Lifespan Psychology - Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

by: Dr. Brian Gendron

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the word cognition refers to mental processes in other words thinking knowing remembering something decision-making all of these mental processes fall under the category of cognition and in this video we're going to discuss probably one of the most influential theories of cognitive development put forth by Jean Piaget and before we get into the details let's first consider this notion at the very top schemas change via assimilation and accommodation so we have three key terms there that have to be explained before we can talk about the four stages so the first is the word schema a schema is just an understanding of something it's an organized framework in other words it's how you think about something school for example when you think about school maybe you think of a teacher and a student a classroom all of these aspects fall under your schema or your you know sort of like your theory or your understanding of that idea schemas they get more complex with age as we get more experience in the world our understanding of the world changes and these changes can happen in one of two ways assimilation and accommodation assimilation is where you come across new information that fits really nicely with your current understanding of that schema so for example imagine you are a fifth grade student and you have you know this understanding of school as there's a teacher and a student at a classroom when you go to sixth grade the next grade up that's a new experience but sixth grade is not all that different from fifth grade and so arguably that new information is going to be assimilated into your currently existing schema the bigger changes when it comes to cognition happen through accommodation and this is where we have to totally adjust our worldview because new information does not fit nicely into our pre-existing schema so do you remember when you went from elementary school to middle school for many people that's a drastic change yes there is a teacher and a student but a lot of times you have different teachers throughout the day you switch classes you have different periods it's a lot it's a lot harder so sometimes when you have new information you have to really adjust your current schema you have this sense of disequilibrium you know I didn't really feel like school worked that way so I have to completely accommodate my understanding of that notion of school as one example all right so schemas we have them for everything we have schemas for literally everything we think about and as we get new experiences those schemas change either through assimilation or accommodation so it's those changes that bring us through these four stages of cognitive development and stage one known as the sensorimotor stage Piaget originally believed that this was roughly ages zero to two but before we go on it's important to note that one of the biggest criticisms of this theory is the age categories PJ's theory was proposed a long time ago and we have a lot of new contemporary research that basically tells us that for example younger people are more advanced cognitively speaking than Piaget understood at the time even so his his theory is still extremely influential so stage one I put here direct sensation think about an infant for a moment they're not all that complex of a thinker you know babies don't think about much but also they're not capable of thinking about much largely because their brains are still developing and they don't have a lot of experience in the world babies use direct sensation they rely on their five sense and their ability to move around so once the baby can crawl or walk it certainly will but the idea you know the name of this stage sensory motor that's referring to the five senses so touch taste vision hearing and smelling in other words the the first two years of life we are thinking directly as opposed to relying on internal symbols in this first stage we cannot use mental representation in other words we can't really contemplate ideas in our head unless we are directly experiencing them in the real world so Piaget has an important term here known as object permanence and there's a detailed description of this in the textbook object permanence is basically the understanding that something continues to exist even if you can't see it so for example peekaboo when a when a parent is playing peek-a-boo with their child you know they're hiding behind their hands and then they reveal their their face essentially this is fun if you take PS J's theory into perspective because basically when the parent is behind the parent when the parent is behind their hands the baby you know thinks all word and mom go where did dad go and then they reveal and oh now I'm looking at mom or dad's face and I'm happy because I love my mom or dad now in a sense it's not as though mom and dad disappeared it's that babies are relying on direct sensation and so if the baby is looking at mom or dad's face that's what they're thinking about but if mom or dad hides behind their hands and the baby is looking at mom or dad's hands they're thinking about mom or dad's hands and so it's all about kind of like what you see is what you get we do not have the ability to think symbolically but that's the major milestone that appears by stage 2 so around age 2 this is when we enter the pre-operational stage according to Piaget so certainly we have the ability to understand object permanence you know if I can't see an object that doesn't mean it has vanished it just means it's it's hiding it's somewhere I can't see it but I can still contemplate it in my mind so think for example about your best friend the idea is you can think about that person in your head even if they're not in the room with you right now but in the first stage babies are only capable of thinking about what they see what they smell what they touch etc because we have to have direct sensation but that's completely different in stage 2 with symbolic thinking we have mental representation and that brings about a number of really important byproducts so I already mentioned object permanence but one of the more important ones is language we start to speak our first word around age 1 and starting around age 2 we start to speak in sentences between ages 2 and 6 or 2 and 7 the preschool years which is the pre-operational stage our vocabulary skyrockets the average vocabulary of a two-year-old is about 100 words the average vocabulary of a six-year-old is about 10,000 words we gain vocabulary skills rapidly early in life because of our newfound ability to use symbolic thinking in other words every word that we know is simply a symbol for an idea the word dog for example inherently the word dog is just a sound but because we can associate it with a four-legged animal you know with fur that that word dog is a symbolic representation of that animal and we have to be in the pre-operational stage to really understand the language as you know symbolic communication one other idea I'd like to touch upon in terms of symbolic thinking is make-believe play during this pre-operational stage children engage in fantasy you know they might play games where they're you know the bad guy in the good guy and that allows them to again practice this mental representation this symbolic thinking I'm the good guy and therefore I have to play a certain role and you're the bad guy so you have to play a certain role and we have to negotiate based on the give and take of my symbol as a good guy or your symbol as a bad guy maybe you're the good guy be on the bad guy who knows but it's all about symbolic thinking what's missing here is logic early in life we are not very logical in terms of our thinking so let me give you an example imagine you have a four-year-old child and in their hand they're holding two pennies you know two cents and in your hand you're holding a quarter worth 25 cents and you ask the child would you like to trade young children are going to say no because in their mind two pennies is better than one quarter two is better than one but what we all obviously know is that there's you know that's not a very logical decision because a quarter is worth way more and then two pennies but where does logic come from logic is learned we learn the rules of our society through experience or through school we gain concrete experience with logic by going to school and having experiences in the world you know trial and error for example so the concrete stage is 7 to 11 years old 7 to 12 years old it's the elementary school years basically and we're basically learning how to solve problems in a logical manner the most famous research test of the concrete stage is called the test of conservation the conservation test has a number of iterations but the most famous the most common example is using water glasses so for example imagine you have two glasses of water each the same size and each has the same amount of water in them and they're kind of like short short wide glasses two of them and then you ask the child which has more water or which has more juice does glass a have more juice does glass B have more juice or are they the same both younger children and older children are capable of looking at the two glasses measuring the the height of the water the surface level and saying they're equal but then what happens is researchers take one of the glasses and they pour the juice into us a tall and skinny glass so it's the same amount of water or juice but the surface level is higher because the shape of the glass is different again you have two glasses one is short and wide and now the other is tall and and thin and you ask the children which has more juice glass a glass B or are they the same and here's where you see a difference in children in stage two versus children in stage three children in stage two they tend to look at the taller glass and say that one has more juice but the older children who are now logical thinkers they're gonna say no just because the taller one is taller and skinnier doesn't mean it's more juice it's the same amount of juice it's just in a different shape so now they're starting to think about multiple pieces of a problem at once whereas younger children they're characterized by something called centration which basically means they only focus on one part of the problem and they ignore other parts even if they're really important so younger children they only look at the the surface level and they say okay that's higher therefore there's more older children can say yeah the surface level is higher but I just watched you pour that juice into that cup I know it's the same amount of juice so they are D century D centration means they're thinking about multiple things at one time okay so by 11 or 12 years old according to Piaget we have the ability to not only think symbolically but also to think logically what's missing is abstract thinking and this is something that we continue to work on for the rest of our life the formal operational stage we're all in it today it begins around age 12 and it continues to get more and more advanced with experience and with age the basic idea here is not only can you solve problems that you have direct concrete experience with but you can also solve problems that you have very little experience with by basically developing hypotheses and evaluating those hypotheses in a systematic manner so for example imagine you are baking brownies and they come you know they come out burnt a young child might have no idea how to solve that problem unless they have direct experience with that problem but an older adult can develop a hypothesis they can say maybe I turn to the oven on too hot so I'll turn the oven down and try it again and if that doesn't fix the problem I'm gonna put the oven temperature back to where it was and maybe I'll change the levels of ingredients in other words we're using something called hypothetic Oh deductive reasoning where you come up with a hypothesis you test that hypothesis in a systematic manner in order to gather the most reliable and and valid evidence possible this is basically critical thinking you know evaluating the pros and cons before deciding and oftentimes the problems that we come across as adults are complex there's not always an easy answer there's not always a black-and-white solution oftentimes it's muddled and so we have to really be systematic about how we approach problems and how we gather evidence so in general this is something that never finishes we can always work on our critical thinking skills taking college classes for example gathering experience and the work solving problems trial and error this is something that we will never finish it's part of critical thinking so the argument here is that our cognition the way we think and process mental information becomes more complex with age these are the four stages of Jean



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