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Cognition and Development

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Cognition and Development

Cognition refers to mental processes such as learning, language or perception that helps us learn about novel things. It is a mental process that influences our behaviour.

Psychologists have proposed many theories and attempted to support them via research to explain how cognition develops. These evolve and adapt with age from our thoughts, experiences, environment and senses.

Cognition and Development Cognition cognition and development psychology StudySmarterCognition, Flaticon

Theories of cognition and development in psychology

Cognitive developmental psychology investigates how children’s mental processes and representations evolve to develop higher-level thinking.

There are five stages of cognitive development:

  1. The sensorimotor stage.
  2. The preoperational stage.
  3. The concrete operational stage.
  4. The formal operational stage.

Piaget and Vygotsky have proposed two major theories of cognitive development. Both of the theories aim to explain how cognitive skills develop in infants.

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development

Piaget was the first to identify how children and adults think differently. Before this, children were thought to have smaller versions of adult brains.

Piaget argued we learn thinking gradually as children as we go through the four stages of cognitive development.

We identify Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development below.

Cognition and Development Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development StudySmarterPiaget’s four stages of cognitive development, Sharon Thind -StudySmarter Originals

Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development

Vygotsky’s approach to understanding cognitive development is through social constructivism. The theory argues that cognitive development occurs because of social interactions.

Vygotsky claimed that infants are born with basic cognitive abilities. These are called elementary mental functions. The basic elements develop into higher mental functions as the infant interacts more with its sociocultural environment.

People thus learn cognitive skills, such as cultural views, values and problem-solving skills, from more knowledgeable people (this theory is known as the zone of proximal development) via language. Vygotsky notes that talking and understanding language are crucial aspects of cognitive development.

Differences between Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories of cognitive development

Both Vygotsky and Piaget proposed theories of cognitive development. There are noticeable differences between both of them, which we summarise in the table below.

Piaget

Vygotsky

It takes a cognitive approach to explain cognitive development.

It takes a social approach to explain cognitive development.

Cognitive development is mostly an independent process.

Cognitive development is based on others and our environment.

There are fixed stages that children go through.

There are no fixed stages in cognitive development.

It emphasises the role of peers in cognitive development.

Emphasise the role of adults in cognitive development.

Moral development in childhood

Moral development is thought to depend on the standards of individuals’ cultures and views of those we share our environment with. Rules, laws, and the standards of the society that we live in also influence our morals.

Moral development is the process of infants learning right and wrong.

Stages of moral development

Kohlberg proposed the stages of moral development. This theory states that there are three levels of moral development, each developed in two stages. The three stages are:

  1. Preconventional (typically lasts until nine years old):
    • Result of obedience and punishment – behaving in a way that avoids punishment.
    • Individualism and exchange – children begin to understand there is more than one right way, e.g. adults have different views of right and wrong.
  2. Conventional:
    • Good interpersonal relationships – the moral is centred around being seen as a ‘good’ person.
    • Maintaining social order morals, views, and rules of society are obeyed to avoid punishment.
  3. Postconventional:
    • Social contract and individual rights the realisation that rules/laws may be in place to serve the interests of wider society. However, these may not benefit or be of interest to them.
    • Universal principles developing moral guidelines.

Early infant abilities

It is debated amongst psychologists whether infants’ abilities are innate (born with) or a result of interactions with the environment.

Baillargeon and Vygotsky argued that children are born with some form of cognitive skills. However, Piaget’s theory of cognitive development argues children learn these cognitive skills after experiencing the stages of development.

Baillargeon explanation of early infant abilities

Baillargeon proposed infants are born with a physical reasoning system (PRS), i.e., basic skills that allow them to understand basic concepts of the world. The PRS develops through experience, and so it gets more sophisticated as the infants observe phenomena.

Baillargeon’s theory assumes that infants’ understanding of objects and the physical world is better than what other researchers, such as Piaget, predicted.

Baillargeon challenged Piaget’s theory of object permanence and the novelty of new stimuli through the violation of expectation research. Here, she presented an object to an infant until they became familiar with it (repeated exposure removing novelty).

Then, the object was used in two scenarios. In this instance, it was a drawbridge that could be lowered. An item was placed in its path, and the infant was observed.

In one scenario, the object blocked the path of the drawbridge, which is the expected scenario. In the second instance, the drawbridge passed through the object and is the unexpected scenario. They found that infants tended to look longer at the unexpected scenario, as it was an ‘impossible event’.

The development of social cognition

Social cognition typically develops during childhood and adolescence. During the development of social cognition, individuals start seeing the world from their perspective. In addition. they begin to understand that others have different perspectives of the world.

Social cognition is when people become aware of their own and others’ mental states, such as thoughts, emotions and motivators.

Theory of mind

Theory of mind is the ability to understand and reason about others’ mental states and understand what motivates others to act in a certain way.

An example of this is understanding people may be restless or anxious because they are shaking their legs.

The Sally-Anne test

The Sally-Anne test is a famous example of testing the theory of mind. It is a scenario that is put forwards to a child.

  • Sally has a basket and Anne has a box. Sally places an item in her basket and goes for a walk. Anne takes the item out of the basket and puts it into her box. Sally comes back and wants to use the item.
  • Researchers would then ask where Sally would look.

The correct answer is based on the belief question, in that Sally would look in her basket, as she doesn’t know it’s been moved. From Sally’s perspective, the item is still in the basket. This is a different perspective from the child being asked, and if the child says Sally will look in Anne’s box, then they would be wrong and fail the test.

Passing is seen as an understanding of the theory of mind.

Cognition and Development Sally Anne Test Theory of Mind StudySmarterThe Sally-Anne Test in theory of mind, Tyler Smith - StudySmarter Originals

Having a theory of mind is essential for cognitive development as it is a skill to predict and interpret own and others’ behaviour. It is also crucial for improving and maintaining interpersonal relationships.


Cognition and Development - Key takeaways

  • Cognition is the mental process we use to learn novel things and develop through our senses, experiences, and thoughts.

  • Vygotsky and Piaget have proposed two major theories of cognitive development.

    • The two theories have many differences between them, such as the emphasis on the role of the environment.

  • Kohlberg proposed the stages of moral development. The theory states there are three levels of morality:

    • Preconventional, conventional, and postconventional.

  • It is debated amongst psychologists whether infants’ abilities are innate (born with) or a result of interactions with the environment.

  • Social cognition development is how people become aware of their own and others’ mental states and thoughts. The period of social cognition development is also when individuals begin to look at the world from their own perspective.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cognition and Development

Cognitive developmental psychology investigates how children’s mental processes and representations develop to develop higher-level thinking.

No, intelligence refers to things we learn and use during adaptive situations. Cognition refers to cognitive skills that develop from our senses and experiences.

  1. The sensorimotor stage. 
  2. The preoperational stage. 
  3. The concrete operational stage.
  4. The formal operational stage. 

An increase in any of these factors has been found to lead to an indirect effect on each of the other factors.

Piaget's stage of cognitive development model is an example of a cognitive development theory. 

Final Cognition and Development Quiz

Question

When did Piaget propose his theory of cognitive development?

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Answer

In 1936.

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Question

Cognitive development takes place with the interaction between________ and environmental situations.

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Answer

Natural abilities

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Question

Children pass through four stages of cognitive development, irrespective of their _______ and gender.

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Answer

Culture

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Question

The infant has no mental picture of the existing world, learned and stored in their memory. According to Piaget, which cognitive stage does this statement follow?

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Answer

Sensorimotor stage.

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Question

Which stage gives birth to animism in children that makes them think non-animated objects also talk and have feelings like us?

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Answer

Pre-operational stage.

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Question

Children at this stage tend to reason only on physically material things. According to Piaget, which cognitive stage does this statement follow?

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Answer

Concrete operational stage.

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Question

Formal operations are not contingent on physical and perceptual constraints. According to Piaget, which cognitive stage does this statement follow?

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Answer

Formal operational stage.

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Question

Concrete operation is carried out on _______, whereas formal operations are performed on ideas.

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Answer

Things

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Question

In Piaget’s theory,  ______ is secondary to the action. 

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Answer

Language

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Question

Piaget’s based his results on a small sample of his children and children of his colleagues, which is a _______ issue.

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Answer

Generalisability

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Question

List down the stages of cognitive development described by Piaget (1936).

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Answer

The stages of development include the sensorimotor stage, the pre-operational stage, the concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage.

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Question

What are the pros of Piaget’s research (1936) to cognitive psychology?

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Answer

Many researchers after Piaget used his ideas for further research and began to understand the cognitive development of children better. His ideas have particularly benefited education, such as discovery learning and brought practical ways of communicating well with children.

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Question

What are the cons of Piaget’s research (1936) to cognitive psychology?

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Answer

The inter-rated reliability of Piaget’s theory is low, as he conducted the study through naturalistic observation on his children (biased results) and interviews with adolescents. He didn’t have another observer working with him to confirm his findings, which could have increased the reliability of his findings.

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Question

What is object permanence, according to Piaget (1936)?

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Answer

It means to believe in the existence of an object even if you can’t see it. For example, if a child has developed object permanence and you hide their toy from them, they will search for it.

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Question

What is cognition? 

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Answer

Cognition is the mental process that we use to learn novel things and can be developed through our senses, experiences, and thoughts.

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Question

Is there an age where we fully develop cognition?

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Answer

Yes

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Question

What was Piaget the first to identify?

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Answer

Piaget was the first to identify that the ways in which children and adults think are different.

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Question

Which of these are not stages that Piaget formed?

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Answer

The preoperational stage

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Question

Define the theory of mind.

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Answer

Theory of mind states others may have different mindsets and beliefs than us. They have different interpretations of events and their emotions and desires are entirely their own.

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Question

According to Premack and Woodruff (1978), the theory of mind enables us to predict the _____ and the behaviour of others while dealing socially with them.

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Answer

Mental state.

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Question

The theory of mind originally begins to develop among children in the age bracket of ____ years of age.

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Answer

Four to five.

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Question

What was the 'ways of thinking’ stage of the theory of mind? 

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Answer

They begin to understand that others may have different beliefs about the same thing. They determine the behaviour of people by what they think will happen.

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Question

Who proposed the phases or stages of the theory of mind?

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Answer

Wellman (2004) proposed the phases or stages of the theory of mind.

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Question

What are the false beliefs in the stages of the theory of mind?

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Answer

People can have beliefs different from reality.

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Question

What was Dennets (1978) explanation about false-belief tasks?

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Answer

Dennett (1978) explained the false belief task as a test allowing the researchers to adequately distinguish between the child’s original belief about something (true) and their realisation of a different belief of someone else (false).

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Question

What are false belief tasks used for?

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Answer

False belief tasks are standard tests used to assess the child’s development of the theory of mind.

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Question

What was actually inside the box in the false belief task by Wimmer et al. (1987)? 

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Answer

Pencils.

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Question

What were the false belief task findings by Wimmer et al. (1987)?

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Answer

  • The children under three answer, ‘She will guess that there are pencils in the box.’
  • The children about four years old answered correctly with, ‘She will guess there is candy in the box.’
  • Children four years and older reflect on the theory of mind as they recognise that others may have a different opinion about a similar event.

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Question

Who conducted the false belief task two?

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Answer

Wimmer and Perner (1983) conducted the false belief task two.

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Question

What were the results of the false belief task by Wimmer and Perner (1983)?

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Answer

The children had to answer the following question: ‘Where will Maxi look for his chocolates when he returns?’

  • Children under four answered that Maxi would look in the green cupboard.
  • On the other hand, children under four answered that Maxi would look in the blue cupboard.

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Question

What was the purpose of the false belief task by Wimmer and Perner (1983)?

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Answer

The children were supposed to differentiate between their own beliefs (chocolates are in the green cupboard) and the belief of Maxi (the chocolates are in the blue cupboard where he left them). The children begin to show the development of the theory of mind when they realise that their belief (true) was different from maxi’s belief (false).

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Question

What did Baron-Cohen suggest about the reasoning behind Autism emergence?

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Answer

Baron-Cohen et al. (1985) proposed a famous explanation for autism. They suggested autism is diagnosed when there is an absence of the theory of mind or mentalising power in children.

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Question

Why is Autism called the ‘Autistic spectrum disorder’?

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Answer

Autism has traits from different disorders (such as Asperger’s disorder) and is not a single condition, so it was called ‘Autistic spectrum disorder’.

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Question

How did Baillargeon measure an infant’s ability in the violation of expectation paradigm?

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Answer

Through measuring how long an infant looks at an impossible event compared to a possible event.

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Question

Baillargeon believes infants were born with a physical reasoning system (PRS). True or false?

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Answer

True, Baillargeon believes humans are born with this hard-wired ability.

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Question

In the violation of expectation paradigm research studies, infants were recorded on the amount of time they looked at the possible and impossible events. True or false?

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Answer

True.

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Question

In the violation of expectation paradigm studies, findings showed infants looked at the unexpected event for a longer time. True or false?

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Answer

True. Findings showed infants looked at the unexpected event for a longer time.

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Question

An infant is shown a train passing through a tunnel. The infant is then shown the same event again where a train again passes through a tunnel. Is this a possible or impossible event?

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Answer

A possible event. It was expected the train would pass through the tunnel. 

Show question

Question

Baillargeon created the violation of the expectation paradigm as a method to measure _______.

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Answer

Early infant abilities.

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Question

An infant is shown two dolls behind a screen. The screen is then covered and three dolls are shown. Is this an impossible or possible event?

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Answer

This is an impossible event.

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Question

Researchers Bogartz, Shinskey and Schilling (2000) found that infants looked longer at the unexpected event when replicating the violation of expectation. True or false?

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Answer

False. Infants did not look at the unexpected event for longer.

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Question

Schoner and Thelen argued that there might be several interfering factors within the research studies as to why infants may have looked longer at the unexpected event. True or false? 

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Answer

True. They argued other factors may have caused the infant to look longer at the unexpected event.

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Question

What does PRS stand for?

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Answer

Physical reasoning system.

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Question

Baillargeon’s explanation ignores the role of the environment. True or false?

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Answer

True. Baillargeon’s explanation does not consider several factors, such as the frequency with which an infant is exposed to various objects, how much he is moved, and parental style.

Show question

Question

How does Baillargeon's explanation of early infant ability contrast with Piaget's explanation?

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Answer

Piaget believed young infants are not aware objects exist once they have left the visual field. Baillargeon believes infants can understand an object exists even when they cannot see it. 

Show question

Question

Explain social cognition.

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Answer

Our daily lives include processing information from external and internal means to predict situations and behaviours. Social interaction is one of the most critical elements we depend on as humans, where we respond after interpreting others’ behaviours. Similarly, social cognition refers to when we put ourselves in the place of others, understanding and predicting our own and their behaviour.

Show question

Question

Why did Selman design the perspective-taking levels?

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Answer

According to Selman (1976,1980), looking at things from other people’s perspectives is crucial for most social activities, such as teamwork or convincing others.

Show question

Question

What reaction does an infant typically have when an expectation is violated?

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Answer

Surprise.

Show question

Question

Which statement is true?


When an expectation is violated:

  1. The infant looks at the event for a longer time. 
  2. The infant looks away.
  3. The infant shows a happy response.

Show answer

Answer

A. The infant looks at the event for a longer time, which Baillargeon demonstrated in her research and others who have replicated similar findings.

Show question

Question

Which are criticisms of Baillargeon's explanation of early infant abilities?

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Answer

All of the above.

Show question

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