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Modifying Piagets Theory

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Modifying Piagets Theory
Infancy and Childhood: Cognitive Development
doing
2
learn
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TESTING FOR CONSER VATION If you know a child
who is between the ages of
four and seven, get parental permission
to test the child for what Piaget called
conservation. Show the child two identical lumps of clay and ask which lump is
bigger. The child will probably say they
are the same. Now roll one lump into a
long “rope” and again ask which lump is
bigger. If the child says that they are still
the same, this is evidence of conservation. If the longer one is seen as bigger,
conservation has not yet developed—at
least not for this task. The older the child,
the more likely it is that conservation will
appear, but some children display conservation much earlier than Piaget thought
was possible.
At around the age of six or seven,
Piaget observed, children do develop conservation. When this happens, they enter what
he called the stage of concrete operations. Now, he said, they can count, measure,
add, and subtract. Their thinking is no longer dominated by the appearance of things.
They can use simple logic and perform simple mental manipulations and mental operations on things. They can sort objects into classes (such as tools, fruit, and vehicles)
or series (such as largest to smallest) by systematic searching and ordering.
Still, concrete operational children can perform their logical operations only on real,
concrete objects, such as sticks, glasses, tools, and fruit—not on abstract concepts, such
as justice or freedom. They can reason only about what is, not about what is possible.
The ability to think logically about abstract ideas comes in the next stage of cognitive
development, as children enter adolescence. This new stage is called the formal operational period, and it is marked by the ability to engage in hypothetical thinking, including the imagining of logical consequences. For example, adolescents who have reached
this level can consider various strategies for finding a part-time job and recognize that
some methods are more likely to succeed than others. They can form general concepts
and understand the impact of the past on the present and the present on the future.
They can question social institutions; think about the world as it might be and ought to
be; and consider the consequences and complexities of love, work, politics, and religion.
They can think logically and systematically about symbols and propositions.
Piaget explored adolescents’ formal operational abilities by asking them to perform
science experiments that involved forming and investigating hypotheses. Research indicates that only about half the people in Western cultures ever reach the formal operational level necessary to succeed in Piaget’s experiments (Kuhn & Franklin, 2006). People who have not studied science and math at a high school level are less likely to do
well in those experiments (Keating, 1990). In adulthood, people are more likely to use
formal operations for problems based on their own occupations; this is one reason that
people who think logically at work may still become victims of a home-repair or investment scam (Cialdini, 2001).
Concrete and Formal Operational Thought
concrete operations According to
Piaget, the third stage of cognitive
development, during which children
can learn to count, measure, add, and
subtract.
formal operational period According
to Piaget, the fourth stage of cognitive
development, characterized by the ability to engage in hypothetical thinking.
Modifying Piaget’s Theory
Piaget’s observations and demonstrations of children’s cognitive development are vivid
and fascinating. He was right in pointing out that significant shifts in children’s thinking
occur with age and that thinking becomes more systematic, consistent, and integrated as
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