Thursday, February 11, 2010

Piaget and Cognitive Development Stages, interpetations, applications...

According to Piaget, humans are actively involved in their personal journey to knowledge and learning by their interactions with their environment, along with their responses to it (University of Texas). Piaget suggested four stages of Cognitive Development. The first stage is Sensorimotor which occurs from birth to age two, followed by Pre Operational from age two to six (University of Texas). The Concrete stage is third from age’s six to eleven ending with Formal from eleven on throughout life (University of Texas). Piaget relies on the idea that individuals are intrinsically wired to seek and learn from the stimuli around them, followed by incorporating the new information into their schemas and cognitive structures (University of Texas). Similarities exist between Piaget’s theory and contemporary Cognitive Theorists by assuming individuals are active in their own learning, the learning relies on associations between stimuli and that knowledge is structured or organized (University of Texas).

Piaget asserted that schemas, or the psychological structures that enable an individual to process and categorize stimuli around them, change through adaption and organization (Berk, 2008). Adaption is the schemas created from the interaction with the environment or stimuli and relies on assimilation and accommodation (Berk, 2008). Assimilation allows present schemas to interpret new stimuli or new learning while accommodation requires new schemas to be created in an attempt to explain the new stimuli (Berk, 2008). Organization involves the internal process of arranging and linking cognitive structures together to form networks (Berk, 2008).

According to Piaget, sensorimotor activity is the contributor to babies’ cognitive development (Berk, 2008). This cognitive development is occurring from birth to age two (Berk, 2008). This cognitive development occurs sequentially in stages beginning with Reflexive Schemas, followed by Primary Circular Reactions or simple motor activities involving the self (Berk, 2008). Secondary Circular Reactions emerge as imitation of familiar stimuli or behaviors followed by Coordination of Secondary Circular Reactions which is goal driven, intentional activities (Berk, 2008). Tertiary Circular Reactions are the exploration of new environments and Mental Representation are the ability to understand the properties of the stimuli even in the stimuli absence (Berk, 2008).

Although Piaget has some similar characteristics and values found in contemporary Cognitive Theories, there are also many contradictions. One concern with Piaget’s work is that he relied on his own children for observation, thus a small sample, biased research, and uncertain validity exists. Furthermore, the research assumes the Violation of Expectation method is valid. Violation of Expectation is a method that habituates babies to physical events then presents the baby with two new, novel events to observe. One event contains similarities or adheres to the same physical laws as the original event, while the alternate event violates the laws one would assume based on the original event. The idea is to measure the difference in time the infant spends looking at each. If the infant spends more time with the unexpected event, it is assumed the infant has an understanding of the concept relative to the original event (Berk, 2008). However, it may merely indicate an infant’s interest in new concepts (Berk, 2008). The measure can not infer total understanding of the concept, only awareness or familiarity (Berk, 2008). Furthermore, it may include variables outside of the basic concept that are appealing to the infant such as color, sound, etc. causing the longer gaze. It would also be difficult to generalize the findings to a larger population as it would have to account for experiences prior to the testing to ensure there are no further links or familiarity with the events presented.

Contradictions also exist in the idea of specific, age related stages of sensorimotor development. Piaget suggests mental representations are formed at about eighteen months; however research has found deferred imitation as early as six weeks (Berk, 2008). Recall has also been researched and tested by brain wave activity measuring ERP’s, and found to emerge at twelve to eighteen months (Berk, 2008).

Most learning theories assume that how individuals learn language is dependent upon their experience with that language (Hawley & Gunner, 2000). Although the actual learning of language may require only minimal interaction, the actual form of language is based upon experience with that specific form (Hawley & Gunner, 2000). Research has found that at three months, infants can distinguish hundreds of spoken sounds (Hawley & Gunner, 2000). The brain, however, adapts to the familiar language (Hawley & Gunner, 2000). Further research ahs found that mothers who spoke to their infants regularly had over two hundred more words by age two than children whose mothers rarely verbally interacted with actual words (Hawley & Gunner, 2000). It is also noted that television, radio, adult conversations being present do not yield the same results, inferring that the infant must actual have interaction with the language to obtain it (Hawley & Gunner, 2000).

The Core Knowledge Perspective attempts to counter Piaget’s theory and does not attribute all learning to experiences within the environment. Rather, the Core Knowledge Perspective assumes that individuals are born with cognitive abilities that enable the ability of processing new experiences and attaining learning (Berk, 2008) This ability is innate and exists free from experience. The premise for this theory is found in research that indicates infants have some understanding of object permanence, object solidity and gravity within the first few months of life (Berk, 2008). Core Knowledge Perspective also theorizes that language abilities and knowledge are predetermined before birth by utilizing innate abilities and understanding (Berk, 2008).

Although there are many criticisms of Piaget’s work, many Learning Theories still adhere to the basic fundamentals of his ideals. The premise that an individual learns through experience is widely assumed. The rate of learning, however, seems to be a point of contention between Piaget and other theories. The idea of predisposition for learning is also a consideration which does not adhere to Piaget’s assumptions. To make inferences from Piaget’s work would require further research in controlled environments with findings that can be validated and generalized.

Berk, L. (2008). Cognitive Learning. In L. Berk, Infants, Children and Adolescents (pp. 164-249). Boston: Pearson.
Hawley, T. P., & Gunner, M. P. (2000). Starting Smart. Retrieved January 29th, 2010, from Ounce of Prevention Fund and Zero to Three:
University of Texas. (n.d.). Cognitive Learning Theory from notes on Ormond's Human Learning. Retrieved January 28th, 2010, from Cognitive from Lynda Abbott:

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