Cognitive Development

Cognitive Development

Intelligence means a lot in life (unless you are blessed with my killer looks- then everything in life is easy).  Alot of time and money is spent in your school district to figure out how to increase your learning and utilize what intelligence you may have.  All the thinking that goes on in your head, whether you are in school or hanging out with your friends is called cognition.

Cognition means thinking reasoning and remembering- basically everything that goes on in our heads.

A REALLY famous psychologist Jean Piaget discovered that we learn and think differently throughout our lifetimes.  Before Piaget, it was believed that children were just miniscule versions of adults (just stupider).

Piaget said- “Dudes- kids actually think differently than adults- so we have to teach them differently”.

Thus he came out with Piaget’s cognitive development theory.

How cute is Piaget?

Piaget’s cognitive development theory

Piaget was actually working for Alfred Binet (the inventor of the IQ test, which we will talk about under the intelligence chapter) when he noticed that children tended to answer questions wrong on tests in similar ways.  Piaget hypothesized (guessed) that children have different schemas than adults.  Ok, what is a schema?  This is really kind of important- a schema is a conceptual framework used to solve problems.  What the heck does that mean (is heck a bad word)?  Think of it this way, we use schemas to make judgments about the world.

When I think about Red Sox fans, I think of backwards illogical people who act rude and do not know that much about baseball history.  Thus my schema of Red Sox fans is not very flattering.

Think about what a high school teacher should look like.  The image popping into your head now is your schema of high school teachers.  You are probably thinking about some frumpy boring guy with no style and bad breath.

Now if you meet me- and my youthful charm and good looks- I would not fit into your schema of high school teachers.  What would happen then?  Lets explore….

The first time my son Caleb saw a dog he pointed and said “wuzzsapagaju” (is Caleb speak that means “what is that”).  I tell him that is a dog.  He looks at the dog, sees four legs and a tail and thinks to himself- ok a dog.

Now he has a schema for a dog- four legs and a tail.  The next week Caleb is hanging out at the Rye Recreation park and sees what we would call a cat.  He says to himself “hmmmm- four legs, a tail- it must be a dog” and he goes on to call it a dog.

This is called assimilation– incorporating new experiences into existing schemas.  In fact, every animal he sees that has four legs and a tail, he will probably call a dog- because it fits in his schema of a dog.  Just like if you see a frumpy looking man with bad breath you may say “who is that? hmmm….he fits in my schema of a high school teacher”, so you call him a high school teacher.

Now lets say I tell Caleb that what he sees is really a cat, which looks like a dog, but much smaller.  Then Caleb is hanging out at Garden Catering and he sees a lady with a Chihuahua (a small dog).

Caleb sees the dog- thinks – four legs, tail, small- must be a cat.  I will then correct him and say that sometimes dogs can be small too.

Caleb will then accommodate (change) his schema for dogs to fit both big and little ones.

Lets get back to the high school teacher example.  If you are lucky enough to have me as your teacher, your schemas may be thrown a little out of wack.  I will insist that I am a high school teacher, but all you see is my youthful charm and movie star looks.

I would not fit into your frumpy bad breath schema of teachers.  You would then be forced to change, accommodate, you schema of high school teachers to fit both frumpy and great looking teachers.  I will give you many more examples in class.

Piaget took these ideas on how children think and came up with his own stage theory of cognitive development (don’t worry, this unit has 90% of all the stage theorists, so no more memorizing stages after developmental psychology).  Just remember, Freud and Erikson were stages of social development- while these are stages of cognitive development.

1. Sensorimotor Stage: (birth to 2)- Babies explore the world strictly through their senses.  You learn and develop schemas by senses the world through sight, hearing, touch, smell and most importantly taste.  When I give you a quiz on this stuff, are you going to pick up the quiz and taste it?

Hopefully not (unless you hungry hungry hippo hungry) because you are out of this stage.  Also during this stage babies do not have what Piaget called object permanence: the realization that objects continue to exist even when you cannot see them.  Think about it, why do babies get such a kick out of the pick-a-boo game.

When you hide you face, they actually think it is gone from existence.  When you show them the face again, they think you are the cats meow.  When babies finally develop object permanence, they enter the next stage.

2. Preoperational Stage: (2-7)- Here babies start using symbols to represent real world objects.  The most important development in this stage is speech.  During this stage children are egocentric, which means they think the world was created solely for them- and when they sleep the world sleeps too.

Children do NOT yet understand the concepts of conservation in this stage (that is that objects remain the same even when their shapes change).  To you eight ounces of water in a short fat cup is the same as eight ounces in a tall thin cup- to this child the amounts are different.  Or if I took two pizzas, one dived into 8 slices, one into 4.  A child in the preoperational stage would thing that the pizza with 8 slices is more (you should know by now that it makes little difference).  But I do notice that when there is a chocolate cake around I tend to take many small pieces instead of one huge one- somehow thinking that I am saving calories.

There are 3 main categories of conservation (volume, area and number- the first one to ask me about them in class gets 5 points on their next quiz).  When the child understands the laws of conservation- they then move on to the next stage.

3. Concrete Operational Stage: (8-12) Here they understand the laws of conservation.  In this stage the child begins to look at the world more logically and can piece together logic statement- God is love, love is blind, Stevie Wonder is blind thus….Stevie Wonder must be god (not really but you get the point).  The child cannot yet think about abstract concepts such as parallel lines, god or calculus (but then again, neither can I ).

4. Formal Operational Stage: (12-adulthood) Piaget said that not all of us reach this stage.  This is where we can manipulate objects in our minds that we have never actually seen.  Also, in this stage we can learn to think about the way we think, called metacognition.

Information Processing Model of Thinking

Now, Piaget was a bright guy, but some people say that he underestimated children by limiting the way that they think.  Maybe he emphasized language in his testing techniques- and some children advance way more quickly than he ever hypothesized.  Maybe our cognitive skills do not develop in stages, but rather continuously throughout our lifetimes- thus we have the information-processing model.

This model basically says that we increase our ability to learn gradually over time.  It has been shown that our attention span increases as we get older, and maybe children don’t understand things like the laws of conservation not because they are unable to do so (as Piaget would have you think) but rather because they cannot pay attention long enough to learn it.  Neither Piaget or the information processing model is perfect – well nothing is ever really perfect- except my wife (who will probably read this- hi honey).  That is the reading for today unless you want to move ahead to Moral Development.