Cognition is the term used to describe the mental activity through which human beings acquire,
remember, and learn to use knowledge. Congnition includes many mental processes like perception,
attention, learning, memory and reasoning.
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development emphasizes developmental changes in the organisation or
structure of children’s thinking processes.
Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of cognitive development suggests that a child’s interactions with
the social world produce advances in thinking and understanding.
Piaget’s theory of Cognitive Development
Piaget helped Binet develop first standaradized IQ tests for children and made two important
observations. 1. That children of the same age got the same answers wrong 2. The errors children
make differed in systematic ways from those older or younger
He thought these revealed distinct age related ways of thinking and understanding the world.
Piaget relied on interviews and observations. Interviews= question and have them explain their thinking.
Observation= used very young, present problem watch them try to solve
Piaget’s theory popular in 1960s. Proposed that throughout development the child acquires new
ways of thinking and understanding the world. This was alt. To behaviourism which focused on
observations of how their cognitive abilities change as they grow.
Piaget’s Main tenet: The Child Actively Seeks Knowledge
Does not wait for environment to provide knowledge like behaviourism says. He was really
interested in the development of knowledge about logical properties of the world.
Piaget believed that over the course of development, children’s knowledge of the world gets
organized into increasingly complex cognitive structures...which is an organized group of interrelated
memories, thoughts and strategies child uses in trying to understand a situation.
Much of his theory was built around the schema which is an organized unit of knowledge and
collectively they form the knowledge base that a person uses to understand environment
Organization for piaget involves the combination of simple mental structures into more complex
systems which is a key feature of children’s developing knowledge.
As children grow they switch from using schemata on overt physical activities to those based on
internal mental ones which is called operations. With development, operations are used to alter and
combine schemata to form more complex behaviours.
Large scale orgazational changes are stages. 4 stages in life. Sensorimotor, Preoperational, concrete
operational and formal operations.
Modifying schemas in relation to experiences – adaptation. To understand a new experience they try
assimilation which is applying their existing schemas to the new experience. Accomodation is
modifying existing scheme to fit the characteristics of the new situation.
Stages of Cognitive Development
Because stages are built through experience, they do not reach at exactly the same time and age Sensorimotor stage spans for two years (first 2) and is when children build on basic reflexes by
interacting with the environment and form schemas. By the end of two years they begin to form mental
representations of objects and events and use this information in developing new behaviours and solving
Sensorimotor divided in 6 subcategories: 1. Basic reflex activity 2. Primary circular Reactions 3.
Secondary circular Reactions 4. Coordination of secondary schemata 5. Tertiary Circular Reactions 6.
Inventing new means by mental combination
Over this stage, they learn about objects including object permanence: the realization that objects
continue to exists even when they are out of sight
Substage 1- Infants become more proficient in the use of their innate reflexes (grasping, sucking). Over
first month of life many involuntary behaviours are replaced by behaviours that are similar but controlled
voluntarily. Infants only look at objects directly in front of them. ( birth to one month)
Substage 2- They produce repetitive behaviours that are focused on the infant’s own body. They repeat
actions that are pleasurable. If toy vanishes, will not look for it. Objects don’t have existence of their own.
(1 to 4 months)
Substage 3- Interested in making things happen outside his own body. Repetitive behaviours focused on
external objects. Baby is capable of combining schemes and shows some awareness of object
permanence. Will search for partially visible but not covered object. ( Four to Eight Months)
Substage 4- More sophisticated behaviours directed toward objects and reflect intentionality. Able to
plan to attain a goal. Beginning of problem solving. Child will search for completely covered objects but A
not B searching if moved. (8 to 12 months)
Substage 5- Use trial and error to learn more about the properties of objects and to solve problems.
“little scientist” Can produce simililar but not exact behaviour like before. Understands permanence of
object hidden from view but have trouble following more than one displacement of an object. Invisible
displacement still not understood. ( Twelve to Eighteen months)
Substage 6- Inventing new means by mental combination. Beginning of symbolic thought. Can attain
goal by mentally combining schemas. Deferred imitation and full understanding of object permanence. (
18 to 24 months).
Piaget criticized for only measuring manual searching- poor hand eye coordination, could be wrong.
Rene Baillargeon tried to measure how much infants understood about objects before capable of
manually searching for them. Impossible vs. Possible event. Infants look longer at impossible event. This
suggests they understood object permanence before Piaget thought.
Core knowledge systems are understandings about the world so fundamental to cognitive development
that they appear early in life (like physical laws).
The violation of expectation method is a method for testing purposes to test infants’ even knowledge.
Infants look longer at unexpected events.
An issue is that although an infant looks longer, we don’t know exactly why they do it. Some argue that
perceptual processes rather than conceptual processes explain infant’s longer looking at impossible event
Preoperational stage is the child’s development of symbolic function.
Preconceptual Substage: (2 to 4 years) Emergence of symbolic capabilities is evident in their rapid
development of language, interest in imaginative play and use of deferred imitation. Animistic thinking tends to attribute life to inanimate objects. In this substage they also view the world
from their own perspective and have difficulty seeing things from someone else’s point of view=
Piaget’s mountain task was problematic for 3 reasons: 1. He used simple models that lacked clear
functions. 2. Choosing the appropriate drawings may be beyond the ability of a young child. 3. Choosing
the correct perspective may not be an activity that makes sense to young children.
Borke made two changes and got results that showed most children between three and a half and five
were able to provide correct answers to the questions. A. Placed familiar things to make mountains more
distinctive and B. Asked children to rotate small model of display to present the appropriate view rather
than reconstruct the display or choose from drawing.
The Intuitive Substage: (4 to 7 years) Child can employ certain mental operations like classifying,
quantifying or relating objects but is not aware of the principles she has used in performing these
operations. Cannot explain why she solved them in a particular way. Difficulty understanding part whole
relations but this has been criticized because some say piaget worded the question to confuse children.
The main limitation in preoperational thinking is that the child is semi-logical.
Conservation (glass example), even when object’s appearance is altered in some way, the object’s basic
attributes or properties remain the same.
Preoperational children understand object’s identity but have trouble with identifying object quantity. =
Piaget proposed that their semi-logical reasoning is explained by three characteristics: 1. The inability to
understand reversibility, 2. The tendency to focus on the end state of an action and centration
Inability to understand reversibility means that the child cannot mentally reverse or undo a given action
Ends over means focus- the child focuses on the end states rather than the means by which the end
states were obtained. He tends to overlook the process or transformations by which the change occurs.
Centration in thinking leads preop. Children to centre their attention on only one dimension of an object
Cross cultural studies have found variation in the age at which children acquire the concept of
conservation and variation in the age at which they acquire the concept with respect to various
In the west, conservation of liquids, masses and length between 6 and 7 years. Understanding
conservation of weight, area and volume between 9 and 10. Culture has effect on what child is exposed to
Concrete operations stage extends from 7 to 11 or 12. Children understand reversibility and are able to
attend to more than one dimension of a problem at a time. They are able to conserve quantity and to
classify or group things in a logical way. Thinking is tied to concrete reality: they can solve problems only if
the objects necessary for problem solutions are physically present.
Also make advances in ability to classify or sort objects according to combinations of several attributes
Lack of memory capacity could be to blame for tests of inference problems..not the lack of physical
Infants can place objects into categories on the basis of perceptual similarities (3 to 4 months)
Cognitive competence is related to the cultural context in which development occurs. Dasen suggests that people develop skills and concepts that are useful in their daily activities in their
Formal operations begins at 11 or 12. Differs from concrete in flexibility and complexity of the thought
process, the use of mental hypothesis testing and the ability to entertain many possible alternatives when
Can move beyond the unrealistic content to focus on applying logical solutions to the question posed.
Thinking is not confined to reality. Science fiction becomes of interest.
Children in this stage are also able to review several possible alternatives or hypotheses in a problem
The attainment of FO is strongly influenced by culture. In cultures that do not emphasize symbolic skills
or in which educational experiences are limited, the stage of formal operations may occur late in
development or may even be absent.
Piagetian Concepts and Social Cognition
Object permanence has relevance for the development of self recognition- conceiving of the self as an
entitiy distinct from the environment and other people- and the development of attachment or a deep
emotional connection to another person
A central component in the development of social cognition is differentiation of the self from the
Second year of life they recognize self in mirror
An understanding of object permanence may be a prereq for self recognition
Selman have linked cognitive development and social perspective taking over five stages. 0. Egocentric
Perspective 1. Differentiated Perspective 2. Reciprocal perspective 3. Mutual Perspectives 4. Societal or in
As children move through these stages they learn to differentiate between their own perspectives and
those of others and to understand others’ views and the relations between those views and their own
Theory of mind focuses on how children come to understand the mind
False belief task is used to understand the thinking of other people which involves telling a child a story
and then asking him what a character in the story thinks
Chandler and Hala believe that a critical factor for children’s understanding of false belief is whether the
goal in creating a false belief is in keeping with their own personal interests as opposed to simply being a
bystander. When children move the item themself they correctly predict.
Between 3 and 5 children understand that people have mental representational states. They think of the
mind as a recorder. At 6 or 7 they begin to appreciate beliefs as interpretations of the world and that
people can interpret the same thing differently.
An Evaluation of Piaget’s Theory
Piaget’s theory achieved goals of integrating a wide array of information and leading to new research by
stimulating hypotheses and defining new areas of study.
Most important ideas that Piaget introduced are that the child actively seeks and constructs knowledge,
that cognitive development unfolds over a series of qualitatively different stages, and that in the first two
years of life, cognition is based on child’s perceptual motor system. Recent evidence suggests that cognitive development may not occur in stage like steps. But this
depends on the way it is looked at. If looked at over a long period of time it is like steps but in a short
period of time it is gradual.
Children in concrete operational do not acquire ability to conserve all type of substances at the same
age. This unevenness in development (horizontal decalage) is problematic for stage theory.
Piaget proposed that horizontal decalage reflects the differing degrees of abstraction required to
understand the conservation of particular objects or substances.
Vygotsky’s view of cognitive development is called a sociocultural approach because it proposes that
cognitive development is largely the resuly of children’s interaction with more experienced members of
He held that each child is born with a set of innate capabilities, like attention, perception and memory
but believed that input from the social and cultural worlds in the form of interactions with more
experienced adults directs these basic capabilities toward more complex higher order cognitive functions.
Especially interested in social and cultural processes that support cognitive development
He described changes in the ways they interact with other people as well as with psychological tools and
symbol systems of a culture that can be used to support and extend cognition, which he called mediators.
Mediators permit child to become better at problem solving. Her thinking is aligned with social and
cultural context in which growth occurs. This enables child to act effectively in environment and interact
understandable meaningful ways with other people in culture.
Elementary mental functions such as basic attention, perception and involuntary memory and biological
and emerge spontaneously. With development they are transformed into higher order functions. Like
The elementary form of memory is constructed of images and impressions of events. Similar to
perception, unintentional and environment influences its content. The higher form of memory involves
the use of signs to mediate memory functions. (writing something down to remember).
For Vygotsky, culture provides children with mediators that enable them to transform elementary
mental functions into higher-level cognitive skills.
To assess child’s potential for intellectual growth through social experience, he proposed the zone of
proximal development. The ZPD is defined as the difference between a child’s actual development level
and his potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in
collaboration with more capable peers.
The child’s zone is his region of sensitivity to learning in a particular area of cognitive development.
When support for learning is targeted at the child’s zone of proximal development, the child’s level of
competence in this area changes through the social experience.
The ZPD describes how cognitive development may arise from social interaction with more skilled
partners. Second it provides a method of assessing children’s intellectual potential under optimal
Scaffolding is a form of instruction in which the teacher adjusts the amount and type of support he
offers to fit the child’s learning needs over the course of interaction
Reciprocal instruction based on ZPD is tutoring that helps child