COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT andCONSERVATION TASKS by JEAN PIAGET Jean Piaget
, a developmental biologist whodevoted his life to closely observing and recording theintellectual abilities of infants, children and adolescents,concluded that human development involves a series of stages. These stages are known as the
Sensory-Motor Stage, Pre-Operational Stage, Concrete OperationsStage, and the Formal Operations Stage
. During each of these stages new abilities are gained and thus preparethe child for the succeeding levels.
This is the first stage in the development of intelligence (usually 0-2 years of age) and is concernedwith the evolution of those abilities necessary toconstruct and reconstruct objects. During this period,infants are busy discovering relationships between theirbodies and the environment. Researchers havediscovered that infants have relatively well developedsensory abilities. The child relies on seeing, touching,sucking, feeling, and using their senses to learn thingsabout themselves and the environment. Piaget calls thisthe sensory-motor stage because the earlymanifestations of intelligence appear from sensoryperceptions and motor activities.
is the awareness that anobject continues to exist even when it is not in view. Inyoung infants, when a toy is covered by a piece of paper,the infant immediately stops and appears to lose interestin the toy. This child has not yet mastered the concept of object permanence. In older infants, when a toy iscovered the child will actively search for the object,realizing that the object continues to exist.After a child has mastered the concept of objectpermanence, the emergence of
,begins to take place. With directed groping, the childbegins to perform motor experiments in order to seewhat will happen. During directed groping, a child willvary his movements to observe how the results willdiffer. The child learns to use new means to achieve anend. The child discovers he can pull objects towardhimself with the aid of a stick or string, or tilt objects toget them through the bars of his playpen. The childbegins to recognize cause-and-effect relationships at thisstage, allowing the development of intentionally. Once achild knows what the effects of his activities will be, hecan intend these effects.
This stage (usually 2-7 years old), bears witnessto the elaboration of the symbolic function, those abilitieswhich have to do with representing things. According toLefrancois, 1995, a child will react to all similar objects asthough they are identical. At this time all women are'Mummy' and all men 'Daddy'. While at this level a child'sthought is
, which means the child willmake inferences from one specific to another (Carlson &Buskist, 1997). This leads to a child looking at the moonand reasoning; 'My ball is round, that thing there isround; therefore that thing is a ball'.From the age of about 4 years until 7 mostchildren go through the Intuitive period. This ischaracterized by egocentric, perception-dominated andintuitive thought which is prone to errors in classification(Lefrancois, 1995).Most preoperational thinking is self-centered, oregocentric. According to Piaget, a preoperational childhas difficulty understanding life from any otherperspective than his own. In this time, the child is veryme, myself, and I oriented.
is very apparent in therelationship between two preschool children. Imagine twochildren are playing right next to each other, one playingwith a coloring book and the other with a doll. They aretalking to each other in sequence, but each child iscompletely oblivious to what the other is saying. Julie: "I love my dolly, her name is Tina"Carol: "I'm going to color the sun yellow" Julie: "She has long, curly hair like my auntie"Carol: "Maybe I'll color the trees yellow, too" Julie: "I wonder what Tina's eyes are made of?"Carol: "I lost my orange crayon" Julie: "I know her eyes are made of glass." These types of exchanges are called "collectivemonologues". This type of monologue demonstrates the"egocentrism" of children's thinking in this stage.According to Piaget, egocentrism of the youngchild leads them to believe that everyone thinks as theydo, and that the whole world shares their feelings anddesires. This sense of oneness with the world leads to thechild's assumptions of magic omnipotence. Not only isthe world created for them, they can control it. This leadsto the child believing that nature is alive, andcontrollable. This is a concept of egocentrism known as
, the most characteristic of egocentricthought.Closely related to animism is
, orthe idea that natural phenomena are created by humanbeings, such as the sun is created by a man with amatch. "
" is the child's notion that their ownperspective is objective and absolute. The child thinksfrom one perspective and regards this reality as absolute.Names, for example, are real to the child. The child can'trealize that names are only verbal labels, or conceive theidea that they could have been given a different name.During the pre-operational period, the childbegins to develop the use of symbols (but cannotmanipulate them), and the child is able to use languageand words to represent things not visible. Also, the pre-operational child begins to master
problems.By the age of four children are developing amore complete understanding of concepts and tend tohave stopped reasoning tranductively (Lefrancois, 1995).However their thought is dominated more by perceptionthan logic. This is clearly illustrated by conservationexperiments. Although the child is still unable to think ina truly logical fashion, they may begin to treat objects aspart of a group. The pre-operational child may havedifficulty with
This is because, to a pre-operational child, the division of a parent class intosubclasses destroys the parent group (Lefrancois, 1995).
3.Concrete Operations Stage
During this stage (usually 7-11 years old) thechild acquires internalized actions that permit the child to