Cognitive development refers to the changes in knowledge about the world or specifically, to the development of sensation, perception, the ability to learn, reason, and problem solving skills. Two important theories have arisen to account for children’s process of cognitive development: Piaget´s and Vygonsky’srespective theories of cognitive development have influenced education and child psychology the world over. Comparing these theories will lead to better understanding of cognitive development and as a whole. It will be argued that although both theories provide important and complementary insights into Developmental Psychology, Vygonsky’s theory presents a more comprehensive and flexible approachto the development of human cognition.
Jean Piaget, whose cognitive theory was heavily influenced by biology, divided human cognitive growth into four developmental periods. He viewed human cognition as an adaptive process, in which the native cognitive powers that humans possess adapt to a particular environment by acquiring cognitive structures, mental representations orrules that are used for understanding and dealing with the world and for thinking and solving problems, mainly in the form of schemata, mental representations or sets of rules that define a particular category of behavior, and concepts, metal structures or rules that describe the proprieties of environmental events and their relations to other concepts.
Piaget described the acquisition ofinformation as assimilation—the use of available cognitive structures to gain information about the world. Cognitive structures become progressively more elaborate as infants acquire more information. These structures are modified when the infant encounters greater complexity in the environment. This modification is called accommodation. As the infants mature, they must modify their reflexes and developother cognitive structures to meet the changing demands of the environment (Holland and Tarlow, 2001).
In Piaget’s theory, humans invariably and universally go through a sequence of four distinct stages of cognitive development which happen naturally as a child ages, each stage having its own cognitive structures (which vary according to age), with each structure allowing different abilities toperform different and important cognitive tasks (Piaget, 1997/2000), such stages are:
I. - Sensory-motor stage:
Happens from age 0 to 2. The infants in this stage experience the world through reflexes, like sucking, and gradually gain the ability to explore the world thorough repetitive movements that Piaget called circular reactions. They also develop gradually Object Permanence, The idea thatobjects continue to exist even when they are hidden or otherwise out of range of the senses. By the end of this stage children begin to think symbolically, and imitate actions they have observed in others.
II. - Preoperational stage:
Taking place from age 2 to 7. Children in this stage rapidly develop language and the ability to represent things symbolically. Their thinking is characterized byprimitive, prelogical elements such as: animism, the belief that inanimate things are alive, and artficialism, the belief that all things are the creation of humans or of a divinity that acts in the same as humans, (Piaget). While in this stage, infants are Egocentric (believing that others see the world precisely the way they do) and have problems with tasks that involve Conservation(understanding that the amount of something remains the same even if its appearance or form changes) when related to volume, though by age 6 they understand conservation of number.
III. - Concrete-operational stage:
Spanning from age 7 to 11, In this stage, the characteristics of preoperational thought—egocentrism, animism, and artificialism—break down and are superseded by a more logical form of...