Cognitive Development during Early Years

                                           Cognitive Development during Early Years

Cognitive development is the study concerned with working of mind. Cognitive development is defined as the construction of thought processes, comprising remembering, problem solving, and decision making from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. Cognitive development indicates how a person perceives, thinks, and gain understanding of his or her world through the interaction of genetic and learned factors. Amongst the areas of cognitive development are information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development and memory.

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development contains many valuable insights and has guided a great deal of research. Though his theory was criticized for some reason but still considered to be uniquely valuable one by many developmental psychologists.

Piaget’s theory

Piaget theory of cognitive development is a stage theory- a type of theory suggesting that all human beings move through an orderly and predictable series of changes. This theory was centralized to its assumption- often known as constructivism- that children are active thinkers who are constantly trying to construct more accurate or advanced understanding of the world around them. In other words, from this perspective children construct their knowledge of the world.  According to Piaget’s theory there are two basic processes. The first of these is assimilation, which involves the incorporation of new information or knowledge into existing knowledge structure known as schemas. Schema is defined as the cognitive scaffold- “a framework for holding knowledge and organizing it.

The second process is accommodation; it involves modifications in existing knowledge structures (schemas) as a result of exposure to new information or experience.

The Sensorimotor Stage:  Figuring Out ways to make things happen: Piaget suggested that the first stage of cognitive development lasts from birth until somewhere between eighteen and twenty-four months. During this period, termed the sensorimotor stage, infants gradually learn that there is a relationship between their actions and the external world. They discover that they can manipulate objects and produce effects. In short, they acquire a basic grasp of the concept of cause and effect. For example, they learn that if they make certain movements- for instance, shaking their leg-specific effects follow toys suspended over their crib also move, and they begin to experiment with various actions to see what effects they will produce.

Throughout, the sensorimotor period, Piaget contended, Infants seem to know the world only through motor activities and sensory impressions. They have not yet learned to use mental symbols or images to represent objects or events. This results in some interesting effects. By eight or nine months of age, however, they will search for the hidden objects. They have acquired a basic idea of object permanence- the idea that objects continue to exist even when they are hidden from view.

The Preoperational Stage: Growth of Symbolic Activity: Sometime between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four months, Piaget suggested, toddlers acquire the ability to form mental images of objects and events. At the same time, language develops to the point at which they begin to think in terms of verbal symbols- words. These developments mark the transition to Piaget’s second stage- the preoperational stage. This term reflects Piaget’s view that at this stage children don’t yet show much ability to use logic and mental operations.

During the preoperational stage, which lasts until about age seven, children are capable of many actions they could not perform earlier. For instance, they demonstrate symbolic play, in which they pretend that one object is another- which a pencil is a rocket or a wooden block is a frog, for example. Such play is marked by three, shifts that afford unique insights into how children’s cognitive abilities change during this period. One is decentration, in which children gradually begin to make others rather than themselves the recipients of their playful actions- for instance, they begin to feed their dolls or dress them. The second shift is decontextualization. Objects are made to substitute for each other, as when a child pretends that a twig is a spoon.

The third change involves integration- combining play actions into increasingly complex sequences. For Instance, when I was a little boy, I had a collection of toy cars; and I now realize that as I grew older, I  played with them in ever more intrinsic ways: I had them compete in imaginary races brought them into a toy service station for more and more elaborate  “servicing” and so on.

Children in the preoperational stage also seem to lack understanding of relational terms such as lighter, larger, softer. Further, they lack seriation- the ability to arrange objects in order along some dimensions. Finally, and most important, they lack a grasp of what piaget terms the principle of conversation– knowledge that certain physical attributes of an object remain unchanged even though the outward appearance of the object is altered.

The Stage of Concrete Operation: The Emergence of Logical Thought: By the time kids are six or seven (or perhaps even earlier, as we will soon discuss), most children can solve the simple problems defined. According to Piaget, a child’s mastery of conversational marks the opening of a third major stage known as the stage of concrete operations.

During this stage, which lasts until about the age of eleven, many important skills emerge? Children gain understanding of relational terms and seriation. They come to understand reversibility- the fact thatmany physical changes can be done by a reversal of the original action. Children who have reached the stage of concrete operations also begin to engage in what Piaget described as logical thought.

The Stage of Formal Operations: Dealing with Thoughts as Well as Reality: At about the age of twelve, According to Piaget, most children enter the final stage of cognitive development- the stage of formal operations. During this period, major features of adult thought make their appearance. While children in the earlier stage of concrete operations can think logically, they can do so only about concrete events and objects. In contrast, those who have reached the stage of formal operations can think abstractly; they can deal not only with the real or concrete but with possibilities- events or relationships that do not exist, but can be imagined.

During this final stage, children become capable of what Piaget termed hypothetico-deductive reasoning. This involves the ability to generate hypotheses of formal operations also became capable of engaging in interpropositional thinking- thinking in which they seek to test validity of several propositions.             While the thinking of older children or adolescents closely approaches that of adults, however, Piaget, believed that still falls short of  the adult level. Older children and especially adolescents, often use their new powers of reasoning to construct sweeping theories about human relationships, ethics or political systems. The reasoning behind such views may be logical, but the theories are often false, because the young persons who construct them don’t have enough experience or information to do a more sophisticated job.

One final- but crucial – point: Even though people who have reached the stage of formal operations are capable of engaging in advanced forms of thought, there is no guarantee that they will actually do so. Such thinking requires lots of cognitive efforts, so it is not surprising that adolescents, and adults too, often slip back into less advanced modes of thought.   

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