Theories of Cognitive Development – Understanding Concepts of Cognitive Development

     There exist several theories of cognitive development, and no one theory has yet to explain all of the aspects of cognitive development. These theories are presented in the following.

1) Jean Piagets stages of Development:
     Piagets theory is generally thought to be the most comprehensive theory of cognitive development. The general principles of Piaget’s theory include the following. He felt that intelligence is an aid in how one adapts to the environment. Intelligence can be displayed on a continuum and is shown as one has increasingly complex responses to their environment. Equilibration refers to how development occurs through stages – a process of cognitive development in which children seek a balance between the information and experiences they encounter. Piaget considered four main stages of development. The sensorimotor stage is when an infant develops in terms of sensory input and motor output. In other words the infant responds reflexively to their environment (i.e., crying, sucking, and grasping).

     As well they begin to gain representational thought at about 18-24 months as they start to be able to think about objects and people who are not in their immediate environment. The Proeoperational stage (2-7 years) is made up of a development in how children can mentally represent things and verbally communicate. The concrete-operational stage (7-12 years) is characterized by a child’s ability to mentally manipulate their thoughts about real objects. They now have thoughts and memories of objects, and can perform mental operations on these. The final stage of the formal operational stage (12 onwards) is characterized by the ability to make mental manipulations on internal and abstract symbols – they begin to see others perspectives.

2) Neo-Piagetian Theorists:
     These theorists believe in Piagets idea of developmental stages but further it by building on his four stages, most often suggesting a fifth stage of development – problem finding. In this stage, an individual can figure out what problem they are facing and decide how to solve them. This fifth stage can be thought of as post-formal thinking in which an individual can recognize the unfolding of evolution and thought.

3) Lev Vygotsky’s Theory:
     The main difference in Vygotsky’s theory is that he emphasizes the role of environemeny in children intellectual development – that development proceeds from the outside in – through internalization. Internalization is the process by which an individual absorbs knowledge from their external environment. Therefore, it is social rather than biological factors that most affect the child. He believed that there exists a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which is the range of ability between a persons level of abilities and their capabilities that may not be directly exposed. Therefore when observing children’s abilities we need to be careful in how we measure them as we mat not be observing all that they are capable of due to environmental circumstances that prevent them from showing their fill potential.

4) Information processing Theories of Development:
     This type of theorist seeks to understand cognitive development in terms of how children at different ages process information differently. The way that children and all people process information includes a variety of functions – these including perception, memory, understanding language and speaking it, understanding numbers and being able to work with them, problem solving and using reason and logic when thinking.

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