PSY-302 Midterm Review (2)
Chapter 4: Theories of Cognitive Development
- As mentioned before, theories of child development can yield practical benefits. It can provide
a framework for understanding important phenomena, raise crucial question about human
nature, and lead to a better understanding of children.
Cognition: Activity of knowing and the mental processes used to acquire knowledge and solve
problems. In other words, the process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through
thought, experience, and the senses.
Cognitive Development: Changes that occur in these mental skills and abilities over the course
- Cognitive development includes the growth of such diverse capabilities as perception,
attention, language, problem solving, memory, conceptual understanding, and intelligence.
Theories: Provide a framework for understanding important phenomena, raise crucial questions
about human nature, and motivate new research studies that lead to a better understanding of
Genetic Epistemology: The study of the development of knowledge.
- Piaget’s fundamental assumption about children was they they are mentally active as well as
physically active from the moment of birth, and that their activity greatly contributes to their
own development (constructivist theory).
- The “child as scientist” is the dominant metaphor in Piaget’s theory.
- Asecond assumption: Children learn many important lessons on their own, rather than
depending in instruction from adults or older children.
- Athird assumption: Children are intrinsically motivated to learn and do not need rewards from
other people to do so.
- Piaget believed that nature and nurture interact to produce cognitive development.
- Piaget depicted development as involving both continuities and discontinuities.
Sources of Continuity
Assimilation: The process by which people translate incoming information into a form that fits
concepts they already understand.
- E.g Children suggesting a man who is bald except for hair on the sides in a clown - he looked
enough like a clown to be assimilated into the clown concept.
- E.gAchild seeing a zebra for the first time and calling it a horse.
Accommodation: The process by which people adapt current knowledge structures in response
to new experiences.
- E.g From the clown example above, children being told that the man is not a clown, even
though his hair looked like a clown’s, because he was not in a silly costume or doing silly
things. This new information allows children to accommodate their clown concept to the
- E.g From the second example, children are taught that the zebra does not have the same
properties of a horse (e.g stripes), and accommodates their horse concept. Equilibration: The process by which children (or other people) balance assimilation and
accommodation to create stable understanding.
- Why do children constantly organize and adapt? Intrinsic motivation! Children are
intrinsically active, and through activity, children constantly encounter new information, and
attempt to maintain equilibration.
Theory of Cognitive Development (Sources of Discontinuity)
Sensorimotor Stage (Birth to age 2 years):
- One of Piaget’s most profound insights was his realization that the roots of adult intelligence
are present in infants’earliest behaviours, such as their seemingly aimless sucking, flailing,
and grasping. He recognized that these behaviours are not random but instead reflect an early
type of intelligence involving sensory and motor activity.
- Children experience the world and gain knowledge through their senses and motor
movements.As they interact with their environments, they go through cognitive growth.
General principle: Children’s thinking grows especially rapidly in the first few years.
- Infants are born with many reflexes, and they begin to modify their reflexes to make them
more adaptive. E.g They suck differently on their mother’s nipple compared to fingers or
2. Primary Reactions: Action and response both involve infant’s own body (e.g sucking
3. Secondary Reactions: Action gets response from another person/object, leading baby to
repeat original action (e.g baby coos, sees a smiling face, then coos again).
4. Coordination of reactions
5. Tertiary Reactions: Action gets one pleasing result, leading baby to perform similar actions
to get similar results (e.g baby steps on rubber duck, baby squeezes duck, duck squeaks, so baby
squeezes the rubber duck again).
6. Early representational thought
Piaget claimed that through the age of 8 months, infants lack object permanence, the
knowledge that objects continue to exist even when they are out of view. They only are able to
mentally represent (think about) only the objects that they can perceive at the moment.
- By the end of their first year, infants search for hidden objects, thus indicating that they
mentally represent the object’s continuing existence even when they no longer see them.
A-not-B Error: The tendency to reach for a hidden object where it was last found rather than in
the new location where it was last hidden.
- Once 8-12 month olds reached for and found a hidden object several times in one place
(locationA), when they see the object hidden at a different place (location B), and are
prevented from immediately searching for it, they tend to reach where they initially found the
- In the last half-year of the sensorimotor stage (18-24 months), infants become able to form
enduring mental representations.
Reflective Imitation: Copying what they see in front of them (e.g seeing someone yawn).
Deferred Imitation: The repetition of other people’s behaviours a substantial time after it
originally occurred (e.g throwing a tantrum similar to a tantrum from another child yesterday). - Infants are also able to form symbolic representations. By 2 years, infants are able to mentally
represent objects and events in the world. Now, one thing can “stand for” (represent)
something else e.g language, pretend play.
Preoperational Stage (Ages 2 to 7):
- Amix of striking cognitive acquisitions and fascinating limitations.
- The use of symbolic representations increases. There is a huge increase in pretend play from
ages 3-5, for example, in playing pretend pirates, children might wear a patch over one eye or
a bandana on their head because that is the way pirates are commonly depicted.
- However, representation isn’t perfect in toddlers.
- 2.5 year olds lack representational insight and dual representation, while 3 year olds don’t.
(Example with the toy retrieval from model task and live representation).
Deficits in Reasoning:
Animism: The attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena.
Egocentrism: The tendency to perceive the world solely from one’s own point of view.
- Example: Three-mountain task - when asked what the doll sitting across from them sees, most
children under 6 will describe when the scene looks like to them.
- Example: Preschoolers often talk right past one another, focused only on what they themselves
are saying and are oblivious to their partner’s comments.
Appearance/Reality Distinction: Implicit knowledge that the appearance of an object does not
necessarily correspond to the reality.
Children under 3 have trouble making these distinctions. E.g the cat was dressed as a dog for
Halloween, but the child could not make this distinction, and felt the her pet was now a dog.
Centration: The tendency to focus on a single, perceptually striking feature of an object or
- For example, the balance scale problem - children 5-6 centre on the amount of weight on each
scale, and ignore the distance from the fulcrum.
- Another example, child complains of there being little ice cream left in a big bowl, but is
satisfied when ice cream is transferred to a small bowl, because of how full the bowl appears
to be (AKAconservation).
Conservation Concept: The idea that merely changing the appearance of objects does not
necessarily change other key properties.
- Preoperational thinkers centre their attention on the single, perceptually salient dimension of
height or length, ignoring other relevant dimensions.
Reversibility: Unable to mentally “undo” an action.
The Concrete Operational Stage (Ages 7-12):
- Children begin to reason logically and rationally about concrete features of the world.
- They are able to conserve and show reversibility.
- However, successful reasoning is limited to concrete situations. Thinking systematically
- For example, the pendulum problem. Children must determine what factors influence the
swinging of the pendulum (e.g height, weight, length of string). Children below age 12 usually
perform unsystematic experiments and draw incorrect conclusions, e.g they don’t try to
imagine all possible combinations of variables, and use trial and error. Formal Operational Stage (12 and beyond):
- Includes the ability to think abstractly and to reason hypothetically.
- Thinking more rationally and systematically.
- For example, with the pendulum problem, they would understand all the variables, and test the
effect of each variable systematically.
- Piaget believes that unlike the previous three stages, the formal operational stage is not
universal; not all adolescents (or adults) reach it.
Evaluating Piaget’s Theory
Founded discipline of cognitive development Stage model implies children’s thinking as more
consistent than it is (“decalage”)
Children’s active involvement in development Underestimated cognitive abilities of infants and
Attempted to explain, not describe development Underestimated social and cultural inﬂuences
Provided overview in changes in thinking Vague ideas and unclear mechanisms
Inspired an explosion of research
- Aclass of theories that focus on the structure of the cognitive system and the mental activities
used to deploy attention and memory to solve problems. Discusses the mechanisms through
which learning occurs, specifically memory encoding and retrieval.
- Precise specification of thinking processes (specific mental abilities) over time.
- Emphasis on structure (organization of the cognitive system).
Emphasis on thinking as an activity that occurs over time.
TaskAnalysis: The identification of goals, the obstacles that prevent their immediate realization,
the prior knowledge and information in the environment relevant to them, and the potential
processing strategies for overcoming the obstacles and attaining the goals.
Allows researchers to understand and predict children’s behaviour and allows them to
rigorously test precise hypotheses regarding how development occurs.
View of Children’s Nature
- See children’s cognitive growth as occurring continuously, in small increments at different
times on different task (different from Piaget, who thought it was more discontinuous).
The Child as a Limited-Capacity Processing System: Some information-processing theorists
draw comparisons between the information processing of computers and that of humans.
- People’s thinking is limited by factors such as: memory capacity, speed of thought processes,
and availability of useful strategies and knowledge.
- Cognitive development arises from children’s gradually surmounting their processing
limitations through: expansion of the amount of information they can process at one time,
increases in the speed with which they execute thought processes, and acquisition of new
strategies and knowledge. The Child as a Problem Solver: Children are active problem solvers.
- Problem solving involves a goal, a perceived obstacle, and a strategy or rule.
- Children’s cognitive flexibility helps them pursue their goals.
Children Undergo Continuous Cognitive Change:
- Important changes are constantly occurring, rather than being restricted to special transition
periods between stages.
- Cognitive growth occurs in small increments rather than abruptly.
Central Development Issues:
- Examine how nature and nurture work together to produce development. What makes these
theories unique is their emphasis on precise descriptions of how change occurs.
Processing Speed: The speed with which children execute basic processes increases greatly over
the course of childhood.
- Biological maturation and experience contribute to increased processing speed.
- Two of these biological processes include myelination and increased connectivity among brain
Working Memory: Memory system that involves actively attending to, gathering, maintaining,
storing and processing information.
- Working memory is both limited in both its capacity (the amount of information it can store)
and in the length of time it can retain information without updating activities.
Long-Term Memory: Information retained on an enduring basis.
- It includes factual knowledge, conceptual knowledge, procedural knowledge, attitudes, and
Basic Processes: The simplest and most frequently used mental activities (e.g recalling facts,
recognizing objects as familiar).
Encoding: The process of representing in memory information that draws attention or is
- Information that is not encoded is not remembered later.
- Strategies are another major source of learning and memory development.Anumber of
strategies emerge between ages 5-8.
Rehearsal: The process of repeating information multiple times to aid memory of it.
SelectiveAttention: The process of intentionally focusing on the information that is most
relevant to the current goal (common around 7-8 years).
- Most adults remember nothing that occurred before the age of 3 years (infantile amnesia)
With age and experience, children’s knowledge about almost everything increases. This
increase in knowledge in long-term memory improves recall of new material by making it
easier to integrate new material with existing understanding.
The Development of Problem Solving:
Overlapping-Waves Theory: An information processing approach that emphasizes the
variability of children’s thinking.
- Children use a variety of approaches to solves problems. - At any given time, children posses several different strategies for solving a given problem.
- With age and experience, the strategies that produce more successful performance become
more prevalent. Children discover new strategies that are more effective then their previous
ones, they learn to execute both new and old strategies more efficiently, and they choose
strategies that more more appropriate to the particular situation (e.g counting example - when
adding 4+2 it is much easier to start at 4 than 2).
- Planning, however, remain difficult for children, as their desire to solve the problem
immediately and optimistic attitude prevents them from trying to construct the best strategy to
solve the problem.
- Approaches that emphasize that other people and the surrounding culture contribute greatly to
- Emphasizes that much cognitive development takes place through direct interactions between
children and other people - parents, siblings, teachers etc. who want to help children acquire
the skills and knowledge valued in their culture. Involves cultural tools (e.g values).
Guided Participation: Aprocess in which more knowledgeable individuals organize activities
in ways that allow less knowledgeable people to learn.
View of Children’s Nature
- His work created controversy because his view of children’s nature was so different from
- Vygotsky portrayed children as social learners, intertwined with other people who are eager to
help them gain skills and understanding, and are shaped by and shape their cultural contexts.
Vygotsky viewed them as intent on participating in activities that happen to be prevalent in
their local setting.
- Emphasized continuous, quantitative changes, and gave rise to sociocultural theories.
- Believed that at first, children’s behaviour is controlled by other people’s statements, then,
children’s behaviour is controlled by their own private speech (talking to themselves).
Children as Products of Their Culture:
- Sociocultural theorists believe that many of the processes that produce development, such as
guided participation, are the same in all societies. However, the content that children learn -
the particular symbol systems, artifacts, skills, and values - vary greatly from culture to culture
and shape thinking accordingly.
- There is an inclination to teach others of the species, and to learn from such teaching.
Central Development Issues:
Intersubjectivity: The mutual understanding that people share during communication.
- Serves as the foundation of human cognitive development.
- Sets the stage for joint attention.
JointAttention:Aprocess in which social partners intentionally focus on a common referent in
the external environment. -
Increases children’s ability to learn from other people. Example: Language learning - when a
adult tells a toddler the name of an object, the adult usually points directly at it, and children
who look at the object learn better than those who don’t.
Social Scaffolding: Aprocess in which more competent people provide a temporary framework
that supports children’s thinking at a higher level than children could manage on their own.
- To allow children to learn by doing with explicit instruction and explanation.
One important way parents use scaffolding is helping children form autobiographical
memories that is, explicit memories of events that took place at specific times and places in
the individuals past. It includes individual goals, intentions, emotions, and reactions relative to
those events. Over time, these memories become strung together into more or less coherent
narrative about one’s life. E.g Toddler: “Bird fly away”, Mother: “Yes, the bird flew away
because you got close to it and scared it.”
Dynamic Systems Theory:
- Aclass of theories that focuses on how change occurs over time in complex systems.
- Research that reflects the dynamic-systems perspective indicates that detailed analyses of the
development in infant’s basic actions, such as crawling, walking, reaching, and grasping, yield
surprising and impressive insights into how development occurs.
- For example, improved reaching allows infants to play with objects in more advanced ways,
such as organizing them into categories.
- Research demonstrates that the development of seemingly simple actions is far more complex
and interesting than previously realized.
- Emphasize children’s innate motivations to explore the environment (Piaget).
Emphasize precise analysis problem-solving activity (information-processing).
- Emphasize early emerging competencies (core-knowledge).
- Emphasize the formative influence of other people (sociocultural).
View of Children’s Nature
- Children are strongly motivated to learn about the world around them and explore and expand
their own capabilities.
Infant’s interest in the social world is a crucial motivator of development. Newborn:Attention
to human face. 10-12 Months: Emergence of intersubjectivity.
- Pervasive emphasis on how children’s specific actions shape their development. E.g reaching
and grasping, categorizing, aiding vocabulary acquisition and generalization, shaping memory.
- Actions influence categorization e.g having a child move a toy up and down categorizes it as
one of a group of objects that are easiest to move in that way.
Central Development Issues
- View development as a process of self-organization that involves bringing together and
integrating attention, memory, emotions, and actions as needed o adapt to a continuously
SoftAssembly: The components and their organization change from moment to moment and
situation to situation.
- Theories also posit that changes occur through mechanisms of variation and selection that are
analogous to those that produce biological evolution. - Variation refers to the use of different behaviours to pursue the same goal, which selection
involves increasingly frequent choice of behaviours that are effective in meeting goals.
Chapter 5: Seeing, Thinking, and Doing in Infancy
- William James, one of the first psychologists, referred to the world of the newborn as a “big
blooming, buzzing confusion”.
Sensation: The processing of basic information from the external world by the sensory receptors
in the sense organs (e.g eyes, ears, skin, mouth), and the brain.
Perception: The process of organizing and interpreting sensory information.
Habituation Method: Present 1 stimulus until infant becomes “bored”, present new stimulus, if
infant pays attention to the new stimulus, they notice a difference.
How can we measure attention? Overt behaviour and physiological measures.
Preference Method: Present 2 stimuli and measure attention to both; if infant pays more
attention to one stimulus, they notice the difference and prefer one over the other.
Shortcomings? What is there is no difference? What does “prefer” mean?
Newborns begin visually exploring the world minutes after leaving the womb.
- Newborns are legally blind, and see objects best about a foot away (20/600 vision), over time
vision gets better, and by about 6 years of age children have 20/20 vision.
VisualAcuity: The sharpness of visual discrimination.
- This method builds on research showing that infants who can see the difference between a
simple patterns and a solid grey field consistently prefer to look at the pattern.
- Young infants generally prefer to look at patterns of high contrast; likely due to contrast
sensitivity - they can only detect a pattern when it’s composed of highly contrasting elements.
What drives the development of visual acuity?
- Maurer tested infants with congenital cataracts, that were removed by 1 week - 9 months.
Visual acuity was tested after contact lens, and by 1 hour visual acuity had already improved,
and by 1 month they were catching up to their age-matched controls.
- Newborns see colours, but have trouble distinguishing blue, green, and yellow from white. By
2-3 months, infants can discriminate all the basic colours.
- Newborns have trouble tracking moving stimuli because their eye movements are jerky and
often do not stay with whatever they are trying to visually follow.
- With more complex shapes they tend to scan only the outer edges, but about 2 months they
will begin to focus on the internal features of the face.
Newborns Visual Preferences: High contrast, medium complexity, patterned figures over plain
ones, and large patterns over small ones.
- In terms of faces, newborns prefer top heavy stimuli, but by about 3 months they no longer
discriminate between faces of all kinds (no longer simply preferring top-heavy).
- After about 12 hours of exposure, infants begin to recognize and prefer own mother’s face. Perceptual Narrowing: Adevelopmental process during which the brain uses environmental
experiences to shape perceptual abilities.
- For example, adults can distinguish between human faces, but not monkey faces. Newborns to
6 months can distinguish between both human faces and monkey faces, but lose this ability
after 6 months.
- Newborns do prefer looking at faces over other objects. Their visual system is biased to attend
to socially significant stimulus.
- Face perception develops rapidly, and infants quickly learn to prefer and specialize in faces
they see most.
Perceptual Consistency: The perception of objects as being of constant size, shape, colour, in
spite of physical differences in the retinal image of the object. E.g, whether a person is close or
far away, they are the same size.
Object Segregation: The identification of separate objects in a visual array.
Box and Rod Example: With the rod behind the box, it is impossible to know for sure if you see
one object or two. If the rod moves behind the box, our perception of gravity tells us that the rod
and box are two separate objects. Infants don’t think this way.
- The fact that the two parts of the rod moved together in the same direction and the same speed
leads the infant to believe they are two separate segments. (common motion)
- As they get older, infants use additional sources of information for object segregation,
including their general knowledge about the world.
Optical Expansion:Adepth cue in which an object occludes increasingly more of the
background, indicating that the object is approaching. (kinetic cues, looming)
- Infants as young as 1 month of age blink defensively at the expanding image that appears to
be an object heading toward them.
Binocular Disparity: The difference between the retinal image of an object in each eye that
results in two slightly different signals being sent to the brain.
- The closer the object we are looking at, the greater the level of disparity.
Stereopsis: The process by which the visual cortex combines the differing neural signals caused
by binocular disparity, resulting in the perception of depth.
- Emerges around 4 months of age.
Monocular Depth Cues: The perceptual cues of depth (such as relative size and interposition)
that can be perceived from one eye alone.
- These cues are also known as pictorial cues, because they can be used to portray depth in
- Fetuses can hear in the last 3 months before birth.
- Newborns can hear quite well, but sounds may be louder for a newborn to hear, and sounds in
the range of human voices are heard best.
- Sensitivity develops rapidly in first year, and then slowly until 5 or 6 years old.
Auditory Localization: Perception of the location in space of a sound silence. - When they hear a sound, newborns tend to turn toward it. However, newborns and young
infants are far worse at determining the spatial location of a sound than older infants and
- Newborns prefer hearing voices over other sounds, mother’s voice over stranger’s voice,
“baby talk” over adult-directed speech, and native language over foreign language.
- Their auditory system is biased to attend to a socially significant stimulus.
- Infants are sensitive to music, as shown by the fact that caregivers around the world sing while
caring for their infants. When adults sing to their infants, they do so in a characteristic fashion
which is like infant-directed speech (babytalk).
- Infants are more “sensitive” to aspects of musical rhythm than adults are. They ca