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Chapter 10.2

PSY100H1 Chapter 10.2: Module 10.2-2

Course Code
Michael Inzlicht

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Module 10.2: Infancy and Childhood: Cognitive and Emotional Development
- Many parents are buying Baby Einstein line of books
- Do they actually provide the advertised long-term benefits of increasing cognitive skills?
o These products are designed to help babies explore music, art, language, science,
poetry, and nature through engaging images, characters, and music
- The American Academy of pediatrics, however, recommends that children younger
than 2 should not watch TV at all
o This is consistent with research showing that memory and language skills are
slower to develop in infants who regularly watch television
- Also, controlled studies show that these DVDs have no effect on vocabulary development
- Turns out, the amount of time parents spend reading to their infants is related to
greater vocabulary comprehension and production
Cognitive Changes: Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory
- Jean Piaget would run secret experiments on his friends and family
- Much of his research laid the groundwork for the modern science of cognitive development
- Cognitive development: the study of changes in memory, thought, and reasoning
processes that occur throughout the lifespan
- Piaget focused on cognitive development from infancy through early adolescence
- He was interested in explaining how different ways of thinking and reasoning develop
- According to Piaget, knowledge accumulates and is modified by two processes:
Assimilation and Accommodation
o Assimilation
Assimilation: a conservative process, whereby people fit new information
onto the belief system they already posses
Ex. Young children may think that all girls have long hair and, as they
encounter more examples of this pattern, they will assimilate it into
their current understanding
Eventually, they will run into girls with short hair or boys with long
hair and their views will be challenged by this new info
Over time, they will learn that they categories they made have to be
altered, and this process is accommodation
o Accommodation
Accommodation: a creative process whereby people modify their belief
structures based on experience
- The processes of assimilation and accommodation continue throughout our lives, and our
belief systems help us make sense of the world, and then get challenged by new info that
doesn’t fit, and we either ignore or deny this information, or change our minds
- Piaget said that cognitive development passes through four distinct stages from birth
through early adolescence:
o Sensorimotor
o Preoperational
o Concrete operational
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o Formal operational
- Passing from one stage into another stage when the child achieves the important
developmental milestone of that stage
The Sensorimotor Stage: Living in the Material World (0-2 years)
- When we are adults, we understand that things continue to exist even if they are not
physically present
o When you leave your family to go to work, they still exist even though you are not
physically with them
- Unlike adults, four-month-old infants do not appear to have the ability to form
abstract mental representations.
o This explains why they often stare in awe at really boring and mundane shit. It’s
because they have no previous experience with that stuff, so even the boring stuff is
new and cool to them (ex. Snow)
- Sensorimotor stage: from birth to two years, during which infants’ thinking about and
exploration of the world are based on immediate sensory (e.g. seeing, feeling) and
motor (e.g. grabbing, mouthing) experiences
o They are completely immersed in the present moment
o They respond exclusively to direct, sensory input
o They enjoy snow and mud puddles more than any adult and its really fun
o But in other ways this is highly dysfunctional
You certainly wouldn’t want to rely on an infant to pick you up at the airport.
- According to Piaget, as soon as something is out of sight and out of reach, it will cease to
exist (in the mind of young infants)
o Thus, the first major milestone of cognitive development proposed by Piaget
is object permanence
o Object permanence: the ability to understand that objects exist even when they
cannot be directly perceived
- To test for object permanence:
o Piaget would allow a child to reach for a toy
o And then place a screen or barrier between the infant and the toy
o If the infant stopped reaching for they toy or looking in its direction, he/she had not
reached object permanence yet
The Preoperational Stage: Quantity and Numbers (2-7 years)
- Once children have mastered sensorimotor tasks, they progress to the preoperational stage
- Preoperational stage: language development, using symbols, pretend play, and
mastering concept of conservation
- During this stage:
o Children can think about physical objects
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Although they have not quite attained abstract thinking abilities.
o They may count objects (obsessively) and use numbers
Yet they cannot mentally manipulate information or see things from other
points of view.
- Their inability to manipulate abstract information is shown by testing their understanding
of conservation
- Conservation: the knowledge that the quantity or amount of an object is not the same as
the physical arrangement and appearance of that object
- Ex. Imagine that a child is presented with two identical rows of seven pennies each.
o Next, the experimenter spreads out one of the rows so that it is longer, but has the
same number of coins.
o )f you ask a child, Which row has more? a three-year-old child would likely point
to the row that was spread out.
o The child in the preoperational stage focuses on the simpler method of answering
based on immediate perception, instead of the answer that would require more
sophisticated mental operations.
- Other creative researchers have challenged Piaget’s pessimism about the abilities of
young children, arguing that their inability to perform certain tasks was a function of
the child’s interpretation of the task, not their underlying cognitive limitations
o Ex. when 3-year-old children are presented with a conservation test similar to the
one described previously except with (1) M&Ms instead of pennies and (2) fewer
M&Ms present in the row that is spread out
o Children will pick the tighter row, understanding that it contains more candy
- Important to remember that even before kids start to use and understand numbers,
they acquire a basic understanding of quantity
o Even infants can tell when they are getting more or less of something
o This suggests that the infants who chose the longer row of pennies in the example
may simply have misunderstood the question, not the underlying rule of
o They could have thought that more meant longer
- At this stage, they still commit scale errors
o Interacting with a doll-sized slide or a toy car as if they were the real thing
- But, by age 2 to 2.5, scale errors decline as kids begin to understand properties of
- At around 3 yrs of age, they begin to understand symbolic relationships
o Ex. They can understand that a scale model of a room can symbolize the actual
o Ex. If you put a mini toy in that scale room model, kids will quickly find the toy in the
real room
- These are all steps towards advanced abilities of mental abstraction
The Concrete Operational Stage: Using Logical Thought (7-11 years old)
- Conservation is one of the main skills that mark transition from preoperational stage
to the concrete operational stage
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