brain development

Bhakta David Nollmeyer

The psychologist Jean Piaget (1896 1980) of Switzerland is one the most seminal thinkers in the theory of childhood development. Piaget has postulated an Epigenetic Theory of Personality. Epi refers to emergence. The genetic refers to the core of natural material and socialization that comes to form the child. "So, in sum, genetic epistemology deals with both the formation and the meaning of knowledge. We can formulate our problem in the following terms: by what means does the human mind go from a state of less sufficient knowledge to a state of higher knowledge?" (Piaget, 1968). Piaget's Stage Theory of Development was one of modern psychologies first attempts to comprehend how children progress through cognitive development. His original model describes four universal stages for children. They are:

The Sensormotor Period: birth to 2 years

Preoperational Thought: 2 to 7 years

Concrete Operations: 6 years to 11 years

Formal Operations: 11 to adult

Piaget believed that performance of children was homogeneous regardless of culture. It is a widely held position that not all children reach the formal operational period. This may be due to the socialization or externalities operating on a child under different environmental and cultural conditions (Berk, L.E. 2000). There is continued discussion on the movement of children through the development stages.

One of the most studied criticisms of Piaget's work was by Lev Vygotsky of the sociocultural school. Uriel Bronfenbrenner pertains to this perspective. Such postulates that in the positive correct nurturant external forces shape development more than innate a priori factors. Regardless of revision, Piaget's methodology and work on the child are held by some to be equal to what Freud's work is to psychology.

The Sensormotor Period

At birth to two years all the intellectual and physical capabilities are underdeveloped. However the infant has sensory capabilities available. The infant learns by the exercise and utilization of reflexes in nexus with seeing, touching, sucking, feeling, and using their senses to learn things about themselves and the environment. Simple movements in response to stimuli later develop into more sophisticated coordinated acts of behavior(s). The infant through this limited expansion into it's environment builds a set of concepts about reality and how it works. Object permanence or the knowledge that objects still exist after disappearing from sight has not been obtained by all children.

After a child has mastered the concept of object permanence, the emergence of directed groping begins to take place. The child begins to perform motor experiments in order to analyze the effects. A child will vary one's movements to observe differentiation in results. The child learns to use new means to achieve an end. The child discovers objects can be pulled towards oneself with the aid of a stick or string, or tilt objects to obtain such through the bars of a playpen.

Through trial and error experimentation by handling objects, the concept that the external world is not part of the self or an extension manifests. Piaget calls this the sensormotor stage because the early manifestations of intelligence appear from sensory perceptions and motor activities (Anderson, M. 2003).

Preoperational Thought

At this stage, children acquire representational skills in the areas as mental imagery, language, and symbolic thought. They are very self oriented, and have an egocentric view. Preoperational thought is pre logical; the child has a subjective grasp of the world. Preoperational children use representational skills only to view the world from their own perspective. The main characteristics are:

Egocentrism: child interprets the world in terms of the self

Centration: Fixation on one situation or object and ignore others

Reversibility: child cannot mentally remember steps of reasoning

Preoperational thought is also characterized by animism. The child has the tendency to ascribe human characteristics to inanimate objects and events. Artificialism is the tendency to assume that natural objects and natural phenomena were created by human beings for human purposes as darkness so that humans may sleep.

Piaget's experiments in preoperational thought are groundbreaking and controversial. In the Three Mountain Task young children are asked to assume the perspective of a doll in relation to a model of mountains. Young children of the age four to five took their own perspectives. Children could not accomplish the task until about age nine.

Class inclusion experiments presented arrangements of six red flowers and two white flowers. When asked are there more red flowers than flowers, preoperational children chose there are greater red flowers. Conservation is also problematic. If two arrays of objects are presented and an experimenter alters the array and not the quantity of objects, preoperational children fail at deducting the transformation of the array.

Concrete Operations

Children in the concrete operations stage are able to take another's point of view and take into account more than one perspective simultaneously. They can also represent transformations as well as static situations. Concrete problems are understood. Children cannot yet perform on abstract problems; they do not consider all of the logically possible outcomes. Reversing operations emerges.

One important task that children learn during the concrete operational stage is to arrange things in order according to one attribute, such as size or weight. Logical inferences such as this are not possible until the stage of concrete operations, during which children develop the ability to make two mental transformations that require reversible thinking. The first of these is inversion (+A is reversed by -A), and the second is reciprocity (A=A).

A final ability that children acquire during the concrete operational stage is class inclusion; recreating a relationship between a part and the whole. Concrete operational thought is decentered; a child can now focus on two classes simultaneously. While the differences between the preoperational and concrete operational stages are dramatic, concrete operational children still do not think like adults. They are very much rooted in the world as it is, and have difficulty with abstract thought.

Formal Operations

Children who attain the formal operation stage are capable of thinking logically and abstractly. They can also reason theoretically. Piaget stated that although the children would still have to revise their knowledge base, their way of thinking was actualized.

There is an introduction of formal thought and logical assumptions. Formal reasoning connects assumptions, propositions, hypotheses, i.e., relationships in which one does not necessarily believe, but which one admits in order to see where the consequences lead. Mathematical, scientific and logical reasoning have their basis here.

Problem solving games, stories, movies, plays, and cartoons are important in formal operations play. Arts and crafts become more exact, realistic, and detailed. Peer approval is important. Teamwork, group cohesion, and skill in sports become important. Fluid knowledge is being developed as well as crystal knowledge.

It is not agreed that all children in all cultures develop formal operations. Children in agricultural and pre agricultural settings do not have the same needs and appear to function well without obtaining this stage (Berk, 2000).


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Anderson, M. (2003). Theory of Development: A Tutorial. Retrieved June 13, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

Berk, L.E. (2000). Development Through the Lifespan. USA: Allyn and Bacon

Concrete Operational Stage (7 to 11 years). Retrieved June 13, 2003 from:

Levels of Symbolic Play. (2000). Retrieved June 13, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

Piaget, J. (1968). Genetic Epistemology. New York, NY: Columbia University Press Retrieved June 13, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

Santrock, J.W. (1995). Children. Dubuque, IA: Brown & Benchmark.

Siegler, R. (1991). Children's Thinking. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. The transition from preoperational period to concrete operations. (2003). Retrieved June 13, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

Vasta, R., Haith, M.M., & Miller, S.A. (1995). Child Psychology: The Modern Science. New York, NY: Wiley.


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