CASE STUDY: Cognitive Development

1-Swiss biologist and psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) observed his children (and their process of making sense of the world around them) and eventually developed a four-stage model of how the mind processes new information encountered. He posited that children progress through 4 stages and that they all do so in the same order. These four stages are:

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Sensorimotor stage (Birth to 2 years old). The infant builds an understanding of himself or herself and reality (and how things work) through interactions with the environment. It is able to differentiate between itself and other objects. Learning takes place via assimilation (the organization of information and absorbing it into existing schema) and accommodation (when an object cannot be assimilated and the schemata have to be modified to include the object.

Preoperational stage (ages 2 to 4). The child is not yet able to conceptualize abstractly and needs concrete physical situations. Objects are classified in simple ways, especially by important features.

Concrete operations (ages 7 to 11). As physical experience accumulates, accommodation is increased. The child begins to think abstractly and conceptualize, creating logical structures that explain his or her physical experiences.

Formal operations (beginning at ages 11 to 15). Cognition reaches its final form. By this stage, the person no longer requires concrete objects to make rational judgments. He or she is capable of deductive and hypothetical reasoning. His or her ability for abstract thinking is very similar to an adult.

The strengths of this theory are that Piaget research was a major breakthrough in way we understand children. His ideas have stimulated a massive amount of further research which increased our knowledge of children development. Piaget was the first to suggest a theory of child development which can now be analyzed and built own. However it had weaknesses, behaviorists do not agree that development occurs in stages and suggests that is gradual and continuous. He also suggested that all children developed at the same pace according to age, he did not consider individual differences also he did not consider how a child development might depend on social factors such as family and environment.

2- As a biologist, Piaget was interested in how an organism adapts to its environment (Piaget described as intelligence.) Behavior (adaptation to the environment) is controlled through mental organizations called schemes that the individual uses to represent the world and designate action. This adaptation is driven by a biological drive to obtain balance between schemes and the environment (equilibration).

Piaget hypothesized that infants are born with schemes operating at birth that he called reflexes. In other animals, these reflexes control behavior throughout life. However, in human beings as the infant uses these reflexes to adapt to the environment, these reflexes are quickly replaced with constructed schemes.

Piaget described two processes used by the individual in its attempt to adapt: assimilation and accommodation. Both of these processes are used throughout life as the person increasingly adapts to the environment in a more complex manner.

Assimilation is the process of using or transforming the environment so that it can be placed in preexisting cognitive structures. Accommodation is the process of changing cognitive structures in order to accept something from the environment. Both processes are used simultaneously and alternately throughout life. An example of assimilation would be when an infant uses a sucking schema that was developed by sucking on a small bottle when attempting to suck on a larger bottle. An example of accommodation would be when the child needs to modify a sucking schema developed by sucking on a pacifier to one that would be successful for sucking on a bottle.

3- Vygotsky’s best known contributions to developmental and cognitive psychology was his various explanations to the question of how development came about as a outgrowth of learning.  Due to space limitations, I will feature here only one of his explanations, namely his concept of the ZPD.Most simply defined for here, Vygotsky referred to the distance between the abilities displayed independently and with social support as the ZPD his thesis being that this zone was created by learning.  To cite directly from Vygotsky, this most widely known concept of his theory represented the distance between the actual level of development as determined by independent problem solving [without guided instruction and the level of potential development as determined by problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”.  Measurement would thus be achieved by comparing the student’s performance on both tasks.

The thesis behind this zone is that at a certain stage in development, children can solve a certain range of problems only when they are interacting with people and in cooperation with peers.  Once the problem solving activities have been internalized, the problems initially solved under guidance and in cooperation with others will be tackled independently.  The notion here seems to be that one’s latent, or unexpressed ability could be measured by the extent to which one profits from guided instruction.

4- In Piaget’s theories, he seems to cover the Nature side of the “Nature v. Nurture” argument .Piaget has two main theories. One theory is on Adaptation, the other is about Development. In terms of the adaptation theory, better known as his Constructivist theory, continuity seems to take place. This theory, and its content, is not something that would stop at a certain age. It is a continual process that everyone has until death.

Piaget’s Developmental Theory, better known as his Stage Theory, he describes how a person develops from birth and how each level affects a person. This is an example of discontinuity. His stages only approach up to, and end with, approximately age fifteen. This theory does not seem to have any major factors after approximately age fifteen.

No child is the same even if they are brought up the same way. People learn that through the Nature V. Nurture argument, but that is another story. There are major factors that can disrupt the Stage theory or the Constructivist theory. A person could have a dysfunction or a special need that needs to be dealt with. For example, is a little boy has a brain dysfunction that disrupts his learning abilities, there is a high percentage of chance that he will not develop at the same pace and rate as other children in his generation and environment.

With the Constructivist Theory, a child may not know how to deal with his or her internal emotions and/or thoughts. If that child does not know how to deal with his or her own internal workings, there is going to be much difficulty trying to deal with a personal accommodation. The same thing goes with assimilation. If a child does not know how to deal with his or her external environment, there is going to be difficulty changing them and dealing with assimilation.

Dealing with the Developmental Theory (Stage Theory), a child may have the same dysfunction and not be able to move up the ladder of stages. There are those rare cases where a child may be stuck at one stage, or a child may not develop everything he or she needs to move on.

The three adaptive processes for cognitive development are assimilation, accommodation, and equilibrium. These are three agents that contribute to a child’s intellectual growth assimilation is when a person fits his or her external information in with what he or she already knows and accommodation is when you have to modify what you already know to make some sense out of the external information.

Equilibrium is what keeps both assimilation and accommodation balanced. Having a well-balanced equilibrium is having a healthy adaptation level. If Assimilation or Accommodation overpower another, a person may develop differently.

Vygotsky’s theories, he seems to cover the Nurture side of the “Nature v. Nurture” argument. He relied mostly on three things that all revolved around everything teaching the child how it is raised: Culture, Language, and The Zone of Proximal Development. In each category he speaks about the influence that each section gives to the child as he or she is being raised.

A culture is like a life of its own. Vygotsky separates the importance of culture into two sections: Elementary Mental Thinking, and Higher Mental Thinking..

Language is the main think that makes even thinking a possibility. Language is the difference between thinking on an elementary level and on a higher level. In itself, language has three separate categories: Social, Egocentric, and Inner.

Social speech expresses simple thoughts and emotions. It is what is heard from children every day when they ask for a glass of milk or a toy. It takes place around age three.

Vygotsky criticized Piaget’s emphasis on the child’s interaction with the environment, claiming that Piaget ignores the role of social interaction. Vygotsky, in contrast, sees the child as an apprentice who learns through interacting with others rather than as a scientist acting alone.

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Vygotsky claims that children experience abrupt changes in their ability to solve problems. This is the result of being taught culturally specific mediatic by others which then allow them to think at a higher level. In Piaget’s theory, what limits what children can learn next is their level of cognitive development and biological maturity. In Vygotsky’s theory, development is limited by the size of the Zone of Proximal Development. The Zone of Proximal Development is the difference between the actual developmental level (what the child is capable of now) and potential development level; the difference between what the child can do now and what the child can do with adult guidance or that of more capable peers.

5- Bowlby’s theory explains how attachment behaviors are activated when an individual feels fear, fatigue, or pain. While both the mother and infant are biologically preprogrammed to develop an attachment relationship, their roles are different. The infant’s role is to lead the relationship while the mother’s part is to sensitively respond and cooperate. This leads to adaptations in the infant either towards or away from cooperation depending on how well the mother responds to the infant’s cues. Bowlby proposed a theory of attachment based on evolutionary principles that increase infants’ survival through specific behavioural and emotional propensities designed to keep infants close to their primary caregivers and out of danger. Bowlby also suggested that infants and children build ‘mental’ models of themselves and of their relationships with significant people in their lives and that these mental models are based on their relationship or interactions with their caregiver(s) over time.

Attachment Theory and Primary Caregiver

Children’s experiences with a primary caregiver form the basis for their mental representations or ‘internal working models’ of the self and others, according to Bowlby. Thus, children who have experienced warmth and consistency from their mother or primary caregiver are likely to think of themselves as being warm and reliable and in turn, they will develop a working model of others as competent, reliable and warm. Just as, infants who have experienced coldness and dejection may see themselves as being ‘unlovable’ and think of others too, as being unreliable and incompetent. Belief, therefore, about the availability of the caregiver develops during infancy, childhood and adolescence and persists relatively unchanged throughout life. Bowlby further argued that expectations about accessibility and responsiveness of the primary caregiver are generally accurate representations of the individual’s experience.

Bowlby and Attachment Theory

Bowlby devoted extensive research to the concept of attachment, describing it as a “Lasting psychological connectedness between human beings,” as well as it having an evolutionary component in that it aids in survival. He suggested attachment was necessary to promote survival through safety, emotional relationships and providing a secure basis from which to explore the world.

Key Features of Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment

Monotropy – babies form only one strong attachment, usually to the mother and this attachment forms during the first year of life.

If attachment has not formed by age 3 then it is too late; even after 6 months it is difficult

Secure attachment to the primary caregiver is essential for positive future social, emotional, and intellectual development

Attachment, once formed, if interrupted, will have severe consequences on the child’s emotional, intellectual and social development.

Reciprocal – The attachment process is two way

Critical period – between 6 months and 24 months when it is crucial for baby to be with caregiver

Maternal deprivation is the term used by Bowlby to describe the serious developmental impairment that is caused by being separated from the mother in infancy

Quality of Attachment

Bowlby also suggested the quality of this attachment relationship is strongly influenced by experiences and repeated interactions between the infant and the primary caregiver. The success of the attachment bond depends on the caregiver’s ability to understand and respond to the infant’s physical and emotional needs. When caregiver and baby are in sync with each other, a secure attachment is formed. Baby feels safe knowing the caregiver will always be there when needed. It was found, through studying children raised in institutions prior to being doubted that after the sensitive period, this first attachment relationship can develop, but with greater difficulty. Hazan and Shaver have also produced evidence that securely attached infants go on to have stable, secure adult relationships, as Bowlby’s theory predicts.

6-Sensation is the process by which our senses gather information and send it to the brain.  A large amount of information is being sensed at any one time such as room temperature, brightness of the lights, someone talking, a distant train, or the smell of perfume.  With all this information coming into our senses, the majority of our world never gets recognized.  We don’t notice radio waves, x-rays, or the microscopic parasites crawling on our skin.  We don’t sense all the odors around us or taste every individual spice in our gourmet dinner.  We only sense those things we are able too since we don’t have the sense of smell like a bloodhound or the sense of sight like a hawk; our thresholds are different from these animals and often even from each other.

Perception,  in psychology, mental organization and interpretation of sensory information. The Gestalt psychologists studied extensively the ways in which people organize and select from the vast array of stimuli that are presented to them, concentrating particularly on visual stimuli. Perception is influenced by a variety of factors, including the intensity and physical dimensions of the stimulus such activities of the sense organs as effects of preceding stimulation the subject’s past experience attention factors such as readiness to respond to a stimulus and motivation and emotional state of the subject. Stimulus elements in visual organization form perceived patterns according to their nearness to each other, their similarity, the tendency for the subject to perceive complete figures, and the ability of the subject to distinguish important figures from background. Perceptual constancy is the tendency of a subject to interpret one object in the same manner, regardless of such variations as distance, angle of sight, or brightness. Through selective attention, the subject focuses on a limited number of stimuli, and ignores those that are considered less important. Depth perception, considered to be innate in most animals, is produced by a variety of visual cues indicating perspective, and by a slight disparity in the images of an object on the two retinas. An absolute threshold is the minimal physical intensity of a stimulus that a subject can normally perceive, whereas a difference threshold is the minimal amount of change in a stimulus that can be consciously detected by the subject. Recent studies have shown that stimuli are actually perceived in the brain, while sensory organs merely gather the signals. William Dobelle’s research, for instance, has offered significant hope for the blind.



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