Human Development: Piaget’s Cognitive Theory

So here we have Piaget. Jean Piaget, and he's talking about cognitive development. So right up to now we've been talking largely about physical development, right? Going from a sperm and an egg to a zygote, right, blastocyte implanted and you become a little embryo, and then you become a fetus, and then you become born if you're lucky to get through that process, then somebody nurtures you and keeps you alive and you develop into a male or a female biologically assuming nothing has gone errant with genetics or with hormones and you develop differently depending on your culture, depending on your influences, but everybody has cognitive development, the ability to think grows as you mature up to a peak, at which point you have developed fully your abilities to think. You might acquire more knowledge if you were so inclined but you don't acquire increasing abilities to think. Alright, so when we harken back to the idea of intelligence that's what most people think here but keep in mind that we're talking about all kinds of thinking, not just the kind you would measure on intelligence tests, and we'll see how debatable the concept of intelligence per se is when we get to that chapter, right? There's lots of ways to think but we all think symbolically.

Symbolic means that we represent outside reality in our heads through models we create. We already talked about how all the energy out side is not what we experience directly. We have, what, afferent neurons, sensory neurons that transduce the physical energy into neural energy which is then read or modeled as a representation of the outside world which we take to be reality, but you know we don't always agree on quote-unquote realities. We can agree on it being Wednesday. We can agree on it being Brown Hall, and around about twelve, oh no, one. So we could even debate about whether it's twelve or one, but we agree on this day but then we get into the facts of the case about all kinds of other stuff. We disagree because we're different individuals who model reality differently and assume that because it seems so real to us, it must be the truth, the way. It's the only way to see it.

Has to be because that's the way I perceive it. So surely if you have the same abilities as me to perceive reality, you should interpret reality the same way I do. But that depends on how you've been trained to think or not think. Symbolic systems, mathematics is a symbolic system, language is a symbolic system. In fact math is a type of language. Computers communicate in languages, right? They're all symbols. Pictures are symbols. Cat, hat, in French chat, chapeau. In Spanish el gato and el sombrero. Three different languages, same cat and the hat. Doesn't matter whether it's gato or chapeau, or no, that would be French chat, it's probably chat is a cat, you see, I don't know crankshaft this price at the Casio no French. Some of you all know French probably. Correct me if I'm wrong. I know gato is cat, el gato, the cat. The cat and el gato are identical. Doesn't matter if you say it in Klingon, or Esperanto. What you're doing is developing a symbol system and when we all develop similar symbol systems in a culture we're able to communicate our perceived realities to one another and we can teach people things.

So teaching people things means that we are, what, enhancing cognitive development. So, we will talk a lot about schemas in this class, and how people are defaulted to use a schema to interpret most of their realities. A schema would be a mental category of some kind. So I might have a mental category of kitty cat. I can label that cat in a variety of ways. I can label it gato or cat or I could say, you know, four-legged furry mammal, or I could say good or bad depending on whether I do or don't like cats, but I have a concept of cat such that when I see something running around, I don't have to think for 15 minutes and go through all the criteria to say cat! I can make a judgment really quickly. We're schema-based processers of information which we are making us a judgment machine. We judge things rapidly and almost instantly and oftentimes without ever questioning whether the judgments are valid or not, and that doesn't really matter. If I get cat wrong and it happens to be a raccoon cause it was a little dark outside, no big deal.

But if I have a schema about human beings and I think I can judge you because I have some label for you, that could be very problematic but it's no different. It's the cognitive processes that all humans go through. So you're developing schemas, categories, to help you process information so you don't have to sit around thinking about every little thing. That's adaptive but used improperly it becomes maladaptive, especially with human beings and understanding one another, culture, individuals, etc. So Piaget says as we go through this cognitive stage so there are stages that we're going through, developmental phases if you will that are predictable and progressive as you mature. You develop schemas of more sophisticated natures. So if you encounter some piece of information that fits already well within a category that you have, a schema you have, you'll just assimilate it.

You'll just pull it right on in and it won't take much thinking at all to adapt that schema to include the new piece of information which fit right in it to begin with. But if it's sufficiently different from your existing schema then you're going to have to accommodate it in some way. You're going to have to either modify the schema or category you have to account for the new information or you're going to have to develop a whole new schema, a whole new category, to account for the information. So kitty cats a good example, and we're talking about from the moment we start interacting with the environment, we start developing, right? Concepts of our world around us, even though we can't articulate those as infants right out of the birth canal we then acquire the ability to start using the symbols of our parents which is to start saying things or doing things that indicate thought processes. So when we're teaching kids ABCD EFG, we're teaching them a symbol system that goes in a nice little rhyme that's the same as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Easy to remember. Learn that and you can start putting them together and forming words and syllables or we can form syllables which can form words which form mental categories and we teach the kids the colors and then we teach them the animals and we say things like kitty cat. Baby doesn't know kitty cat from anything else in the world, right? It's just a little thing to see. When you're teaching them what the thing is you say kitty cat kitty cat says meow. And the kid goes meow. Good! That's right, what's kitty cat say? Meow. Good! Kitty cat has pointy ears. Four feet, is really fuzzy. Got whiskers and sharp teeth and most of them got a long tail, right? So you learn the schema of kitty cat. Well, you then see a lion, hopefully in a picture book or at a zoo, not up close and personal, right, and the kids like, What's that? And you go, it's a lion. And they're like, lion, looks like kitty. It is a kitty, really, it's kind of a big kitty that could kill you, right? It's a big old kitty with pointy ears, right, got the whiskers and the sharp teeth, got four feet, is all furry, got a long tail.

Feline is another name we call it, right? So we would then label it differently so there's synonyms for our labels and categories and schemas. And the kids like OK, I got it, I got it. Kitty, big kitty, lion, little kitty, house. Meow – ARRGH Same kind of thing. Now this kid has assimilated this lion into existing structure for kitty, right, that is assimilation. But now the kid let's say hadn't seen a doggy before and you point it out and you go what's that, and they go kitty. Kitty? No, no, no, dog, they're like nnaaahhhhhhh! Kitty! Point ears, whiskers, sharp teeth, four feet, furry, long tail. Kitty! Cause that's what the category calls for and you go no, no, no. In this case it's Doggy. Doggy says woof. Oh. Now I gotta modify my kitty concept, my kitty schema to accommodate this whole other thing called dog which has a lot of shared characteristics with kitty but in some way is fundamentally different. And then we start seeing the differences and we start, now you don't have to go long. Toddler just looks at it goes kitty, dog, lion, wolf. Only if it's been to Bays Mountain, right? Ain't nothing but a big old dog that could eat you.

But your little dog could eat you, it's just going to be hard for it to do it, right? Canine. Canine-feline, you see what I'm saying? So this is the cognitive development at the most basic level, the development of thinking categories so that you can quickly process information, make sense of your world, and, what? Adapt to it and respond quickly. That's what the functionalists were talking about. So, Piaget worked with his own children. Again, from a research methods point of view that's not ideal, right? There's all kinds of biases, etc., but he was an eminent scientist and, as such, he was very methodical and what he did was he noticed similarities and differences between his children as they grew up. And he extrapolated from that some general principles, some general stages that we all go through as we develop as thinking beings, right? The first stage is then something he called the sensory-motor stage.

Sensory-motor stage is roughly 0 to 2. Some of the critiques that are legitimate about any stage theory is that you get a lot of overlap because, as we talked about before, we have developmental norms, right? One kid might enter one stage a little bit earlier than another. Another one might lag behind, and so it's not right at two. It's not like you can just cut it off and go well now you're in the next stage, right? It's a developmental norm and in some ways kids can be processing in multiple stages simultaneously but the difference here is it's progressive. You have to do the first before you get to the next. That's the maturational process, biologically and mentally. Your ability to think your way through things becomes more complex as you age. Starting off in the sensory-motor, sensory-motor is what? Senses and abilities. So you have this trend for kids, proximal-distal trend, right? They can move the trunks of their bodies before they can move the arms and legs and sit up, and then it takes longer to get the fine motor skills needed to manipulate objects, right? So that's one kind of ability, the ability to be mobile and explore the environment but they also learn things like depth perception, colors, right? Being able to label things that they perceive, being able to perceive things, right? So they hear sounds and they now identify those sounds in particular kinds of ways.

So coordinating senses and abilities is the sensory motor phase. And one of the hallmarks of it is a thing called object permanence. Object permanence is the cognitive ability to realize that when an object is out of sight it still exists. For an infant, you can dangle anything in front of them looky looky looky looky. They don't even care what it is, do they? It can be keys, it can be cans of soup or ravioli they just look at it – ooohhhhhh, diggy diggy dig and you put it away they're like,oh, it's gone – that's why peek-a-boo is so cool to them because as far as they're concerned you don't exist anymore. There you are. I'm not here anymore. And they're fascinated, look! He came back out of nowhere. And that's why they freak out when, what, the primary attachment figure leaves.

They're gone! Oh, they came back! Well over time you realize that things that are not in your visual field actually do still exist. And you can tell this when you play with a kid, for example, you got them on the floor and you play with a set of those big old plastic keys, don't give them regular keys, right, big old plastic keys. You jangle them and they like them, they're pulling on them and you take it and you go and you put it behind a pillow and they look for it. They look for it because they've achieved object permanence which means they achieve the cognitive ability to realize that material things do not cease to exist simply because you cease to perceive them directly. Now, in terms of naming the stages, pre-operational supposes that we're going somewhere else. It's nice when people say pre and post and all that and I'll say pre and post and all that stuff on Friday so I'll see you then, I hope everybody will come on Friday.

Take care! I'll see you then! We left off with sensory motor as a stage. Next stage, pre-operation, we've got at right there where I said well, pre means something else is coming, so we've got sensorimotor, that's when you've got infancy. The hallmark, and there's many developmental milestones, but one that you would want to know for your test would be object permanence, right, realizing that objects don't cease to exist when you can't actually see them or feel them. Pre-operational, now we're talking about a rough area around two to seven years old, toddler-hood, pre-school-hood, if you will, and rise of symbolic thought. Now, we talked quite a bit about symbolism the other day. That's how human beings think. That's how we model the world. When I see this, I don't think very long at all. I have a category for it and it instantly allows me to judge what it is. Can! I look on the front, apricots! Why apricots? Because it's a bunch of little lines in a certain pattern that symbolize to me sounds which represent words which represent meaning, so that I have the instant ability to make sense of that which is great when I need to navigate my environment.

But then, I don't talk until I have the ability to convey that symbol system to other people so the rise of symbolic thinking also gives rise to talking and writing and drawing and communicating. Now one of the hallmark areas in the pre-operational phase is egocentrism. Little kids do not make good negotiating partners because they have no idea what your point of view is and they don't care frankly. When we go to look at Freud, he'll talk about the id. Little kids, they just want what they want when they want it. You can't rationalize with them and you can't reason with them because they don't have the ability to do that yet. Cognitively they aren't able to take another person's perspective. So they're egocentric. Mine! Mine! Mine! Right? It's all about whose is whose, right? That's what it is when you're at that stage because you don't have the ability cognitively to really step into another person's viewpoint. Another hallmark of this is animism, the belief that things are living. When my kid was younger, I mean like I'm talking about four years old now, this is young, we had a grey car and like a lot of kids they will talk to inanimate objects.

So they would come out and they'd go, hey grey car, and gray car would go, hey Dylan, how are you doing? And he'd go, I'm good. I'm good. He's like, what are you doing? Grey car goes, I'm just hanging out here waiting for y'all to go somewhere. Where y'all going, he's like, dad says we're going to the bank. Oh, that's awesome, let's take off to the bank. Why is he talking to this car? Because the car moves, the car has qualities, the car is familiar, you'll see this with all children when they they play with little dolls, right, and action figures which ain't nothing but dolls with a masculine gender, a label on it so they could be okay for boys to play with them, right? They talk to them. They act like they're real because they don't really distinguish what is a property of a living independent creature from what are are some properties that are similar to independent living creatures.

So cars move, people move, right? You can move your little person around and it looks like a person. So they have this view in early childhood where they're working things out as we'll see with Vygotsky to try to understand the environment and they do this over time, progressively, as they mature. Concrete operational is the next stage in cognitive theory à la Piaget. Now we're looking roughly seven to eleven. Don't get too hung up on the numbers. They just give you approximations. It's not that you couldn't be continuing to develop on some concepts and one before you know, while you start on the other or visa versa. You start early in one and still go on on the other. But development of mental operations now: symbolic thought gives you the rudimentary fundamental manipulable items within your brain's capacity to model, right? So language, I now have words that describe concepts that I have created as I have experienced the world as the world has taught me.

That's my schemas, right? New ones come on, these new experiences. If they're very similar, I can assimilate them into existing schemas. If they're radically different then I have to either alter the schema or create a new one, which is accommodation. Now I have all the basics I need to start manipulating these internally and getting to the next level of ability to think which is the rise of mental operations that are more abstract but not extraordinarily abstract. So now I can start getting into basic mathematics. Now I can get into basic composition, for example. I could have a kid write their own story because they can understand how to represent their internal environment in a way that would be literary, for example. Conservation is this one concept that a quantity of a substance remains the same even when it is in a different form. It could change shape. It could change form. But because of the conservation of mass it's still the same amount. So I can get conservation of number, mass, length, area, volume. Little kids don't get that.

When they see things in different forms they assume that they actually have different properties. For example, if you take some Kool Aid and you give it to two 4 year olds, one of them gets a tall skinny glass and you put an identical amount in a short fat glass, the one who gets the short fat glass is going to get ill cause he says, they got more than me! And it doesn't matter how much you do the measuring and showing the equivalence of this, right? What they're going to do is say, they've got more than me, because tall is more than a little bit. See, I got less. They don't have the ability to transform in their mind the equivalence of one versus the other. Same thing with like Playdoh for example, you give a kid a little blob of playdoh and take an exact same amount and roll it out into a big long line, this kid's going look to the other one like he's got more playdoh even though it's the same amount, so, this is a mental operation, being able to transform in one's mind from one form to another and realize that it is essentially the same thing. Decentration now is breaking away from egocentrism.

So egocentric, now we're de-centering. So when we have a kid in toddler-hood, preschool and let's say Tommy takes his truck and runs off with it, Billy says, ha ha, I'm going to go over there and beat you up until you give me my truck back. And the teacher says, Billy, you can't beat on Tommy. That's not right. How would you feel if you were Tommy? I don't know. Tommy got my truck. I got it back. What's the problem, right? It's very pragmatic. He's not reasoning at a higher moral level. What he's doing is seeing the world from his own view. I had a truck. I didn't have a truck. I got truck back. Everything's cool now, right? What you're trying to get him to do is see it from Tommy's point of view which you can't do until you decentrate.

Now you get older you go, well, you've been playing with it for a long time. It's Tommy's. He owns it. He came back to get it. You wouldn't give it to him, so he felt assertive and he took it and it's not right to hit people and it's not right to monopolize their property. Now you can get Tommys point of view into Billy's head because Billy can take into account other points-of-view simultaneously which is going to be the basis for empathy, right, understanding what other people think, what other people feel, and when you lack empathy, it could be very problematic, right? We'll talk about that later. So being able to focus on more than one aspect of a problem simultaneously. Reversibility. Little kids will freak out when you change things.

If you go and they got their toys arranged like this and you start going they go, aahhhh, aahhh, ahhhh, and they freak out and you're like dude, seriously, please, right? We can put them back if we need to but it doesn't really have to come to this does it? Because they don't see reversibility in the same way adults do, it makes it hard for adults to understand why kids get so upset over seemingly trivial things. But from the kid's point of view it's not trivia. It's reality, right? It's what's their perception. It is that things are radically being altered. There is an old case that uh two younger kids, I think they were six and seven-ish, pushed a baby out a window in a high-rise apartment building in a tragic, tragic occurrence. Baby died. People are like, what's wrong with them kids? Well, they didn't know the baby was going to die. What happens every time you watch cartoons somebody falls off a high high place? They get up.

They bounce. Or they got little tweetie birds going around their heads for a few minutes and then they're fine, right? They didn't see that as an irreversible action, right because they hadn't really gotten to the point where they could see the implications of certain behaviors. The real question is not what's wrong with those kids, the real question is whow left those kids alone with that baby in their window. Cause that's an adult supervision issue, not a kid's understanding like, they must be really mean evil little things. They don't think like we think, and adults try to ascribe properties to children as though they can reason like adults. Well he knew what he was doing. That's, you know, they'll say that about little kids. He's trying to manipulate you! He's Two! He ain't getting that on a manipulation level. He might be realizing that if you do something this way, you're more likely to get it, which looks to an adult like manipulation but lacking a moral basis it's just one behavior out of many you might try and if that's what you want that's what you're going to try.

If you're a little kid, you don't see it the way that adults see it, and now we go to formal operational. So we've got four stages: the first one's sensory motor, that's your little babies, the next one's pre-operational, concrete operational, which means pretty basic and then we've got formal operations. So formal, like formal Friday, is stepping it up a bit ain't it? Right? Just bringing it up level. Now, we can start getting into more abstract thought. Now we can start developing an ability to think and systematically, and because we're decentrated we could actually start holding multiple thoughts at one time. We could start thinking in terms of hypotheses and how we would test things. We can work at higher mathematical orders, greater ability to use language and and representations of language like drawing, right? So as you progress onward, he would say that's your top level. From about puberty on, that's where you get the top ability to think. You can develop it to its maximum but then that's kind of where you're at and he would say not everybody develops it to its maximum potential. But now you have an ability to think about things rationally.

It is no guarantee that you're going to think about things rationally because humans are notoriously irrational and driven by passions. We've known that all the way back since the pre- Socratic philosophers, right? Hasn't changed that much in terms of what we're inclined to do, but our ability to do it is now there, and so when you get over here, at the pre-operational phase, I might get little Billy to start re-cycling but it's not cause Billy has a deep concept of the world ecology, right? He just does it because I rewarded it or I encouraged it and so he does it. It becomes a habit. But he's not going to start talking about the water cycle and landfill operations and you know kinds of molecules that don't break down for eons because it doesn't register with all that.

You could tell him that. He might be able to rote recite it back but it's when you get down to this level that you can go, oh, the reason you might want to recycle, right? We could debate about global warming or climate change and things like that because now we're able to focus on lots and lots and lots of pieces of information that all pertain to the same bigger category where the answers are not clear-cut but we have the ability to work from multiple viewpoints and sometimes even whole contradictory beliefs and behaviors as we'll see in cognitive dissonance..