Piaget and Cognitive Development
Unlike psychoanalytic approaches, which focus primarily on personality development, cognitive approaches emphasize the intellectual (cognitive) development of children. The Swisspsychologist Jean Piaget (I 896-1980) was a pioneer in the field of cognitive development. Cognitive theorists are interested in how people obtain, process, and use information-that is, in how we think. Cognitive development relates to changes over time in how we think. According to Piaget (1954), in each stage of human development (from birth through adolescence), children’s activities are governed by their perception of the world around them. His four stages of cognitive development are organized around specific tasks that, when mastered, lead to the acquisition of new mental capacities, which then serve as the basis for the next level of development Thus, development is a continuous process .;f successive changes in which the child must go through each stage in the sequence before moving on to the next one. However, Piaget believed that the length of time each child remained in a specific stage would vary based on the child’s individual attributes one the cultural context in which the development
1. Sensorimotor stage (birth to age two). Children understand the world only through sensory contact and immediate action; they cannot engage in symbolic thought or use language. Children gradually comprehend object pemrallf’llce-the realization that objects exist even when the items are placed out of their sight
2. Preoperational stage (age two to seven). Children begin to use words as mental symbols and to form mental images. However, they have limited ability to use logic to solve problems or to realize that physical objects may change in shape or appearance but still retain their physical properties.
3. Concrete operational stnge (age seven to eleven). Children think in terms of tangible objects and actual events. They can draw conclusions about the likely physical consequences of an action without always having to try the action out Children begin to take the role of others and start to empathize with the viewpoints of others.
4. Formal operational stage (age twelye through adolescence). Adolescents have the po(~ntial to engage in highly abstract thought and understand places. things, and events they have never-seen.
They can think about the future and evaluate different options or courses of action. Using this cognitive model. Piaget (1932) also investigated moral development. In one study. he told stories and asked children to judge how “good” or «bad” the characters were. One story involved a child who accidentally broke fifteen cups while another deliberately broke one cup. Piaget asked the children in his study if they thought one child’s behavior was worse than the other’s. From his research, Piaget concluded that younger children (lasting until about age eight or ten) believe that it is more evil to break a large number of cups (or steal large SUJ1lS of money) than to break one Clip (or steal small sums of money) for whatever reason. In contrast. older children (beginning at about age eleven) are more likely to consider principles, including the intentions and motives .behtnd people’s behavior.
Piaget’s stages of cognitive development provide us with useful insights on children’s logical thinking and how children invent or construct the rules that govern their understanding of the world. His views on moral development show that children move fromgreater external influence. ‘such as parental and other forms of moral authority. to being more autonomous, based on their own moral judgments about behavior. However. critics have pointed out that his theory says little about children’s individual differences, including how gender or culture may influence children’s beliefs and actions.