Cognitivedevelopment is “the study of childhood neurological and psychologicaldevelopment that is assessed by on the level of conception, perception,information processing, and language.” (1) Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, B.F. Skinnerand Lev Vygotsky are all significant characters in how we understand and aid inone’s cognitive development. While each gentleman offers a different theory on cognitivedevelopment, each one provides insight into the understanding of the childdevelopment. Jean Piaget believedthat all “people passed in a fixed sequence through a series of universal stagesof cognitive development.
” (1) Each stage, comprised of its owncharacteristics, directs and determines how information from the world islooked at and handled by each person at each stage of their development. Piaget’sCognitive Theory is made up of schemas, four stages of development (Sensorimotor,Preoperational, Concrete Operational and Formal Operational) and assimilation& accommodation. As people deal with different schemas through theirparticular stages of development, Piaget theorizes that children will eitherassimilate (use their current ways of thinking to handle new situations) or accommodate(change their previous ways of thinking to handle new situations). Erik Eriksonfocused on psychosocial development and believed that both “society and culturechallenge and shape us.” (1) Erikson argued that people’s experiences contributeto psychosocial development at each stage of life and any failure to handle newexperiences well will cause damage to their development. Erikson’s stages ofpsychosocial development are broken into eight stages that go well into lateadulthood.
Erikson’s stages of development are Trust vs. Mistrust, Autonomy vs.Shame & Doubt, Initiative vs. Guilt, Industry vs. Inferiority, Identity vs.Role Diffusion, Intimacy vs. Isolation, Generativity vs.
Stagnation andEgo-integrity vs. Despair. Unlike Piagetand Erikson, B.F. Skinner and Lev Vygotsky did not reduce their theories oncognitive development to stages. Skinner focused on operant conditioning, “aform of learning in which a voluntary response is strengthened or weakened byits association with positive or negative consequences.” (1) Skinner believedthat individuals learn to act calculatingly in order to bring about desired results.Skinner’s theory focused on NeutralOperants (responses from the environment that neither increase nor decrease theprobability of a behavior being repeated), Reinforces (Responses from the environmentthat increase the probability of a behavior being repeated.
Reinforcers can beeither positive or negative.) and Punishers (Responses from the environmentthat decrease the likelihood of a behavior being repeated. Punishment weakensbehavior.). (1) Vygotskybelieved it was impossible to understand one’s development withoutunderstanding the culture in which they were developed.
Vygotsky argued, “learning is a necessary anduniversal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized,specifically human psychological function” (1978, p. 90). In other words, social learning tends toprecede (i.e., come before) development and no single principle or theory isresponsible for development and that if we want to understand someone then wemust understand the social and cultural context in which they were raised. Even thougheach contributor had his on view they sometimes mirrored each other as much asthey differed.
For instance, Vygotsky and Piaget both believed that educatorswere great facilitators in one’s development but not directors of it. However,Vygotsky and Piaget also differed on many things as well. For example, Vygotskybelieved one’s sociocultural context had strong emphasis on their developmentwhile Piaget believed it had little impact on one’s development. Also, wherePiaget was set on his four stages of cognitive development, Vygotsky believedthat no one stage can define a person. Like Piaget, Erikson also believed thatthe development of a person occurred in stages and that cognitive influencesimpacted young children the most. Unlike Piaget, Erikson’s stage extends one’slife in eight stages where Piaget mostly focuses on birthto adolescence. For instance, Erikson’s first stage ends at age one whilePiaget’s ends at age two. Also, Piaget considers adolescences to be rationalthinkers capable of making sound decisions around age twelve where Eriksonbelieves teens at this stage are more focused on making their own decisions anddiscovering who they are.
Skinner, on the other hand, was similar to Vygotskybecause they both believed that a person’s environment had a large part intheir development. While Vygotsky applied this to a contextual perspective,Skinner applied this using operant conditioning involving reinforcements. Consideringeach theorist’s belief, the issue of cognitive development in early childhood wouldbe handled differently by each. Piaget would have been supportive of exposingchildren to different things in their younger years as he believed childrenmatured as they gained knowledge during each stage of their development.Erikson would have focused on involving the children in social settings thatnot only help shape them but challenge them as well. Skinner most likely wouldhave approached cognitive development in early childhood by presenting childrenwith positive and negative reinforcements for every situation they may be putit in order to condition them properly. Lastly, one can assume Vygotsky wouldhave approached the issue by observing children in their natural environmentand learning how they communicate with others as it impacts their learning andcommunication.