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Lecture 2

Psychology 2410A/B Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Tabula Rasa, Reinforcement, Associationism

Course Code
Adam Cohen

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Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
Piaget believed that children spent some period of time in a given stage with an
unchanging set of skills, and that they rather suddenly moved into a new stage,
exhibiting a whole array of new skills in a number of areas more of less at once
Piaget saw development as discontinuous
According to Piaget, children moved through stages in the same order
The Four Stages
Piaget examined four stages of development
The first stage is called the sensorimotor stage
Birth to 2 years old
Piaget emphasized the use of motor activity and physical interaction for
knowledge acquisition
Engaged in experimental trial and error
Early language development starts during this stage, and according to Piaget,
object permanence develops at around 8 months
Object Permanence: a child’s understanding that an object still exists even
when it can no longer be observed directly. A major development in the
sensorimotor period, according to Piaget
Six substages of this stage: exercising reflexes. developing schemes,
discovering procedures, intentional behaviour, novelty and exploration, and
mental representation
The second stage is called the pre-operational stage
2 years to 7 years old
Cognitive development is rapid
Children understand past and future, but knowledge is still very egocentric and
very concrete
The third stage is called the concrete operational stage
7 to 11 years old
Begin to understand and use symbols
Thinking is less egocentric and children understand concrete operations
The fourth stage is called the formal operational stage
12 to adulthood
Adept symbols and can relate them to abstract concepts
Can think about multiple variables to predict outcomes and can formulate
hypotheses about either concrete or abstract relationships
Once this stage is reached no new structures develop
Sources of Developmental Change
Piaget described three sources of developmental change: assimilation,
accommodation, and equilibrium
Assimilation: the process of interpreting new information in terms of previously
understood theories and knowledge
When an adult or a child hears something new, they can translate it into
information that makes sense
Accommodation: the process of changing one’s current theory, understanding, or
knowledge in order to cope with new information

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This is a learning process and the process by which a child may develop new
Equilibrium: the process of balancing assimilation and accommodation in order to
maintain a stable understanding of the world while still allowing for development
If children come to a state of disequilibirum, then they are not satisfied that they
can make sense of a new experience with their current understanding
As a result, their understanding changes, and they return to equilibrium
Shortcomings of Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory
Piaget greatly underestimated the cognitive competence of infants and children
A second major shortcoming is that the stage model is overstated
Piaget thought that child’s stage determined modes of thinking in a wide number of
domains and that thinking was consistent until the child moved into a new stage
There does not seem to be any evidence, however, of concurrent changes across
a large number of domains at the moment of stage change
Recent research shows more variability across domains
A third shortcoming of Piaget’s theory is Piaget’s underestimation of the
importance of social and emotional contributions to development
Associationism and Social Learning Theory
Associationist Perspective: an approach that encompasses learning theories in
general and social learning theory as well. This perspective suggests that people gave
only general-purpose learning mechanisms, allowing them to associate one stimulus
with another. Other than these associationist learning mechanisms, the newborn mind
is a blank slate
Classical Conditioning
Classical Conditioning: a learning process in which a neural stimulus comes to be
associated with a naturally motivating stimulus so that each evokes the same
Unconditioned Stimulus: the stimulus that elicits a response before any training
has taken place
Unconditioned Response: the response that follow the presentation of the
unconditioned stimulus
Conditioned Stimulus: the stimulus with which the unconditioned stimulus has been
associated and which elicits a response after training has taken place
Conditioned Response: the response to the conditioned stimulus once training has
taken place
Watson believed that a child’s behaviour and development was best explained by
his or her experiences in life
Developed “Little Albert” experiments
This conditioning approach can be used for systematic desensitization
He believed that if conditioned to eat at regular intervals, a child would not be
hungry or cry in between feedings
Operant Conditioning
Operant Conditioning: a type of learning in which a specific behaviour becomes
more or less likely as a result of rewards or punishments
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