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Piagets Theory in Education

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Piagets Theory in Education

We know how crucial good education is for children, the question is: How can we make education effective? Based on Piaget's theory, a one-size-fits-all approach and relying on rewards and punishments are not always effective. These traditional approaches to education don't account for how children learn and develop cognitive abilities. So… What's the Piagetian solution for making education better? Piaget's Theory in Education has been applied to understand this.

  • We will start with a recap of Piaget's theory of cognitive development and educational implications.
  • Moving on, we will look at the Educational implications of Piaget's theory and what are the applications of Piaget's theory of constructivism in education.
  • Finally, we will examine the influence of Piaget's theory on educational practice, with an example of the use of Piaget's theory in preschool nutrition education.

The role of Piaget's theory in education, stack of four books with a purple mortarboard on top and a ladder leading against these, StudySmarterPiaget argued that education should take into account the stages of cognitive development, freepik.com/macrovector

What is Piaget's theory of cognitive development?

We're not born with cognitive abilities like acknowledging others' perspectives, thinking logically or symbolically representing objects in our mind. These abilities are developed as we grow up and learn about and experience the world. Piaget outlined four stages of cognitive development, the sensorimotor stage, the pre-operational stage, the concrete operational stage and the formal operational stage. At each stage, children have to overcome certain cognitive errors and achieve particular developmental outcomes to move to the next stage.

Centration and egocentrism studies

During the pre-operational stage, which lasts until the age of 7, according to Piaget children develop cognitive skills that cause a shift from egocentric to centric thinking.

Egocentrism is the tendency to consider reality only from one's own perspective, and centration is the tendency to only focus on one feature associated with an object at a time.

Children commit the conservation error due to centration. The conservation error occurs when a child fails to recognise the same object once one of its features changes.

For example, a child might not recognise their parent when they change their hairstyle.

Piaget's study of conservation of number (1952)

Piaget tested the ability of children at different ages to conserve numbers. He put two rows with an equal amount and an equally-spaced number of counters in front of the children. The participants were asked to identify if the two rows had an equal number of counters. Next, the experimenter spread out the coins in one of the rows to make it appear that one row had more coins. The study's results showed that children below the age of seven could not recognise that the number of coins remained equal.

This study suggests that children make conservation errors until they reach the operational stage of cognitive development.

However, Piaget's findings have been challenged. The study was later adapted by McGarrigle and Donaldson in 1974. They found that if the counters were spread out on accident by a 'naughty teddy bear' and not intentionally by an adult, 63% of children in the pre-operational stage passed the test.

The results from the study suggest that children may stop egocentric thinking at a younger age than Piaget assumed.

Seeing the perspective of others: Hughes' 'policeman doll' study

Piaget proposed that children in the pre-operational stage also have difficulty seeing the perspective of others. This was later disputed by the Hughes' 'policeman doll' study, which suggests that Piaget underestimated children's abilities.

Hughes (1978) investigated whether children in the pre-operational stage can conceptualise the point of view of others. A sample of 30 children was shown a model with two intersecting walls blocking the view of policemen dolls. Children were asked to place another doll on the model in a location to hide the doll from the policemen dolls. Contrary to what Piaget predicted, 90% of children passed the test and were able to put the doll outside of the policemen's sight.

How do children learn? Educational implications of Piaget's theory

Piaget argued that children construct their understanding of the world based on their experiences. By interacting with the environment, they create frameworks about how the world works. These frameworks are called schemas.

A child can learn through experience that if they pet a cat, it purrs, but if they play with a cat, they might get scratched. Now when they see a different cat, they have a framework of how to interact with it and expectations of what might happen.

Piaget described three processes that together create a model of how children learn.

  • Assimilation - Children use their past knowledge and existing schemas to interact with the environment and perform tasks successfully.
  • Accommodation - When new information is encountered by children that doesn't fit with their existing schemas, children change their schemas to incorporate new evidence.

A child might develop a schema that fruits are sweet after tasting bananas and grapes, when the child tastes a lemon, which is not sweet they have to change their schema about fruit.

  • Equilibration refers to achieving a balance between inner knowledge and the environment through assimilation and accommodation, so through applying pre-existing schemas and learning based on new experiences.

Piaget's theory of constructivism in education

Piaget's theory has important educational implications. To make learning opportunities effective, they need to encourage accommodation by challenging children's pre-existing schemas, as well as considering children's readiness to make sure they understand new information.

Children learn when their schemas are challenged

Assuming that children actively construct new knowledge in the process of interacting with the environment, education should facilitate curiosity, discovery and learning through experience.

  • To develop an understanding of new concepts, children should learn through experience instead of being presented with facts to memorise. New experiences allow for making mistakes and learning from them.

  • Discussions with peers are also effective for learning. They can reveal new, conflicting information, which children can then use to develop their knowledge.

Piagets Theory in Education, women and child piling up blocks with different letters of the alphabet on them, StudySmarterPiaget argued that learning via experiences helps with better cognitive development, freepik.com/pch.vector

Child-centred learning

Children gradually develop cognitive abilities. Moreover, different children can progress at a different paces.

  • The difficulty level of activities and challenges should be matched to children's current ability to understand the world.

  • Educators should prepare a range of challenges for children at different levels of development instead of employing a one-size-fits-all approach.

  • It's more beneficial for children if educators equip them with tools to learn and develop inside as well as outside the classroom instead of presenting them with facts.

Readiness

  • Children shouldn't be expected to memorise information they can't yet understand because they haven't developed a cognitive ability to do so.

Children in the pre-operational stage often don't understand that if an object changes in appearance, it remains the same object. If they see a plasticine ball being flattened, they conclude the ball is now made of less plasticine. Using punishment and reward to force the correct answer on children, that the ball remains the same, when they cannot understand this concept yet might make them confused about which objects are the same.

  • Based on Piaget's theory, formative testing can be a useful tool for assessing a child's baseline understanding and readiness for learning new information.

  • However, standardised testing is not an effective method of assessing knowledge. Standardised tests only focus on whether the child knows the correct answer, but don't assess whether children actually understand the concepts or whether they just memorised facts.

Influence of Piaget's theory on educational practice

Piaget's theory has changed how we think of and design education. In many countries, educational standards are now considering the educational implications of Piaget's theory. However, a child-centred, experience-focused approach is not yet a reality in numerous educational settings.

Use of Piaget's theory in preschool nutrition education

Başkale et al. 2009 Described how preschool nutrition education should look based on Piaget's theory of development. The article outlined nutrition teaching strategies informed by Piaget's model of assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration.

  • Education should account for children's readiness

This can be identified by educators starting learning with a formative assessment - assessing children's current knowledge about fruits and vegetables. A question asked could be to identify fruits or ask them to draw different fruits and vegetables.

Concepts like the food pyramid should be explained in words that are familiar to children, and activities should be appropriate and easy to comprehend based on their cognitive abilities.

Piagets Theory in Education, Illustration of food pyramid in a healthy balanced diet, StudySmarterPiaget's theory has been applied in preschools to help children understand nutrition better, freepik.com/freepik

  • Encouraging learning through experience and discussion

To encourage learning :

  • The food pyramid can be discussed with children, and participation should be encouraged by asking them questions to see their way of understanding the information. Through participation in interesting activities, children discover new information that is then assimilated into their schemas about food.
  • Education should focus on food that is easily available in children's culture. Food should be relevant and somewhat familiar to them, so they have the possibility to learn about it more through experience later.
  • Activities should encourage children to learn from experience by exposing them to real fruits and vegetables and encouraging their curiosity by activities like creating a fruit calendar of paper. Each day, children can draw a fruit they ate on a calendar. This makes the discovery of new information about different foods interesting to children and encourages assimilation.

Piagets Theory in Education - Key takeaways

  • Piaget argued that children construct their understanding of the world based on their experiences. By interacting with the environment, children create schemas.
  • Schemas guide interactions with the environment - assimilation.
  • New experiences that challenge schemas lead to learning by changing existing schemas - accommodation.
  • Equilibration refers to achieving a balance between inner knowledge and the environment through assimilation and accommodation,
  • For education to be effective, it should be child-centred, provide opportunities that challenge children's pre-existing schemas and consider children's readiness to make sure they understand new information.
  • Piaget's theory has informed how we see education today and influenced, for example, the guidance for preschool nutrition education.

Frequently Asked Questions about Piagets Theory in Education

Piaget's theory stresses the need for prioritising learning through experience instead of memorising information. Educators should challenge children's knowledge by exposing them to new experiences and information while also keeping in mind that these challenges should be matched to children's individual abilities.

Piaget's models of learning and development can help design effective teaching strategies. According to Piaget's theory, effective education needs to be child-centred, experience-focused, and match children's cognitive abilities and cultural context.

Piaget's theory has informed educational policies and current approaches to teaching. Piaget's theory resulted in the Plowden Report in the UK, which stressed the importance of learning through experience for preschool children. For example, Piaget's theory also impacted educational guidance in teaching nutrition in preschool.

According to Piaget's theory, teaching needs to be child-centred, experience-focused, challenge children's existing knowledge, and match children's cognitive abilities and cultural context.

  1. Education should challenge children's existing knowledge by exposing them to new experiences and peer discussions.
  2. Education should be child-centred and match the child's current knowledge, cognitive abilities, and cultural context.
  3. Education should assess children's readiness for learning new information, for example, through formative assessment.
  4. Building understanding through experience should be prioritised over teaching facts, and assessing children's understanding should be prioritised over testing whether they know the correct answer.

Final Piagets Theory in Education Quiz

Question

How many children took part in Hughes' policeman doll study?

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Answer

30 children took part in the study.

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How old were the children in the policeman doll study?

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Answer

The children were aged three and a half to five years old.

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What was Hughes' aim in the policeman doll study?

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Hughes aimed to study egocentric thinking in children as well as their ability to understand others' viewpoints.

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How did Hughes' study differ from Piaget's three mountains task?

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Answer

Hughes designed his experiment to be much more intuitive and simple for children to complete.

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Question

What materials were used in the policeman doll study?

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Answer

The materials used consisted of a boy doll, two policeman dolls and a model of intersecting walls. When Hughes' attempted to make the study more complex, more policeman dolls and 'walls' were added.

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What was the children's task in the policeman doll study?

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Answer

The children in the study were instructed to hide the boy doll from the police dolls behind a wall.

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Question

What were the results of the study?

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Answer

The results showed that 90% of children aged four or higher were able to hide the doll. 

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What did Hughes conclude?

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Hughes concluded that egocentric thinking was not as prevalent in children aged four and older.

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Question

How was Hughes' study a successful challenge to Piaget's?

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Answer

  • Hughes' study's simplicity allowed him to investigate children's levels of egocentrism in a way that children could understand.
  • Hughes' also found that Piaget's procedure used in the three mountain task may have been too complex for children to understand. 
  • Finally, Hughes' results indicated that younger children do not display egocentric thinking, which Piaget found in his study.

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Question

What design did Hughes' study use?

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Answer

Hughes' study used an experimental design.

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How does an experimental design affect validity?

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Answer

An experimental design allows the investigator to have great control over the experiment and its variables and makes results more valid.

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Question

How does the validity of this study procedure compare to Piaget's?

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Answer

The study can be considered more valid than Piaget's.

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Question

Why might the participants' demographics limit the validity of this study's findings?

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Answer

The participants were all young British boys; this means the study is ethnocentric as it does not consider cultural differences. 

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Question

This study took place in an artificial environment. How might this affect validity?

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Answer

Because the study took place in an artificial environment, the study's findings may lack ecological validity.

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Question

Why might this study's sample size limit the reliability of Hughes' policeman doll study? 

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Answer

This study used a very small sample size (30), so it is difficult to generalise the findings to the broader population. 

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Question

According to Piaget's cognitive development theory in what stage does conservation develop? 

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Answer

Sensorimotor stage

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What is conservation? 

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Answer

Conservation is the ability to understand that the quantity of something can remain the same even when its appearance changes. 

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Question

What type of development does Piaget's cognitive theory of development measure? 

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Answer

Mental development 

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Question

In what year did McGarrigle and Donaldson do the naughty teddy experiment?

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The McGarrigle and Donaldson naughty teddy experiment was done in 1974. 

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What type of research design did McGarrigle and Donaldson's naughty teddy experiment use? 

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The McGarrigle and Donaldson naughty teddy experiment used an experimental, repeated measures design that was carried out in a lab setting.

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How many participants were recruited in McGarrigle and Donaldson's naughty teddy experiment?

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McGarrigle and Donaldson's naughty teddy experiment recruited 80 children aged between 4 years and 2 months to 6 years and 10 months old.

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Question

Describe the two conditions used in McGarrigle and Donaldson's naughty teddy experiment.

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Answer

The procedure of McGarrigle and Donaldson's naughty teddy experiment was:

  • rows of counters were placed on a table in front of participants  
    1. in the accidental condition, a naughty teddy accidentally moved the distance between one row of counters
    2. in the intentional condition, the researcher intentionally moved the distance between counters 

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Question

Which of the following moved the counters in the accidental condition of  McGarrigle and Donaldson's 'naughty teddy' study?

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Answer

Teddy bear

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Question

In which condition did children show better conservation skills in McGarrigle and Donaldson's 'naughty teddy' study? 

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Answer

Accidental 

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Did older children show better conservation skills in McGarrigle and Donaldson's 'naughty teddy' study? 

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Answer

Yes

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Question

Did McGarrigle and Donaldson support Piaget's theory that conservation skills improve with age?  

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Answer

Yes 

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Question

How did McGarrigle and Donaldson's naughty teddy experiment findings differ from Piaget's? 

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Answer

From the research findings of McGarrigle and Donaldson's 'naughty teddy' study, it can be concluded that children can conserve at an earlier age than Piaget suggested. Children show these skills as young as 4 years and 2 months whereas Piaget suggested that it develops at 7+ years. 

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Question

What are the strengths of McGarrigle and Donaldson's 'naughty teddy' study?

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Answer

The strengths of McGarrigle and Donaldson's 'naughty teddy' study are:

  • it has practical applications 
  • the research design is high in internal validity 

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Question

What are the weaknesses of McGarrigle and Donaldson's 'naughty teddy' study?


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Answer

The weaknesses of McGarrigle and Donaldson's 'naughty teddy' study are:

  • the study was ethnocentric 
  • the study has low reliability 
  • the study did not measure domain-specific conservation skills 

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Question

What is the naughty teddy study in psychology? 

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Answer

The naughty teddy study was carried out by McGarrigle and Donaldson in 1974. The study was done to measure conservation skills in young children. 

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Question

What was the aim of the Naughty Teddy study?


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Answer

The naughty teddy study aimed to:

  1. identify if children younger than what Piaget proposed, develop conservation skills
  2. identify if intentionally or accidentally changing the position of counters affected conservation skills. 

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Question

What are potential reasons why the results differed between Piaget's and McGarrigle and Donaldson's results?

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Answer

The results between Piaget and McGarrigle and Donaldson may be different because they measured different aspects of conservation. Piaget asked participants if there were differences in volume. Whereas McGarrigle and Donaldson asked if there were the same number of counters. 

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At what age did Piaget suggest that conservation skills develop? 

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Answer

Piaget suggested that conservation skills develop between 7-11 years old. 

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Question

What is Piaget's theory of conservation?

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Answer

Piaget's theory of conservation claims that children below the age of seven fail to recognise that an object can conserve its main qualities despite a change in its appearance. 

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At which stage of cognitive development do children make the conservation error?

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Answer

The pre-operational stage (ages two to seven)

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What is an example of the conservation error?

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Answer

If a plasticine ball gets flattened children conclude that now it has less plasticine than it had when it looked taller.

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Why does the conservation error occur?


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Answer

Centration

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Question

What is a conservation error?

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Answer

Failure to recognise that an object can conserve its main qualities despite a change in its appearance.  

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Question

What is centration?

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Answer

Centration refers to a tendency to focus on one aspect of the object while ignoring all the other aspects. 


When one aspect of how an object appears changes children in the pre-operational stage conclude that the object's main qualities have changed.

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Question

What forms of conservation did Piaget describe?

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Answer

  • Conservation of liquid
  • Conservation of number
  • Conservation of solid
  • Conservation of length

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Question

How can Piaget's conservation test be replicated?

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Answer

  1. Put an equal amount of coins in two rows of equal length in front of a child.
  2. Ask them whether one row has more coins or whether they are the same. 
  3. Next, spread one row out so it looks longer.
  4. Repeat the question.

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Question

Describe the conservation of number task.

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Answer

  • An experimenter puts two rows of counters, which are of equal length, in front of a child. 
  • The experimenter asks the child whether row one has more counters, row two has more counters or whether they are the same.
  • After the child agrees that the two rows are the same, the experimenter spreads out one of the rows.
  • The child is asked again which row has more counters.  

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Question

What was the aim of Piaget's study of conservation of number (1952)?

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Answer

To investigate children's understanding of the conservation of number and how it changes with age.

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Question

What were the results of Piaget's study of conservation of number (1952)? 

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Answer

Piaget found that children below the age of seven stated that the rearranged row had more counters because it was longer, despite both rows having an equal amount of counters. By the age of seven children no longer made these conservation errors.

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Question

How did Piaget interpret the results of his conservation of number study? 

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Answer

Piaget concluded that children in the pre-operational stage don't yet understand that when a row changes in length it doesn't impact the number of counters. This is because they focus on the length of the two rows and ignore the density of rows. 


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Question

What are the main criticisms of Piaget's study of conservation of number experiment (1952)?  

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Answer

  • When children see the adult performing an intentional action like changing an aspect of the stimulus, children can think that the action was related to the question and should affect their answer.  
  • When children are asked the question twice, it can make them think that their first answer was incorrect 
  • It's difficult to establish how generalisable Piaget's theory is. 

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Question

What were the findings of the McGarrigle and Donaldson (1974) replication of Piaget's conservation of number study? 

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Answer

McGarrigle and Donaldson (1974)  found that most children (age four to six) didn't make conservation errors if the stimulus was changed by accident by the "naughty teddy bear" and not intentionally by the researcher.

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Question

What were the findings of the Rose and Blank (1974) replication of Piaget's conservation of number study?  

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Answer

Rose and Blank (1974) conducted Piaget's conservation studies but only asked the question once after the changes to the stimuli were made. In their study, six-year-olds often did not make the conservation error.

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Question

What are the four stages in Piaget's theory of cognitive development?

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Answer

The four stages in Piaget's theory of cognitive development include the sensorimotor stage, pre-operational stage, concrete operational stage and concrete operational stage.  

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Question

How do children learn according to Piaget? 

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Answer

Piaget argued that children construct their understanding of the world based on their experiences.  

Show question

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