There has been a long-lasting debate among developmental psychologists which is centred on the question as to whether and to what margin humans are inherently prepared to interpret and act in the world, and to what magnitude they depend on learning and/ or experience.
Nativist advocates the existence of an in-depth concept that forms the necessary foundation for later learning (Gelman, 2000).
The exponents of traditional nurture-based views, on the other hand, represented that and — for instance by an ecological, natural playground or environment, and information processing perspectives—argue that complex concept emerges from the conditioning of the surrounding experience in the world.
But the truth is that humans are biological beings with brains that moderate their thoughts, feelings, actions and the growth of stable, functioning neural networks, which depends particularly on the experience of the individual and their actions in the world.
Traditional development approaches to cognitive development
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) can arguably be considered the most renowned researcher of all time within the field of cognitive developmental psychology (Bidell & Fischer, 1992).
He was known to have been interested in children’s answers to intelligence-test items. Piaget believed that researchers and scientist alike could learn as much about children’s intellectual development by examining their incorrect answers to test item as by analyzing their correct answers.
By observing children’s mistakes in reasoning, Piaget arrived at the conclusion that coherent, logical systems underlie children’s thinking, which is significantly different from the systems used by adults.
To clearly understand cognitive development, these systems and their unique attributes must be identified. Armed with this interest, Piaget proceeded to write about his observation, which will be the focus of this article.
General and distinct Heredity
Piaget perceived intelligence as a form of biological adaptation to the environment. Development of capabilities and knowledge was, according to Piaget’s account, the result of a person constantly interacting with the environment in an attempt to maintain a balance between his or her current needs and understandings, on the one hand, and the requirements of the environment on the other hand.
His (Piaget) theory centres on two biological precursors of cognitive development, which are “general heredity” and “specific heredity.”
Specific hereditary takes several forms, and one nature of specific heredity is the automatic behavioural reaction, otherwise known as “reflex.”
For clarity sake let’s take, for instance, the sucking reflex in infants, this is necessary for the infant’s survival. An infant does not need to be taught how to suck, as this response enables the baby to eat.
These reflexes are significant in the first few days of an infant’s life. After that first phase, the baby’s interaction with the environment—that is, experience—modifies the reflexes (Ginsburg & Opper, 1979).
The second biological factor in Piaget’s theory is general heredity. And general heredity consists of two basic inherited tendencies or set functions that determine interactions of the individual with the environment, which are organization and adaptation.
The first process—Organisation; this is strongly a tendency toward generalization. When two or more representations of a concept exist, there is a tendency towards combining these representations into a higher-order, integrated scheme.
Schemes are structures of knowledge and, in the Piagetian account, are the building blocks of development and cognition.
The second process—Adaptation; this consists of two sub-processes: assimilation and accommodation.
Assimilation: This is the process of putting information from new experiences into existing concepts.
Accommodation: is the process of changing existing knowledge structures to take account of new information.
Although accommodation and assimilation both occur at the same time, the balance of each is determined by the specific situation.
Hence cognitive structures and abilities are seen as an aftermath of the child’s (and later adult’s) attempts to organize experience in a coherent way (Bidell & Fischer, 1992; Piaget 1950)
Stages and schemes of developments
As humans organise their behaviour and adapt to the environment, certain psychological structures result. These structures, called schemes, change as a child matures.
Some of these schemes are innate, but most of them are not, and are based largely on experience. For example, Piaget makes reference to the sucking reflex as the “sucking scheme.”
However, thumb sucking is not an innate scheme because, although sucking is a reflex, the act of moving the thumb to the mouth is learned.
When children do not change very much, they have assimilated more than then can accommodate. Piaget referred to this steady period as a state of cognitive equilibrium.
During periods of rapid cognitive change, however, children are in a state of disequilibrium, in which they imbibe more than they can assimilate. They notice that they have to frequently have to adjust their current schemes due to an influx of new information.
He (Piaget) referred to this back and forth movement from equilibrium to disequilibrium as equilibration.
Equilibration utmostly produces efficient schemes (Piaget, 1985). Schemes that are similar and occur in the same developmental time period cluster together to form stages (tanner & Inhelder, 1956).
As regards intellectual developmental time, the Piagetian theory puts forward four major developmental stages (or periods) through which the child progresses. These are
These four stages, according to Piaget, reflects the gradual reorganization of basic cognitive processes and operations that facilitate (or at least coincide with) certain important developmental milestones.
Sensorimotor development (birth to 2 years)
The first stage of the sensorimotor period is split into six substages because so much change happens in children’s first two years of life. Piaget believed that children are born with little knowledge about the world and a limited capacity to explore it.
Because they need an effective way to adjust their early schemes, Piaget insisted that babies use a circular reaction. Such reaction originates when infants accidentally generate a new experience because of their own motor activity.
Through a process of trial and error, infants try to repeat the process over and over again. The circular reaction strengthens into a scheme for the child.
Substage 1: Reflexive Schemes (birth to 1 month), the various reflexes with which the infant is born are the initial sensorimotor schemes, and therefore, the building blocks for later and more complex schemes.
Substage 2: Primary Circular Reactions (1 to 4 months) is characterized by the infant’s capability to gain simple motor control through primary circular reactions
Substage 3: Secondary Circular Reactions (4 to 8 months) are reactions on the part of the baby that produce responses from objects or people.
Substage 4: Symbiosis of secondary circular reactions (8 to 12 months),
Infants begin to coordinate their schemes to build more complex action sequences. As a result, infants become more skilled at two cognitive abilities—object permanence and goal-directed behaviour.
Substage 5: Tertiary Circular Reactions (12 to 18 months), children are no longer interested only in themselves; they now have a genuine interest in their surroundings.
Substage 6: mental Representation (18 to 24 months), children reach the ability to create mental representations, which includes the ability to use mental terms symbols, and images to refer back to experienced events and objects.
Preoperational period (2 to 7 years)
The most noticeable change that children undergo from the sensorimotor stage to the preoperational stage is their tremendous increase in representational activity.
Piaget ascertains that language is an individual’s most flexible means of representation. By thinking, in other words, individuals can deal with the past, present, and the future at the same time and produce strong images of reality (Miller, 1993).
However, Piaget did not consider language as creating higher forms of cognition. Instead, he believed that experience with sensorimotor activity leads to mental images, which in turn, children label with words. In these way you can raise happy kids.
Concrete-operational time (7 to 11). When kids reach the concrete-operational phase, their thoughts resemble adult thoughts more than the thought of a sensorimotor or a preoperational child, because their reasoning becomes more flexible, logical, and organized, and thus more powerful (Piaget & Inhelder, 7969).