Talking about cognitive development theory, Jean Piaget (1896-1980) appeared to be the most outstanding. Originally trained as a biologist and philosopher, he developed a deep concern for the biological influences of how people think. He believed that human beings are distinctively different from animals because of their ability in abstract reasoning. His findings in IQ tests conducted in Paris instigated further interest in knowing how organisms adapt to their environment. This, Piaget regarded as Intelligence. He therefore construed that human behaviour is basically a reaction of humans to their environment, i.e. their adaptation to the environment, which is controlled through a mental organization called schema. According to him, this adaptation is driven by a biological drive to attain equilibrium. He came up with stages of the growth of cognition (thinking) in children as follows:-
Stages 1 The sensory-motor (from birth 2/3 years of age)
Stages 2 Preoperational (2 – 7 years of age) Stages 3 Concrete operation (7 – 11 years of age) Stages 4 Formal operation (12 – adulthood)
Sensory-motor Stage (Birth – 2/3 years)
Piaget believed that cognitive activity at this period is based mainly on the child’s immediate experiences through the interaction of the senses and the environment. During the interaction of the first few months the child is able to control his/her environment by making physical movements. When the child kicks the legs, the parent plays with the child. So the child continues to kick its legs in order to make the parent play with it. This is called “circular” reaction.
Using in-built influences however, he developed patterns of behaviour, which we know as schema (and plural schemata). Through such schema, the child integrates fresh experiences into what he already knows. This process is known as assimilation and with further contact
the child modifies his or her experiences enabling him or her to understand that objects in the environment have independent existence out of the human body. The process of constant modification and adjustment is known as accommodation.
Later at this stage (around 18 months) the child learns that an object does not cease to exist merely because it is out of sight. This is known as object permanence. The child learns to imitate individuals. Towards the end of the period, real language begins to develop, and by imitating others, the child makes rapid progress in language use.
Osarenren (2001) enumerated the six distinct stage boundaries associated with this period. As follows:
a) Modification of reflexes (0-1 month):
Most of the behaviours exhibited by the child at this level are primarily reflexive and also assimilative e.g. sucking the thumb
b) Primary circular Reactions (1-4 months)
During this period, manifestation of acquired behaviour is noticeable in a child. There is better coordination of the earlier activities e.g. thumb to mouth. The child may follow an object presented to him with his eyes but once it is out of sight, he losses interest in the object.
c) Secondary circular reactions (4-8 months)
The child is able to extend his ability at coordination of other objects in his environment. He will be able to identify objects based on some clues e.g. the arrival of mother or father in the evening by the sound of the doorbell or car. These secondary circular reactions make room for occurrence of viability and provision of the basis for awareness of one’s abilities through reality testing.
d) Coordination of secondary circular reactions. (8-12 months)
A child will show a more definite coordination of two schemata i.e. the child had the mental skills to understand new varying skills. At this stage, he is able to search for an object that has disappeared which he could not achieve before this age. This only happens when the child has had a considerable interaction with his environment.
e) Tertiary Circular Reactions (12-18 months)
During this phase, a child exhibits some degree of inventiveness in his ability at coordination. For instance, if a toy is taken away from him and kept in a place beyond his reach, he will seriously search for it until he is able to locate it.
f) Beginning of Representational thought (18-24 months)
This phase marks the eventual completion of the previous phases. He could imitate someone very well even when the person is not around. He is able to store a proper mental picture of behaviour which he will imitate later. Therefore, at the end of this sensori-motor stage, a child has the ability to use symbolic behaviour.
Preoperational Period (2 – 7 years)
The sensory environment no longer binds the quality of thinking at this stage. Vocabulary increases rapidly including the ability to understand and use words. It is believed that, an average 2 year old child understands between 200 – 300 words. By the end of 5 years he or she understands about 2,000 words.
Children’s language development at this stage develops faster if adults communicate with them a great deal. This can be done through talks, reading stories, singing songs, or nursery rhymes. Learning at this stage is intuitive with the child relying a lot on internal impulses, which are revealed in monologues – child talking to self and performing acts. They pretend a lot and play with imaginary friends and tell wild stories out of imagination. Intuition fires them to experiment with language. Children talk at and not with others. Their speech pattern remains egocentric – directed at themselves.
Later during this stage (four) the child learns to group objects into classes on the bases of size, shape or colour. The children can now make comparison such as “tall” versus “short”. Nevertheless, children are unable at this stage to handle abstract concepts. They can only reason on things that physically exist or which are before their eyes. They believe in adults’ rules for moral guidance.
The child’s thinking is not reversible at this stage. For example, he cannot move from 3 + 5 = 8 to 8 – 3 = 5. So he cannot form concepts or understand subtraction or multiplication.
The Concrete Operations Period (7 – 12 Years)
The concrete operational stage marks the overcoming of the deficiencies of the earlier period and maturing. Two important abilities become prominent at this stage. First is the concept of conservation. This is the ability of the child to realize that the quantity of an object does not change even when its shape changes. So the quantity of water remains the same no matter the shape of the container.
The second important manifestation shown by children during this stage is an understanding of the concept of reversibility. According to Piaget, unlike the child in the previous period, they are now able to think logically. So having attained the ability to think backwards from point A to point B, and then back to point B, the child can now do subtraction and multiplication. However, there is difference between this stage and the next, in that the child cannot think in abstract logical terms.
Formal Operational Stage (from 12 through Adulthood)
At this stage the child begins to think logically not just with reference to concrete problems, but also in the abstract form. The child can now think of things that do not really exist. For example he can understand the concept of God, religion and morality. This period coincides more or less with adolescence years. Children are now able to attain logical, rational, abstract reasoning. They appreciate that some problems can be solved (hypothetically) “in the head” by applying the same rules as would be applied for concrete problems. Whereas the younger child deals with the present mainly, the children at this stage are concerned with the future and far away.
The adolescents are therefore capable of solving verbal problems better than the children in the concrete stage. They are now capable of idealizing and imagining possibilities by extending their speculations about the ideal qualities that they desire in themselves and in others.. Their thinking becomes more logical, enabling them to approach problems in a scientific-like manner in order to solve them systematically. This further makes it possible for them to develop their own hypothesis or guesses regarding the ways to solve the problems in question.
The key patterns of reasoning at this stage are:
- Combinational Reasoning
- Proportional Reasoning
- Probabilistic Reasoning
- Co relational Reasoning
Combinational Reasoning: There is proper consideration of all possible relation of experimental or theoretical condition in a very systematic and orderly manner.
Proportional Reasoning: A child recognizes and at the same time interprets relationships that exist in any given situation that is described in observable or abstract terms.
Probabilistic Reasoning: The child recognizes the fact that natural phenomena are probabilistic. Therefore, before any conclusion or explanatory models are made, the probabilistic dimension has to be considered.
Co relational Reasoning: A child is able to decide whether events are related and can go together. They also understand that there might be some differences and the relationships may not always turn out to be so.