A Critique On Piagetian Theories Of Cognitive Development

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy


Table Of Contents


  • Title i
  • Certification ii
  • Dedication iii
  • Acknowledgements iv
  • Table Of Contents vii

Chapter One

Problem And Background

  • 1.1 Introduction 1
  • 1.2 Problem of the Study 4
  • 1.3 Purpose of the Study 6
  • 1.4 Scope of the Study 6
  • 1.5 Methodology 7
  • 1.6 Division of the Work  7

Chapter Two

The Piagetian Ideology

  • 2.1 Historical Background on Piaget 8
  • 2.2 Piaget’s Works 13
  • 2.3 General Orientation to Piaget’s Theory 15
  • 2..3.1 The Concept of Genetic Epistemology 15
  • 2.3.2 The Biological Approach 16
  • 2,3.3 The Concept of structuralism 16

Chapter Three

Piagetian Theories Of Cognitive Development Vis-Ă -Vis Other Cognitive Theories

  • 3.1 The General Features of Piaget Theories 18
  • 3.1.1 The Sensorimotor Period 18
  • 3.1.1.1 Modification of Reflexes 19
  • 3.1.1.2 Primary Circular Reactions 20
  • 3.1.1.3 Secondary Circular Reactions  20
  • 3.1.1.4 Coordination of Means-end Relations 21
  • 3.1.1.5 Tertiary Circular Reactions 21
  • 3.1.1.6 Mental Combinations  22
  • 3.1.2 The Preoperational Period 22
  • 3.1.2.1 Egocentrism  24
  • 3.1.2.2 Centration  24
  • 3.1.2.3 Semilogical Reasoning  25
  • 3.1.2.4 Limited Social Cognition 26
  • 3.1.3 The Concrete Operational period  26
  • 3.1.4 The Formal Operational Period  29
  • 3.1.5 The Mechanisms of Piaget’s Development 30
  • 3.1.5.1 Cognitive Organization  31
  • 3.1.5.2 Cognitive Adaptation  32
  • 3.1.4.1.1 Assimilation 33
  • 3.1.4.1.2 Accommodation 34
  • 3.1.4.2 Cognitive Equilibration  35
  • 3.2 Other Cognitive Theories vis-Ă -vis Piaget Theories 36
  • 3.2.1 Jerome Bruner’s Theory of Cognitive Development  36
  • 3.2.1.1 Enactive Mode  36
  • 3.2.1.2. Iconic Mode  37
  • 3.2.1.3 Symbolic Mode  37
  • 3.2.2 Vygotsky’s Theory of Cognitive Development  38
  • 3.2.3 Albert Bandura’a Social Cognitive Theory 41

Chapter Four

Evaluation And Conclusion

  • 4.1 A Critique of Piagetian Cognitive Theories  45
  • 4.1.1 The Underestimation of Children’s Capabilities 46
  • 4.1.2 The Inadequate Account of Mechanisms  47
  • 4.1.3 The Inadequate Notion of Stage 48
  • 4.1.4 The Inadequate Account of Training Children for High Reasoning 50
  • 4.1.5 The Underestimation of Cultural Role in Development 50
  • 4.1.6 The Inadequate Method of Clinical Research 51
  • 4.2 Conclusion 53
  • Bibliography 57

Chapter One

Problem And Background

1.1 Introduction

Generally speaking, one of the earliest observations we make in life is that the desire to explore the unknown to further our knowledge and understanding is a fundamental characteristic of being human. Thus, to boldly go into the unknown is also what each of us does in the course of our development.

Psychological studies have found out that human development is both the most fascinating and most complex science we have. No wonder then, Piaget pointed out that “… life is a continuous creation of increasingly complex forms with the environment”[1] This complex forms provided a ground for the contemporary research on human development to consistently emphasize the multidisciplinary approach needed to describe and explain how people change (and how they remain the same)

over time. More still, Kail asserts that another way to approach development is to focus on thought processes and the construction of knowledge[2], which shows that interest in cognitive development, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Hence, developmentalists, who have been operating mainly within the framework of either psychoanalytic or learning theories now, discover a new aspect of development to explore – a new framework for their thinking.

According to Hilgard (1964), “Probably, the best way to view cognitive psychology is to look at it as trend of humanism and behaviorism, with an emphasis on thought processes, reasoning and problem solving.”[3] By this, we mean the process of becoming aware, or coming to know a perceptual image. In Piaget’s own view, cognitive development centers on the movement of a child through succeeding stages of cognitive organization, whereby this progress is accomplished by means of assimilation and accommodation. As the child encounters new experiences he/she both reacts to them in terms of what the child already knows (assimilation) and revises his/her worldview as a result of the new information (accommodation). Thus, Cognition is in a process of constant change and reorganization. Piaget believes that “at certain points in development, these reorganizations are so momentous and fundamental that they represent a whole new way of understanding the world”4.

When such a transformation happens, for him, (Piaget), a new stage of cognitive development is reached. The major stages he proposed are the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational periods. I have set out to counteract in line with the contemporary researchers, some of the underestimated views of cognitive development of infants and young children and then give it a positive position as will be seen in the chapters that follow.


1.2 Problem Of The Study

The fact of a child’s stages of growth constitutes the current understanding of cognitive development, which is based upon conclusions drawn by scientists who formulate questions and device methodologies by which their questions can be answered. For instance, it is said that, “Swiss developmental Psychologist, Jean Piaget was so often asked by American audience, “what should we do to foster a child’s cognitive development…?5

It is by understanding clearly the true humanistic nature of this process that Jean Piaget set forth to offer the world his cognitive developmental theories. However, “we should remember that no particular theory which provides such a comprehensive explanation of development, can be expected to withstand the tests of further investigations without undergoing some criticisms said, Beilin, 1989, 1990’ Daehler & Bukatko, 1985; Halford, 1989, 1990.”6 There are:

1. In his (Piaget) child’s developmental theories, he underestimated the cognitive capabilities of children. For instance, the kinds of memory, which researchers now find in babies at 6 months of age, were not found by Piaget until babies were 18 months old.

2. The concept of stage has also encountered many objections: for example, that it gives the false impression that development proceeds by a series of abrupt jerks rather than smoothly; that intellectual functioning at any one age shows more fluctuation than the concept of stage would suggests; that cross-cultural variability limits the usefulness of the concept; that environment is more influential than Piaget allows; and so on.

Of course, Piaget did not have many of the methods that are now available to scholars, including equipment and procedures to measure the electrical activity of the brain. These and various others, which we shall see later constitute a great problem about his theories and therefore needs to be carefully examined in order to clarify matters not well presented. A proper examination into Piagetian theories of cognitive development, as well as critically analyzing the theories, is what this writer set out to explore in this research work.


1.3 Purpose Of The Study

The aim of this work is to make a proper study into the Piagetian theories of cognitive development, as well as placing them side-by-side with other cognitive theories, with a view to eliciting from them the positive views and criticizing others that seem vague to the contemporary mind.


1.4 Scope Of The Study

The main area this research work covers is the view of Piagetian theories of cognitive development. Hence, the views of other psychologists, scientists, and some philosophical opinions will be entertained, but only as they affect Piaget’s line of thought.


1.5 Methodology Of The Research

The method is expository, analytic, and prescriptive. As this is a philosophical work fideistic arguments are carefully avoided.


1.6 The Division Of The Work

This research is sectionalized into four chapters for a better apprehension. Chapter one explicates the background, problem of the study, purpose of the study, scope, method of research and division of work. Chapter two is devoted to the Piagetian Ideology. It traces his historical background as well as presents a general orientation to his theories. Chapter three comprises of the Piagetian theories of cognitive development in comparison with other cognitive theories. Finally, the evaluation of the whole work is conveyed in chapter four. Hence, chapter four represents my contribution to the academic world.


A Critique On Piagetian Theories Of Cognitive Development


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