Jean Piaget - Challenges

Challenges

Piaget's theory, however vital in understanding child psychology, did not go without scrutiny. A main figure whose ideas contradicted Piaget's ideas was the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky stressed the importance of a child's cultural background as an effect to the stages of development. Because different cultures stress different social interactions, this challenged Piaget's theory that the hierarchy of learning development had to develop in succession. Vygotsky introduced the term Zone of proximal development as an overall task a child would have to develop that would be too difficult to develop alone.

Also, the so-called neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development maintained that Piaget's theory does not do justice either to the underlying mechanisms of information processing that explain transition from stage to stage or individual differences in cognitive development. According to these theories, changes in information processing mechanisms, such as speed of processing and working memory, are responsible for ascension from stage to stage. Moreover, differences between individuals in these processes explain why some individuals develop faster than other individuals (Demetriou, 1998).

Curiously, Piaget had published a novel at the age of 20, before he'd begun any research in psychology, in which he stated what would later be the "conclusions" from decades of studying the development of intelligence in children.

Over time, alternative theories of Child Development have been put forward, and empirical findings have done a lot to undermine Piaget's theories. For example Esther Thelen and colleagues found that babies would not make the A-not-B error if they had small weights added to their arms during the first phase of the experiment that were then removed before the second phase of the experiment. This minor change should not impact babies' understanding of object permanence, so the difference that this makes to babies' performance on the A-not-B task cannot be explained by Piagetian theory. Thelen and colleagues also found that various other factors also influenced performance on the A-not-B task (including strength of memory trace, salience of targets, waiting time and stance), and proposed that this could be better explained using a dynamic systems theory approach than using Piagetian theory. Alison Gopnik and Betty Repacholi found that babies as young as 18 months old can understand that other people have desires, and that these desires could be very different to their own desires. This strongly contradicts Piaget's view that children are very egocentric at this age.

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