognitive and social development, for example, focus on different
The theories examined in this lecture allow a broader appreciation of
cognitive development than any one of them does by itself.
Questions Addressed by Piagetian Theory
Main Questions Answered
The Active Child
Jean Piaget’s theory remains the standard against which all other theories are
Constructivist theory – children construct an understanding of their world
based on observations of the effects of their behaviour
Constructivist theory 2
Children are seen as
Intrinsically motivated to learn
Cognitive structures: basic mental tools needed to make sense of information.
Interrelated memories, thoughts, strategies
Used to make sense of experiences
Sensorimotor action pattern
When things make sense…
When things don’t make sense???
Organization and Adaptation
Organization: the tendency to integrate particular observations into coherent knowledge
Internal rearrangement and linking together of schemes
Visually directed reaching
Existing schemes used to interpret novel information
New information absorbed into existing scheme
Adaptation: the tendency to respond to the demands of the environment to meet one’s
Creation of new scheme or alteration of existing scheme to cope with information that
does not fit
The process by which children (and adults) balance assimilation and accommodation to
create stable understanding
1. Equilibration: no discrepancies
2. Disequilibration: new information cannot be fitted into existing schemas 4
3. More stable equilibrium: development of more sophisticated understanding that
eliminates the shortcomings of the old one.
Sources of Continuity
Sources of Discontinuity
The discontinuous aspects of Piaget’s theory are distinct, hierarchical stages.
Central properties of Piaget’s stage theory:
Broad applicability across topics and contexts
Hypothesized that children progress through four stages of cognitive
development, each building on the previous one.
Birth to age 2
Build newborn reflexes (sucking, rooting, etc.) into symbolic activity
Marked by increase in complexity of cognitive activity
Only a marker
Sequential rather than age defined
Object Permanence 5
Understanding that objects exist independent of our ability to perceive them
Substage 1 (1 to 4 months)
“Out of sight, out of mind”
Substage 2 (4 to 8 months)
Search for partially concealed objects
Substage 3 ( 8 to 12 months)
Search for concealed objects
Show infant attractive toy
Hide toy under one of two cloths (A)
Then move toy to other cloth (B) as infant watches
Allow infant to choose and they will choose A, where they found the object previously
Physical behaviour determines where the object will be found
Master object permanence
Piaget’s A-Not-B Task
Between 18-24 months Infants become able to form enduring mental representations.
The first sign of this capacity is deferred imitation, the repetition of other people’s
behavior a substantial time after it occurred.
Challenges to Piaget’s conception of infancy
Idea that much of cognitive knowledge is innate, requiring little specific
experiences to be expressed
Critique of Piaget
Possible vs. Impossible event
More interest in impossible event
Object permanence evident at 3 ½ months
The Possible and the Impossible Event
Emphasize the sophistication of infants’ and young children’s thinking in areas
that have been important throughout human evolutionary history.
Two characteristic features of research inspired by core-knowledge theories:
Focuses on areas that have been important throughout human evolutionary
Young children reason in ways that considerably more advanced than Piaget
suggested were possible.
A. View of Children’s Nature 7
Core-knowledge theories depict children as active learners, constantly
striving to solve problems and to organize their understanding into
However, core-knowledge theorists view children as entering the world
with specialized learning abilities that allow
them to quickly and effortlessly acquire information of
A mix of impressive cognitive acquisitions and equally impressive limitations
A notable acquisition is symbolic representation, the use of one object to stand
for another, which makes a variety of new behaviors possible.
One major limitation is egocentrism, the tendency to perceive the world solely
from one’s own point of view.
Difficulty recognizing another’s perspective
NOT that child was unconcerned with other’s points of view
A related limitation is centration, the tendency to focus on a single, perceptually striking
feature of an object or event.