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Piaget Realized: Testing Piaget’s Preoperational Period Derek D. Stamper South Puget Sound Community College
Piaget Realized 2 Abstract The author studied one randomly selected three year-old male subject to test whether or not the subject was exhibiting characteristics that match Piaget’s preoperational stage. The author conducted six tests (three experiments using materials and three series of interview questions) and made observations to test for classic characteristics of preoperational children, including: centration, conservation of number, class-differentiation, egocentric thinking, and reversibility. The author found that the subject tested as Piaget would have predicted on four of the six tests, while one test (centration with a water level task picture) had vague results, and one test (reversibility) had different results than Piaget’s theory would predict. The author concludes that the randomly selected three year-old subject is in Piaget’s preoperational stage.
Introduction Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development suggests that if a child isn’t in the appropriate stage of cognitive development for his age group then this could cause adverse reactions for the child. These adverse reactions include negative self-esteem and social reactions as well as possibility stunting a child’s cognitive growth in education areas. The author is interested in learning whether or not the randomly selected subject is in the preoperational thought stage as Piaget says he should be in for his age. The author’s hypothesis is whether or not the subject displays characteristics that match Piaget’s preoperational period. The author will conduct six experiments to test Piaget’s theory about the preoperational period and the author’s hypothesis. These experiments will test for
Piaget Realized 3 characteristics of the preoperational stage such as centration, irreversibility, inability to conserve, class-differentiation, and egocentric thought. The author will make sure the subject uses verbal communication in these experiments instead of solely nonverbal communication to maintain authenticity.
Method The author conducted a total of six experiments with one randomly selected three year-old male subject. Three of the experiments used tangible materials and three experiments used only interview questions. The first tangible experiment was designed to test for centration. The subject was presented with a printed out picture of a water level task showing bottles in various angles. The subject was handed a light blue colored pencil and instructed to draw in the water line where he thought it would go. The second tangible experiment was designed to test for conservation of number. The author lined up ten pennies in two lines of five each. The lines were of the same length with the pennies touching next to each other but not above/below. The subject was asked which line had more pennies and to count them aloud and figure out which line had more. After the subject came to the first conclusion of which line had more pennies, the author rearranged the lines of pennies. The author spaced the second line of pennies so that the line extended past the first line and the pennies did not touch next to each other or the pennies above. The author then asked the subject which line had more pennies, and to count them aloud to make sure.
Piaget Realized 4 The third tangible experiment was designed to test for class-differentiation. The subject was presented with a printed out drawing of apples and oranges colored with colored pencils. The apples and oranges were randomly arranged and randomly spaced. The picture had seven total oranges and nine total apples, for a total of sixteen apples and oranges. The subject was asked to identify the apples and oranges as the first step. Next, the subject was asked if apples were pieces of fruit. Then the subject was asked if oranges were pieces of fruit. Lastly, the subject was asked which had more, “apples or pieces of fruit?” The subject was asked to count aloud before picking his choice. The first interview experiment was designed to test for egocentric thinking. The subject was asked to retrieve his favorite stuffed animal, a stuffed dog with a stuffed Nemo the fish attached, from his room. Once he retrieved it and returned to the testing area, the author asked the subject how he felt about his toy. Once the subject answered, the author asked if the subject’s mother felt the same about his toy. Next the author asked if the subject’s friends at daycare felt the same way about his toy. Lastly, the author asked if himself felt the same way about his toy. The second interview experiment was designed to test for reversibility. The author presented the subject with a red apple. The author asked the subject to identify the apple. Once identified, the author asked the subject what happens when an apple is eaten. Next the author proceeded to take a few bites of the apple and ask what happens when the apple is bitten. Next the author asked the subject what would have happened if the author had never taken a bite out of the apple. The third interview experiment was designed to test for centration. The author asked the subject questions about his mother, father, and animals. The author asked if the
Piaget Realized 5 subject’s mother was his mother, then if she was someone’s sister. The author asked if the subject’s father was the subject’s father, then if he was someone’s son. The author asked if the subject’s mother was ever as little as the subject is right now, then asked if the subject’s mother ever attended daycare like the subject does. Next the author asked the subject if lions and cats were cats, then if wolves and foxes were dogs. An additional material not otherwise stated above included a detailed printed questionnaire of testing steps and interview questions.
Fig 1. Water-level task picture.
The subject colored water lines at the tops of all the bottles with a light blue colored pencil. Then he proceeded to use a red colored pencil water to color in the entire bottle. The subject asked if the interviewer wanted to help him color in the bottles, and the
Piaget Realized 6 author helped the subject color in bottle number two with the red colored pencil and the subject added more when the author was finished.
Conservation of number The author spaced out two lines of five pennies, totaling ten pennies. The pennies were touching in line next to each other but not touching the line above/below. When subject was asked which line had the most pennies and to count the pennies, he counted the pennies with his finger aloud and claimed the top line had five pennies while the bottom line only had four pennies. The author then spaced out the bottom line of pennies so that it appeared longer than the top line of pennies. The author then asked the subject which line had more pennies, and the subject claimed the second longer line had five pennies while the top first line only had four pennies.
Piaget Realized 7 Class-differentiation
Fig 2. Apples and oranges picture.
The subject was asked how many apples were present in the drawing. The subject counted with his finger and claimed there were six apples on the entire page. He said that the apples on the bottom line had the most, with four apples in a row. He counted with his fingers again and said there were seven oranges on the entire page. When the subject was asked which was more, apples or pieces of fruit (apples plus oranges), the subject said there were more oranges on the page. The subject also acknowledged that there were “a lot of apples”, too, but did not count them.
Egocentric thinking The subject was asked how he felt about his favorite stuffed animal, and he expressed sentiment towards it. When asked if the subject’s mother felt the same sentiments toward his favorite stuffed animal, the subject insisted that she did. He also insisted that his friends and the author felt the same sentiments toward his favorite stuffed animal.
Piaget Realized 8
Reversibility The subject claimed that the apple was “yummy” when eaten and claimed the same when the author took a few bites and asked what happened when bites were taken out of the apple. When asked what happens when you take a bite out of an apple, the subject explained using hand gestures that the apple goes through your body. When the author asked what would happen if the apple hadn’t been bitten into/eaten, the subject claimed that the apple would become “yucky”. The subject said that an apple becomes “yummy” because it’s being eaten, yet he acknowledged when asked that he’s eaten a “yucky” apple and it’s been “good”.
Centration The subject was unable to realize that his mother and father had different roles besides being his parents. He was also unable to classify lions and tigers as cats, although he acknowledged his housecat pet, Miranda, as a cat. He was also unable to acknowledge wolves and foxes as dogs, yet acknowledge his grandmother’s dogs Sebastian and Missy as dogs. This test had interesting results, and selected questions and answers include, Author: “Is [name withheld] your father?” Subject: “No, mom’s my father.” Author: “What about your daddy? Who’s your daddy?” Subject: “My dad’s [name withheld].” Author: “Is your daddy someone’s son?” Subject: “No.” Author: “Why not?” Subject: “’Cuz.” Author: Are lions and tigers cats?” Subject: “No.”
Piaget Realized 9 Author: “Why not?” Subject: “They’re lions and tigers.” Author: “Is Miranda a cat?” Subject: “Yes.”
Discussion The implications of the author’s findings indicate that the subject is in the preoperational stage that Piaget says he should be according to his age. The subject did as Piaget would predict in almost all the tests the author conducted. Surprising results were shown, however, with the centration water test. Piaget would have said that the subject would color the water lines within the bottle near all the bottoms of the bottle. However, perhaps the subject misunderstood the question because the subject colored in water lines at all the tops of the bottles, and then proceeded to color in the entire bottles with a red colored pencil. The experiment designed to test for reversibility had vague results. The subject stated that an apple becomes “yucky” when it is not eaten, yet the subject acknowledged that he had eaten a “yucky” apple before and that it was “yummy” when he ate it. The author found predictable results in the other five tests conducted. The subject exhibits classic characteristics of the preoperational stage, such as the inability to conserve numbers, egocentric thinking, the inability to differentiate between classes, and centration.