Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development - Challenges To Piagetian Stage Theory

Challenges To Piagetian Stage Theory

Piagetians' accounts of development have been challenged on several grounds. First, as Piaget himself noted, development does not always progress in the smooth manner his theory seems to predict. 'Decalage', or unpredicted gaps in the developmental progression, suggest that the stage model is at best a useful approximation. Furthermore, studies have found that children may be able to learn concepts supposedly represented in more advanced stages with relative ease. More broadly, Piaget's theory is 'domain general', predicting that cognitive maturation occurs concurrently across different domains of knowledge (such as mathematics, logic, understanding of physics, of language, etc.). During the 1980s and 1990s, cognitive developmentalists were influenced by "neo-nativist" and evolutionary psychology ideas. These ideas de-emphasized domain general theories and emphasized domain specificity or modularity of mind. Modularity implies that different cognitive faculties may be largely independent of one another and thus develop according to quite different time-tables. In this vein, some cognitive developmentalists argued that rather than being domain general learners, children come equipped with domain specific theories, sometimes referred to as 'core knowledge', which allows them to break into learning within that domain. For example, even young infants appear to be sensitive to some predictable regularities in the movement and interactions of objects (e.g. that one object cannot pass through another), or in human behavior (e.g. that a hand repeatedly reaching for an object has that object, not just a particular path of motion), as its be the building block out of which more elaborate knowledge is constructed. More recent work has strongly challenged some of the basic presumptions of the 'core knowledge' school, and revised ideas of domain generality—but from a newer dynamic systems approach, not from a revised Piagetian perspective. Dynamic systems approaches harken to modern neuroscientific research that was not available to Piaget when he was constructing his theory. One important finding is that domain-specific knowledge is constructed as children develop and integrate knowledge. This suggests more of a "smooth integration" of learning and development than either Piaget, or his neo-nativist critics, had envisioned. Additionally, some psychologists, such as Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner, thought differently from Piaget, suggesting that language was more important than Piaget implied.

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