Critically evaluate the empirical support for Piaget’s theory of the stages of cognitive development
Cognitive development overlooks the way children learn which Piaget (1896-1980) has had a great influence on. Piaget observed children throughout activities by interacting with them verbally and active listening. Piaget (1952) believed that children move through various stages in order to develop. In order for children to develop they had to pass the four stages, Piaget (1952) names the stages as follows, sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operations and formal operational. However there have been many criticisms made by many theorists such as siegler, case, Lewis etc. In this essay I will be evaluating Piaget’s theory stages of development critically and coming to a conclusion.
Piaget had a broad horizon on cognitive development. He felt that in order for a development to be passed a child creates schemas. Piaget (1951) schemas are senses of experiences gained by a child from birth. A schema represents a child’s physical and mental capability, for an example a new born child begins to grasp, suck, blink etc. In order for a child to go through the next stage he should be intellectually and mentally fit. The first stage is the sensori-motor, this stage start from birth to 2 years. During this stage children begin to use their senses to create senses in order to develop such as see, hear, touch etc. Piaget (1952) did a task with children ages 8 to 12 months. He called this task “object permanence”, where he hid an attractive toy away from the child. The child responded by pushing objects away to find the toy. His findings showed him that children began to problem solve and have an understanding.
The second stage is the preoperational stage. This stage occurs from 2 to 7 years. Piaget (1936) felt that children were not intellectually capable as their perception was dominating the way they saw situations. He believed that there were many limitations to the way children will think during this stage. The first limitation was egocentration where their own perceptions are being dominated by themselves. Piaget felt that young children are unable to express their views other than their own. In order to prove this he created a task called “three mountains task”. He came to the conclusion that children up to the age of seven could not identify what the doll could see as they would only answer what they could. The second limitation to this stage is centration which Piaget (1936) believed that children could only focus on one situation going on at one time ignoring others. Piaget (1952) created a task called “conservation”, this task involved objects which were transformed into different lengths, shapes etc. From this task he found out that children cannot focus or understand the concept of height while concentrating on the width.
Robert Siegler (1981) replicated Piaget’s (1958) “Balance Beam” task to see why children could not solve conservation tasks. However Siegler (1981) believed that there are some strategies which children use in order to complete tasks. From his experiment he found that children below 5 could not use the first strategy but used strategy 2 and 3.
The third stage is concrete operations. This stage starts from 7 to 12 years. This stage strongly focuses on reasoning. At this stage children are able to see and understand conservation tasks, size, height etc. There are 4 areas which consist within this stage conservation, classification, seriation. Conservation involves children to problem solve mathematically. Classification is for children 7 to 10, Piaget (1967) has said classification is what children in those ages should be able to understand and group objects relating them to their characteristics. Seriation is children able to put things in order for example in size, colour shape, numbers etc. This stage is allowing children to experiment with real objects in order to explore and problem solve. Piaget (1967) did an experiment for seriation with sticks where he found out that, children can put into series of order but make many mistakes. He found that above 6 years can put in order in no time and correctly.
The final stage is formal operational. This stage occurs in children around 11 according to Piaget (1958). At this stage children are thinking like adults where they can easily problems in their head with ease. Piaget (1958) constructed a task called “pendulum”. From this task he found out children do little mistakes but learn from them and all three stages pre- operational, concrete and formal operational are concurred and passed. Lewis (1981) did an experiment to show that not all teenagers at the age of 11 can think like adults, he found out that 50-60% teenagers used formal operations. This shows that not all teenagers including adults use this stage.
However Bryant (1974) had criticised that tasks that Piaget (1936, 1951, 1952) did to prove his theory were very hard for children to do. Bryant (1974) proved that Piaget was a bit harsh in tasks with children so he constructed a task where he found out that children under 5 were able to do the tasks without any hesitation. This shows the Piaget (1952) did have a good theory but didn’t have the right task for the age group which the children didn’t answer correctly. Robbie case (1992, 1998) did an experiment to see that a child’s development is not just about schemas or to see their cognitive development, but it includes information processing, which is internal capacity of a child. Cases’ (1992, 1998) theory shows that children have not got enough memory capacity to help them process and develop. So as children grow older they concur the stage.
This essay has come to the conclusion that Piaget’s theory has a good source of empirical support to prove his theory. Piaget himself has underpinned numerous tasks such as 3 mountains task, pendulum, object permanence, in order prove his stages of development. However other theorists such as Bryant (1947), Case (1992), Lewis(1981) and Siegler (1981) have proved that there more to the stages of development for example case (1992) has showed that information processing has an equivalent contribution. Nevertheless Piaget had a great impact on cognitive development whereas as many theorists have been inspired.
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