Developmental Psychology Essay
Jean Piaget (1986-1980) studied the development of children’s understanding, through observing, talking and listening to children whilst he carried out exercises that he set. He was particularly interested in how children learn and adapt to the world around them and in order for adjustment or adaptation to work, there must be constant interaction between the child and the outside world. Piaget thought that cognitive development took place through two main processes:
Accommodation- The cognitive organisation of the individual is altered by the need to deal with the environment, in other words the individual adjusts to the outside world. Assimilation- The individual deals with the new environmental situation by adjusting the outside world to fit them. This is done by adding information to the schemas which extends the overall picture thus adjusting the interpretation. Another important feature of Piaget’s theory was schemas, a mental framework which refers to the organisation of knowledge which then guides and actions for example a baby has a schema for grasping, it wraps its fingers around items placed in its hands.
Schemas enable individuals to store, organise and interpret information about their experiences. When a child has assimilated the schemas it is in a state of cognitive balance but as the child continues to explore and comes into contact with new experiences cognitive imbalance is created. This then leads to equilibration; the child then uses the process of assimilation and accommodation to restore a state of equilibrium. Piaget believed that children’s cognitive development goes through four stages, these are:
Stage one: The sensorimotor stage this stage last from birth to about 2 years, a child learns by moving around his or her environment and learning through their senses- smell, sound, sight, touch and taste. The key achievement of this stage is the concept of object permanence which allows the child to be aware of the existence of objects when they are not in view, in the early part of the sensorimotor stage a child is not aware that objects still exist when they can not see them: it is a case of out of sight out of mind. This concept of object permanence develops as the child moves around their environment.
Piaget investigated his children’s lack of permanence by hiding objects and found that at 0-5 months the child was not able to look for the object once it was hidden. However by 8 months old the child would search for the objects. Stage two: The pre-operational stage which lasts between the ages of 2-7 years. Children’s thinking is dominated by appearance and the external world. They find it difficult to view things in other ways, other than the view they have and they focus on aspect of an object or situation rather than the complete picture. Their cognitive skills are not developed enough to make logical explanations however they are able to use language and are able to represent objects by images and words.
Piaget studied conservation- the idea that children have trouble understanding that things can remain the same despite a visual change and found that when the same liquid was poured from a short fat glass to a tall thin glass a child at this stage would say that there was more liquid in the new glass or that there was more liquid in the original glass. In either case the child centres, or focuses on only one dimension (height or width).
In addition, Piaget investigated egocentrism which involves children assuming that their way of thinking about things is the only way. He used the three mountains task to illustrate this idea. He showed four year olds three mountains of different heights and asked them to describe how the scene would look from different positions; the children chose their own view and failed to see that it would look different from different points. Piaget found that it was only when children reached the age of 6 and upwards that they were able to see that the view is different from other positions but they often chose the wrong view.
Stage three: The concrete operational stage takes place during the ages of 7 and 11. Thinking becomes much less dependent on perception and the child is able to carry out mental operations on the world. However they need to use props in order to understand how things work. Children are able to de-centrate, meaning they are able to take into account more than one aspect of an object or situation at any one time and they are able to conserve, this means that the child understands that although the appearance of something changes, the thing itself does not. Piaget also investigated conservation during this stage by repeating the experiment with the liquid in the glasses and found that by the age of seven the majority of children could conserve liquid because they understood that when water is poured into a different shape glass, the quantity of liquid remains the same even though its appearance has changed.
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