Chapter 2 – Cognitive Development and Language
A Definition of Development
• Development – refers to certain changes that occur in human beings between conception
o Changes that appear in orderly ways and remain for a reasonably long period of
o The changes, at least those that occur early in life, are generally assumed to be
for the better and to result in behaviour that is more adaptive, more organized,
more effective, and more complex
• Physical development changes in body structure that take place as one grows.
• Social and emotional development changes over time in the ways in which one relates
to others and the self.
• Cognitive development gradual, orderly changes by which mental processes become
more complex and sophisticated.
• changes that occur during development are simply matters of growth and maturation
o Maturation genetically programmed, naturally occurring changes over time.
Three Questions Across the Theories
What is the Source of Development? Nature vs. Nurture
• Nature = heredity, genes, biological, processes, maturation
• Nurture = education, parenting, culture, social policies
• Current views emphasize complex coactions (joint actions) of nature and nurture
o Ex. child’s disposition influences in turn how environment acts towards them
What is the Shape of Development? Continuity Vs. Discontinuity
• continuous or quantitative change like walking up a ramp to go higher and higher ▯
progress is steady.
• discontinuous or qualitative change more like walking up stairs t▯ here are level periods,
then you move up to the next step all at once
o ex. Piaget
Timing: Is it Too Late? Critical Periods and Earlier vs. Later Experiences
• critical period for learning accurate language pronunciation
• later experiences are powerful too and can change the direction of development
• sensitive periods – times when a person is especially ready for or responsive to certain
General Principles of Development
1. People develop at different rates
2. Development is relatively orderly
3. Development takes place gradually
The Brain and Cognitive Development
• Cerebellum – corindates balance and smooth, skilled movements, learning
• Hippocampus – recalling new information and recent experiences
• Amygdala – directions emotions • Thalamus – learning new information, especially verbal
• Reticular formation – attention and arousal
• Corpus callosum – move information from one side of the brain to the othe
• Cerebral cortex – complex problem solving and language
o The cortex is the last part of the brain to develop, so it is believed to be more
susceptible to environmental influences than other areas of the brain
The Developing Brain: Neurons
• Neuron cells send axons and dendrites to connect with other neuron cells.
o Axons transmit information out to muscles, glands, or other neurons; dendrites
receive information and transmit it to the neuron cells themselves
• They share information by releasing chemicals that jump across the tiny spaces
(synapses) between the fibre ends.
• By age 2 to 3, each neuron has around 15 000 synapses; children this age have many
more synapses than they will have as adults.
o Only the neurons used will survive (pruning occurs) ▯supports cognitive
• Two kinds of overproduction and pruning:
o Experience expectant – synapses are overproduced in certain parts of the brain
during certain developmental periods, awaiting (expecting) stimulation
Ex. during the first months of life, the brain expects visual and auditory
• If a child experiences normal sights and sounds – the brain
• Deaf or blind children – brain develops devoted to the sense they
Ex. may explain why adults have difficulty with pronunciations that are
not part of their native language ▯The neurons and synapses that are not
involved in recognizing native language sounds may have been
• therefore, learning these sounds as an adult requires intense
instruction and practice
o Experience dependent synaptic connections are formed based on the
New synapses are formed in response to neural activity in very localized
areas of the brain when the individual is not successful in processing
Ex. learning unfamiliar sound pronunciations in a second language you
• Stimulating environments may help in the pruning process in early life (experience
expectant period) and support increased synapse development in adulthood (experience
• Extreme deprivation can have negative effects on brain development
• Extra stimulation will not necessarily improve development for young children
• Myelination The process by which neural fibres are coated with a fatty sheath called
myelin that makes message transfer faster and more efficient.
o Happens quickly in the early years, continues gradually into adolescence reason the child’s brain grows rapidly in size during the first few years of
The Developing Brain: Cerebral Cortex
• The cerebral cortex develops more slowly than other parts of the brain, and parts of the
cortex mature at different rates.
• The part of the cortex that control physical motor movements matures first
o Second = areas that control complex sense such as vision and hearing
o Third = frontal lobe that controls higherorder thinking processes
o High school years + = temporal lobes controlling emotion and language creation
• Lateralization the specialization of the two hemispheres of the brain
o the left hemisphere of the brain is a major factor in language processing the right
hemisphere handles much of the spatialvisual information and emotions
• Damage to the left side of the brain in young children can be overcome to allow
• development to proceed ▯Different areas of the brain take over.
o Not likely to occur in adults or older children
Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
Influences on Development
• Piaget identified 4 factors of our changing thinking processes from birth to maturity:
1. Biological maturation
Maturation the unfolding of the biological changes that are genetically
programmed in each human being at conception.
With physical maturation comes the increasing ability to act on the
environment and learn from it.
as we act on the environment—as we explore, test, observe, and
eventually organize information—we are likely to alter our thinking
processes at the same time
3. Social experiences – learning from others
Basic Tendencies in Thinking
• Piaget – all species inherit two basic instincts:
1. Organization the combining, arranging, recombining, and rearranging of
behaviour and thoughts into coherent systems.
2. Adaptation – adjusting to the environment
• born with a tendency to organize our thinking and knowledge into psychological
structures or schemes
o Simple structures are combined and coordinated to become more effective
o Schemes – the basic building blocks of thinking
As a person’s thinking processes become more organized and new
schemes develop, behaviour also becomes more sophisticated and better
suited to the environment. Adaptation
o 2 basic processes involved in adaptation:
1. Assimilation – takes place when people use their existing schemes to make sense
of events in their world
trying to understand something new by fitting it into what we already
may have to distort the new information to make it fit
adjusting the information to fit our thinking
2. Accommodation when a person must change existing schemes to respond to a
adjust our thinking to fit the new information
o both processes are required most of the time
Equilibrium Search for mental balance between cognitive schemes and information from the
o the actual changes in thinking take place through the process of equilibration
o If we apply a particular scheme to an event or situation and the scheme works ▯
o If the scheme does not produce a satisfying result ▯disequilibrium exists
o Disequilibrium when a person realizes that his or her current ways of thinking
are not working to solve a problem or understand a situation.
disequilibrium must be just right—too little and we aren’t interested in
changing, too much and we may be discouraged or anxious and not
Four Stages of Cognitive Development
1. Infancy: The Sensorimotor Stage(02)
o the child’s thinking involves the major senses of seeing, hearing, moving,
touching, and tasting.
o Infant develops object permanence – the understand that objects exist whether
the baby perceives them or not
o Goaldirected actions, also learn to reverse actions
o * Begins to make use of imitation, memory, and thought.
o * Begins to recognize that objects do not cease to exist when they are hidden.
o * Moves from reflex actions to goaldirected activity.
2. Early Childhood to the Early Elementary Years: The Preoperational Stage (27)
o Operations – actions that a person carries out by thinking them through instead of
literally performing them (this stage is PRE operational)
o The ability to form and use symbols— words, gestures, signs, images, and so on
—is a major accomplishment of the preoperational period and moves children
closer to mastering the mental operations of the next stage.
Semiotic function The ability to use symbols—language, pictures,
signs, or gestures—to represent actions or objects mentally. (pretending)
o difficult for the child to “think backwards,” or imagine how to reverse the steps
in a task.
o Conservation of matter is difficult the principle that the amount or number of
something remains the same even if the arrangement or appearance is changed
o Cannot decentre – focus on more than one aspect at a time.
o Very egocentric Assuming that others experience the world the way you do Research ▯young children are not totally egocentric in every situation
• Ie. 4 year old talks differently to 2 year old
o * Gradually develops use of language and ability to think in symbolic form.
o * Is able to think operations through logically in one direction.
o * Has difficulties seeing another person’s point of view.
3. Later Elementary to the Middle School Years: The Concrete Operational Stage (711)
o Concrete operations Mental tasks tied to concrete objects and situations ▯
the recognition of the logical stability of the physical world
the realization that elements can be changed or transformed and still
conserve many of their original characteristics
the understanding that these changes can be reversed.
o a student’s ability to solve conservation problems depends on an understanding
of three basic aspects of reasoning:
1.identity – the student knows that if nothing is added or taken away, the
material remains the same
2.compensation – the student knows that an apparent change in one
direction can be compensated for by a change in another direction
3.Reversibility – the student can mentally cancel out the change that has
o Classification Grouping objects into categories.
depends on a student’s abilities to focus on a single characteristic of
objects in a set and group the objects according to that characteristic
Classification is related to reversibility ▯The ability to reverse a process
mentally allows the concrete operational student to see that there is more
than one way to classify a group of objects.
o Seriation the process of making an orderly arrangement from large to small or
o However, their system of thinking is still tied to physical reality, they are not yet
able to reason hypothetically
o * Is able to solve concrete (handson) problems in logical fashion.
o * Understands laws of conservation and is able to classify and seriate.
o * Understands reversibility.
4. High School and University: The Formal Operational Stage (11adult)
o hypotheticodeductive reasoning A formaloperations problemsolving strategy
in which an individual begins by identifying all the factors that might affect a
problem and then deduces and systematically evaluates specific solutions.
can consider a hypothetical situation and reason deductively
o adolescent egocentrism Assumption that everyone else is interested in one’s
thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
imaginary audience—the feeling that everyone is watching. ▯adolescents
believe everyone is analyzing them
o * Is able to solve abstract problems in logical fashion.
o * Becomes more scientific in thinking.
o * Develops concerns about social issues, identity.
Do we All Reach the Fourth Stage?
The first three stages of Piaget’s theory are forced on most people by physical realities. only about 30 to 40 percent of high school students can perform Piaget’s formal
o most adults may be able to use formal operational thought in only a few areas
where they have the greatest experience or interest.
Sometimes, students find shortcuts for dealing with problems that are beyond their grasp;
they may memorize formulas or lists of steps
Information Processing and NeoPiagetian Views of Cognitive Development
As children mature and their brains develop, they are better able to focus their attention,
process information more quickly, hold more information in memory, and use thinking
strategies more easily and flexibly.
o May be why children struggle with conservation
NeoPiagetian theories – more recent theories that integrate findings about attention,
memory, and strategy use with Piaget’s insights about children’s thinking and the
construction of knowledge.
Robbie Case children develop in stages within specific domains such as numerical
concepts, spatial concepts, social tasks, storytelling, reasoning about physical objects, and
o progress in one domain, such as number concepts, does not automatically affect
movement in another, such as storytelling or social skills.
Limitations of Piaget’s Theory
most psychologists agree with Piaget’s insightful descriptions of how children think,
many disagree with his explanations of why thinking develops as it does
The Trouble with Stages
lack of consistency in children’s thinking.
even Piaget put less emphasis on stages of cognitive development and gave more
attention to how thinking changes through equilibration
the processes may be more continuous than they seem
Change can be both continuous and discontinuous ▯catastrophe theory Changes that
appear suddenly are preceded by many slowly developing changes such as gradual
Understanding Children’s Abilities
Piaget underestimated the cognitive abilities of children
o The problems he gave young children may have been too difficult and the
directions too confusing ▯His subjects may have understood more than they
could show on these problems
we may be born with a greater store of cognitive tools than Piaget suggested
Piaget’s theory does not explain how young children can perform at an advanced level in
certain areas where they have highly developed knowledge and expertise.
Piaget argued that the development of cognitive operations such as conservation or
abstract thinking cannot be accelerated – children had to be developmentally ready to
o But has shown that children can learn to perform cognitive operations such as
conservation with effective instruction
Cognitive Development and Culture
Piaget’s theory overlooks the important effects of the child’s cultural and social group. Piaget was accurate about the sequence of the stages in children’s thinking he described,
but age ranges for the stages vary.
Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Perspective
the child’s culture shapes cognitive development by determining what and how the child
will learn about the world.
social interactions are more than simple influences on cognitive development—they
actually create our cognitive structures and thinking processes
Vygotsky conceptualized development as the transformation of socially shared activities
into internalized processes
our mental structures and processes can be traced to our interactions with others ▯these
social interactions are more than simple influences on cognitive development—they
actually create our cognitive structures and thinking processes
The Social Sources of Individual Thinking
• Vygotsky assumed that every function in a child’s cultural development appears twice:
first on the social level and later on the individual level
• higher mental processes first are coconstructed during shared activities between the child
and another person.
o Then the processes are internalized by the child and become part of that child’s
• for Vygotsky, social interaction was more than influence—it was the origin of higher
• higher functions appear first between a child and a “teacher” before they exist within the
• Both Piaget and Vygotsky emphasized the importance of social interactions in cognitive
o Piaget believed that interaction encouraged development by creating
disequilibrium—cognitive conflict—that motivated change