Critically evaluate Piaget’s cognitive development theory answer with response to theories and empirical evidence
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development has expanded the understanding of cognitive development. Through a constructivist method, he theorised that children actively construct knowledge through both experience and daily communication with the environment (Sutherland, 1992). Additionally, (Sutherland 1992) clarifies that his theory focuses on developmental changes regarding thinking and argues that knowledge is developed through both physical and logical mathematical experience, Nevertheless, Piaget’s theory has been criticised carefully, from undervaluing children’s abilities to ignoring adolescent development (Lourenco & Machado, 1996). In this essay, Piaget’s cognitive development theory will be critically evaluated.
Such findings have led several researchers to argue that Piaget did not pay enough attention to the role of culture and social interaction in shaping cognitive development (Roff, 2003 cited in Slater and Bremner, 2017). The effect of schooling proposes that Piaget’s assumption that children is driven primarily by constructing their own knowledge by acting on the environment is too narrow. It is rather that teachers and adults guide children’s learning by helping them focus on crucial issues or aspects of a situation. They are scaffolding the child’s learning. Recent research has raised fundamental questions regarding the universality of Piaget’s stages. In Piaget’s conception once an individual has strengthened the skills and understanding of a stage, that individual will be functioning cognitively in that stage regardless of the problem or field of knowledge. although, many researchers (eg Siegler, 1981 Slater and Bremner, 2017). suggest that a child might use concrete-operational thinking on one tasks and use preoperational thinking on another task.
Researchers have also investigated the universality of Piaget’s stages by conducting a cross-cultural research. For example, both Egyptian and Saudi Arabian Bedouin children progress through the same order of stages (Ahmed, 2010 cited in Slater and Bremner, 2017). Although, cultural factors influence children’s progression through Piaget’s stages (Maynard, 2008 cited in Slater and Bremner, 2017). However, researchers have increasingly challenged Piaget’s notion that broad stages of development exist (Flavell et al., 2002 cited Slater and Bremner, 2017).
A criticism of Piaget’s sensorimotor stage is that while most developmentalists accept his summary of cognitive growth in infants, however there are some questions regarding his measures of assessing development. It is also approved that object permanence is developed as a child develops an understanding of the permanence of objects and an example of this is uncovering a hidden toy. But Piaget did not consider the need for motivation for children to search, or that young infants may not have the knowledge of how to search for things. Kagen’s theory of object permanence is that nine-month-old infants show a capability to search for hidden objects because they have had a new cognitive structure as stated by Piaget (Kagan, cited in Berger,1988 cited in (Dianna Lush , 2001)
Other developmentalists claim that Piaget’s account of sensorimotor intelligence overstates the motor aspects of cognitive development to the disadvantage of the sensory aspects. Piaget believed that children showed intellectual development through their actions, on the other hand perception researchers believe that infants know more than they can physically demonstrate as they have limited motor actions. They have found that new born infants will try to look for sounds, grasp different objects and respond to human faces and perception researchers also believe that perceptual learning happens, mainly auditory before birth. It is acknowledged that Piaget may have undervalued early perceptual capabilities and cognitive development during the first six months of life Berger, 1988 cited in Diana Lush, 2001)
It is believed by developmentalists that the three-mountain task that Piaget asked three-year-old children to solve was too complex to test chilidren’s ability to see someone else’s perspective. It is now believed that young children can see someone else’s point of view in a straightforward way. Similarly, the conversation tests may also have been too complex, and further research has indicated that if a conversation task was presented in a simplified manner and in an easier way to engage with a child, children were capable for showing some acknowledgement of these concepts (Diana Lush, 2001)
It is believed that Piaget’s last stage of formal operations is not an accurate description of cognitive development. Nearly half of adults do not attain the level of formal operations, and not everyone appears to be capable of abstract reasoning. These individuals are possibly not cognitively immature but have various aspects of mature thought not covered by Piaget. Formal logic as defined by Piaget consists of measures such as the pendulum problem and conservation of volume, which indicates that Piaget believes cognition is bound by mathematics and scientific thinking. Nevertheless, this form of formal logic is not as significant in non-scientific fields such as the arts, history, or social understanding and personal judgement.
It also does not cover other characteristics of mature intelligence such as practical problem solving, and acquired wisdom and experience (Paplia, Olds and Feldman, 1998 cited in Diana Lush, 2001) Piaget’s description of overall cognitive events indicates that once a new stage of cognition has been achieved, individuals will reflect it in all areas of their lives, Nevertheless, it has been shown that cognitive development may happen in some areas of thinking and not in others. A more accepted view of cognition is that is an uneven process, with children arriving at each stage piece by piece as new skill and behaviour is learnt (Berger, 1988 cited in Diana Lush, 2001).
Piaget has frequently been described as the father of cognitive psychology (Shaffer, 1988), “everyone knows that Piaget was the most important figure the field has ever known, he transformed he field of developmental psychology” (Flavell, 1996 P.200). and another said that “once psychologists looked at development through Piaget’s eyes, they never saw children in quite the same way” (Miller, 1993, p.81).
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Dianna Lush (2001) CRITICISM OF PIAGET’S WORK . Online 14 September 2001. Available from: accessed 15 November 2018.
Lourenco, O. & Machado, A. (1996) In Defence of Piaget’s Theory: A Reply to 10 Common Criticisms. Psychological Review. 103(1). 143-164
Papalia, D.E., Olds, S.W., & Feldman, R.D. (1998). Human development (7th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Shaffer, D.R. (1988) Developmental Psychology: Child & Adolescence. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole
Slater, A. and Bremner, G. (2017) An Introduction to Developmental Psychology. (3rd ed.) West Sussex: Wiley & sons Ltd.
Sutherland, P. (1992) Cognitive Development Today: Piaget and His critics. Sage Publications Ltd. Chapter 2: The Piagetian Legacy. 7-28