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Theories of Cognitive Development


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Title: Theories of Cognitive Development

Theories of Cognitive Development
  • How Children Develop (3rd ed.)
  • Siegler, DeLoache Eisenberg
  • Chapter 4
  • Part 1

Todays Learning Objectives
  • Describe and critique key theoretical
    perspectives on child development.
  • Describe, compare and contrast key changes in the
    cognitive characteristics across childhood.
  • Relate our discussions to real-life experiences.

  • I. Piagets Theory

Questions Addressed by Theories of Cognitive
I. Piagets Theory
  • A. View of Childrens Nature
  • B. Central Development Issues
  • C. Developmental Stages
  • D. Piagets Legacy

A. View of Childrens Nature
  • Jean Piagets theory remains the standard against
    which all other theories are judged.
  • Often labeled constructivist because it depicts
    children as constructing knowledge for
  • Children are seen as
  • Active
  • Learning many important lessons on their own
  • Intrinsically motivated to learn

B. Central Developmental Issues
  • 1. Nature and Nurture
  • Piaget believed that nature and nurture interact
    to yield cognitive development.
  • Adaptation the tendency to respond to the
    demands of the environment to meet ones goals
  • Organization the tendency to integrate
    particular observations into coherent knowledge

2. Sources of Continuity
  • Three processes work together from birth to
    propel development forward.
  • Assimilation the process by which people
    translate incoming information into a form they
    can understand
  • Accommodation the process by which people adapt
    current knowledge structures in response to new
  • Equilibration the process by which people
    balance assimilation and accommodation to create
    stable understanding

Piaget Learning
Changing one's view to better match reality
Integrating reality into one's own view
3. Sources of Discontinuity
  • The discontinuous aspects of Piagets theory are
    distinct, hierarchical stages.
  • Central properties of Piagets stage theory
  • Qualitative change
  • Broad applicability across topics and contexts
  • Brief transitions
  • Invariant sequence
  • Hypothesized that children progress through four
    stages of cognitive development, each building on
    the previous one

Piagets Stages of Cognitive Development
Sensori- motor Birth to 2 years Infants know the world through their senses and through their actions. For example, they learn what dogs look like and what petting them feels like.
Preopera-tional 2 - 7 years Toddlers and young children acquire the ability to internally represent the world through language and mental imagery. They also begin to be able to see the world from other peoples perspectives, not just from their own.
Piagets Stages of Cognitive Development
Concrete Operational 7 - 12 years Children become able to think logically, not just intuitively. They now can classify objects into coherent categories and understand that events are often influenced by multiple factors, not just one.
Formal Operational 12 years Adolescents can think systematically and reason about what might be as well as what is. This allows them to understand politics, ethics, and science fiction, as well as to engage in scientific reasoning.
C. Sensorimotor Stage
  • Over the course of the first two years, infants
    sensorimotor intelligence develops tremendously.

Sensorimotor Substages
Sub Age Description
1 Birth 1 month Infants begin to modify the reflexes with which they are born to make them more adaptive.
2 1 4 months Infants begin to organize separate reflexes into larger behaviors, most of which are centered on their own bodies.
Sensorimotor Substages
Sub Age Description
3 4 8 months Infants becoming increasingly interested in the world around them. By the end of this substage, object permanence, the knowledge that objects continue to exist even when they are out of view, typically emerges.
4 8 12 months During this substage, children make the A-Not-B error, the tendency to reach to where objects have been found before, rather than to where they were last hidden.
Piagets A-Not-B Task
Sensorimotor Substages
Sub Age Description
5 12 18 months Toddlers begin to actively and avidly explore the potential uses to which objects can be put.
6 18 24 months Infants become able to form enduring mental representations. The first sign of this capacity is deferred imitation, the repetition of other peoples behavior a substantial time after it occurred.
D. Preoperational Stage
  • A mix of impressive cognitive acquisitions and
    equally impressive limitations
  • A notable acquisition is symbolic representation,
    the use of one object to stand for another, which
    makes a variety of new behaviors possible.
  • One major limitation is egocentrism, the tendency
    to perceive the world solely from ones own point
    of view.
  • A related limitation is centration, the tendency
    to focus on a single, perceptually striking
    feature of an object or event.
  • Preoperational children also lack of
    understanding of the conservation concept, the
    idea that merely changing the appearance of
    objects does not change their key properties.

Piagets Three-Mountain Task
Egocentric Conversations
The Balance Scale An Example of Centration
Procedures Used to Test Conservation
E. Concrete Operations Stage
  • Children begin to reason logically about the
  • They can solve conservation problems, but their
    successful reasoning is largely limited to
    concrete situations.
  • Thinking systematically remains difficult.

Inhelder and Piagets Pendulum Problem
  • The task is to compare the motions of longer and
    shorter strings, with lighter and heavier weights
    attached, in order to determine the influence of
    weight, string length, and dropping point on the
    time it takes for the pendulum to swing back and
  • Children below age 12 usually perform
    unsystematic experiments and draw incorrect

F. Formal Operations Stage
  • Cognitive development culminates in the ability
    to think abstractly and to reason hypothetically.
  • Individuals can imagine alternative worlds and
    reason systematically about all possible outcomes
    of a situation.
  • Piaget believed that the attainment of the
    formal operations stage, in contrast to the
    other stages, is not universal.

G. Piagets Legacy
  • Although Piagets theory remains highly
    influential, some weaknesses are now apparent.
  • The stage model depicts childrens thinking as
    being more consistent than it is.
  • Infants and young children are more cognitively
    competent than Piaget recognized.
  • Piagets theory understates the contribution of
    the social world to cognitive development.
  • Piagets theory is vague about the cognitive
    processes that give rise to childrens thinking
    and about the mechanisms that produce cognitive

Implications for Education
  • Piagets view of childrens cognitive development
    suggests that childrens distinctive ways of
    thinking at different ages need to be considered
    in deciding how best to teach them.
  • In addition, because children learn by mentally
    and physically interacting with the environment,
    relevant physical activities, accompanied by
    questions that call attention to the lessons
    of the activities, are important in
    educational practice.

Piagets Stages of Cognitive Development
For the next class period!
  • Bring an article related to your CIP topic with
    you to class!
  • For the greatest benefit to your project, check
    the class blog for further instructions under the
    Article Day entry.