Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is based on the adaptation of different schemes. Piaget believed that through constructivism and structuralism, children’s intellectual development is located through their own activity and in cooperation with their own understanding of how things operate in the world that these schemes are modified to adjust to the new experiences.This theory is supported by three processes which collaborate to work in unison. These include assimilation, accommodation and equilibration. Each involves different ways of acquiring and processing new information:
Two specific orientations: Constructivism and Structuralism – Piaget believes that all children are born with internal mental structures and these structures are modified through experience. We could say Structuralism would come first as we are born with these internal mental structures and then we are active constructors of meaning, so we construct meaning from the activities we engage in and experiences in our world.
From there we have our processes of change: Adaptation and equilibration. Children’s mental structures change as a result of their interactions with their world, the ability to adapt to new experiences is considered by Piaget as the most important aspect of children’s functioning. First Assimilation: the first process we use when confronted by a new experience, we try to fit the new information into our existing structures. Accommodation: the changes we need to make to our thinking to accommodate the new information. This is important in moving children’s thinking forward because it means having to modify our thinking structures. Equilibration: This occurs when Accommodation and assimilation are equally balanced. Disequilibration: this state is important as it can be seen to drive our learning Disequilibration is uncomfortable so it therefore motivates us to make sense of our new experience
Assimilation is based on prior knowledge and experiences assimilation is the process of altering new information in order to fit them into existing schemes. This also involves functional assimilation as this includes the ability to mentally utilise the newly acquired information.
Accommodation involves the adjusting of the newly assimilated information in order to accommodate an understanding of the new knowledge and then successfully modify existing schemes to allow for this information.
Equilibration is central to the developmental change as it refers to the procedure whereby assimilation and accommodation are balanced. This involves the process where ideas match experiences. Equilibration is an important stage; however disequilibration motivates and challenges individuals to more clearly understand new experiences and therefore promotes individual learning.
Piaget concluded that there were four stages of cognitive development in children. The first is the Sensorimotor Stage, which occurs from birth to two years. The preoperational Stage is second, and occurs in children aged two to seven years. The Concrete Operational Stage occurs in children seven to twelve, with adolescents going through the Formal Operational Stage, from age eleven to fifthteen.
Sensorimotor – Birth – Two years
This is the first stage of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. The sensory motor stage is centred on the bases of a ‘Schema’ which is a mental representations triggered by stimuli helping the child make sense of the world.
In this stage children are considered ego-centric, meaning that they cannot yet consider the needs and wants of others. This is the stage where children do not understand ‘Object Permanence, for example if their vision of something is blocked they believe it has disappeared. Such as a game of peek-a-boo.
Preoperational – Two – Seven years
In this stage children start to develop their vocabulary and are still considered ego-centric, although children gradually start to decentre as their conception of the world changes. Animism occurs in this stage where children assume that everything and everyone else are like themselves, for example they assume inanimate objects have feelings and can be hurt like them.
This aspect of the pre-operational stage is moral realism , where the child’s believes that their way of thinking about the difference between right and wrong are shared by others.
Concrete Operational – Seven – Twelve years
In this stage children become more rational and mature, as they develop a deeper understanding of their world. Children at this stage are able to develop logical thought about an object and be able to manipulate it. Animism and ego-centricism decline in this stage and children use operational thought, eg. imagining the ‘what if?’children in this stage can also start to develop an understanding of the idea of reversibility, where things can be done and undone.
Formal Operational – Twelve – Fifthteen years
This is the final stage of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, although all people may not attain this final level of formal thinking. It may be the case that particular people achieve higher level of thinking in specific area. In this stage children can use symbols related to abstract concepts. Children in this stage use their logic to understand complex ideas including relationships and justice.
Vialle, W., Lysaght, P. & Verenikina, I. Psychology for Educators. South Melbourne: Cengage Australia.