Explain a theory of development and describe an experiment that demonstrates the theory.
Jean Piaget proposed a theory on cognitive development. He studied the way children think by creating experiments to test their answers. Piaget believed that children create a schema, or mental model, to represent the world around them. He concluded that as children expand their learning, they modify their schema through assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation means to broaden an existing schema by adding new information. Accommodation means to modify the schema to incorporate the new information.
Piaget also proposed the four stage of cognitive development that children undergo. The first stage is the sensorimotor stage (ages 0-2). This is where the child begins representational thought and achieves object permanence. Object permanence is the ability to know that an object exists when it is out of site. For example, if you show a five-month-old baby a stuffed animal, the baby would be fascinated by it, but when you hide the stuffed animal the baby will not search for it due to object permanence. As the baby matures, he/she will achieve object permanence and will look for the stuffed animal.
The second stage is called the preoperational stage (ages 2-7). In this stage, the child will increase usage of symbols and language. The child will not yet understand the principle of conservation until the next stage. The reason why the child will not understand conservation is due to their weaknesses of centration, irreversibility, and egocentrism. Centration is the tendency to only focus on one aspect of a problem while ignore other problems. Irreversibility is to be unable to reverse an operation. Egocentrism is to be unable to take another person’s point of view. Animism stems from egocentrism and it is the belief that inanimate objects are alive. Children assume that other objects are living due to the fact that they are living. This is a reason why a lot of children think their toys are alive. Maybe this is why movies like Toy Story and Pinocchio are so popular among children. As a child, my sister and I used to think that our stuffed animals were living. Piaget would have classified me in the preoperational stage.
The third stage is the concrete operations stage (age 6 or 7-11). In this stage children understand the principle of conservation, identity, and serial ordering. A known experiment test by Piaget is the test of conservation where the tester will show an equal amount of liquid in two identity cups to a child. The tester asks the child if the amounts of liquid in the two cups are the same and the child will say yes. When the tester pours the liquid from one of the cup into a narrower, taller glass the child will say that he/she thinks that the taller cup has more liquid in it because it is “bigger.” If I were a five-year-old, I probably would say that the taller glass has more liquid in it. Even though the child saw the tester pour that liquid from the first cup to the taller one, the child in the preoperational stage will not understand conservation. In the concrete operations stage, the child will achieve an understanding of conservation and pass this test by comprehending that the amount of liquid in the taller glass will still be the same.
The fourth stage is the formal operations stage (ages 12-adulthood). In this stage, the child will achieve abstract reasoning and will have the ability to compare and classify ideas. It is important to note that development lasts throughout a lifespan, not just childhood. Piaget made many great contributions to developmental psychology, even though there are some critiques to his theory, such as some adults never develop abstract reasoning, cultural differences, and sometimes children develop abilities that are traits of different stages, which abandons Piaget’s four stages. All in all, Piaget’s theories help provide an understanding of cognitive development.