A Critique On Piagetian Theories Of Cognitive Development

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

A Critique On Piagetian Theories Of Cognitive Development

Table of Contents

  • Title
  • Certification
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents

Chapter One

Problem and Background

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

Chapter Two

The Piagetian Ideology

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

Chapter Three

Piagetian Theories of Cognitive Development Vis-à-Vis Other Cognitive Theories

  • 3.1 The General Features of Piaget Theories
  • 3.1.1 The Sensorimotor Period
  • Modification of Reflexes
  • Primary Circular Reactions
  • Secondary Circular Reactions
  • Coordination of Means-end Relations
  • Tertiary Circular Reactions
  • Mental Combinations
  • 3.1.2 The Preoperational Period
  • Egocentrism
  • Centration
  • Semilogical Reasoning
  • Limited Social Cognition
  • 3.1.3 The Concrete Operational period
  • 3.1.4 The Formal Operational Period
  • 3.1.5 The Mechanisms of Piaget’s Development
  • Cognitive Organization
  • Cognitive Adaptation
  • Assimilation
  • Accommodation
  • Cognitive Equilibration
  • 3.2 Other Cognitive Theories vis-à-vis Piaget Theories
  • 3.2.1 Jerome Bruner’s Theory of Cognitive Development
  • Enactive Mode
  • Iconic Mode
  • Symbolic Mode
  • 3.2.2 Vygotsky’s Theory of Cognitive Development
  • 3.2.3 Albert Bandura’a Social Cognitive Theory

Chapter Four

Evaluation and Conclusion

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

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.

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Having criticized Piaget’s theory at length, it is of good interest however, to outline in this concluding remarks, some of the major impacts the theory has provided in the field of developmental psychology. The emphasis of Piaget on the active nature of the child has had a powerful impact on psychological theory and research. And his work directed the attention of psychologists to a set of fascinating tasks and questions. Although, his explanations may in some instances be considered wrong, his work got psychologists interested enough to do the research necessary for better understanding of children cognitive development.

However, the inadequacies found in his method of clinical research are even though annoying to anyone trying to understand and evaluate his theory, but they may be somewhat responsible for his success. That is, it may be argued that when psychologists explore new areas and develop tentative hypotheses to guide their research, they should be flexible in their methods. Thus, if Piaget had used standardized procedures from the beginning, he might have missed some fascinating facets of cognitive development. That is to say, if Piaget had attempted to establish every point with the maximum of certainty, then he probably would not have advanced in his cognitive theories. Furthermore, the theory has raised issues that all theories of development must address and all subsequent theories are to be compared to Piaget’s theory.

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development has been the most influential stage approach in the developmental psychology. Its emphasis is on both maturation and learning, which demonstrates how the development of children goes together with acquiring knowledge of the world. Thus, the first two years of life, children construct sensorimotor schemes, which is based on the physical action upon the world. This knowledge of the world during this period is primarily perceptual. That is, things are known as they are experienced. Toward the end of the second year of life, children begin to reveal a new way of thinking that reflects their ability to represent objects, people, and events in their absence. This representational ability marks the entry into a second stage of development known as the preoperational period, (approximately from 2 to 7 years). Although, representational thought is clearly in advance over the experiential – based reasoning, preoperational children lack a rule – based system of thought that suppose to allow them manipulate the content of their thoughts.

However, during the concrete operational period, roughly 7 to 11 years, children acquire logicomathematical structures. And, in spite of illusory transformations in the appearance of objects, concrete operational children use these rules to make judgment about reality. With attainment of formal operational thought in early adolescence children elaborate a more complete set of operations and acquire the abstract ability to manipulate the operations themselves.

Lastly, it can be said that movement through the stages is caused by four factors: physical maturation, experience with physical objects, social experience, and equilibration. Experience brings cognitive progress through assimilation and accommodation. These functional invariants help children adapt to the environment by strengthening and stretching their current understanding of the world.


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