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Cognitive Development: Transition Between Preoperational & Concrete Stages

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Cognitive Development: Transition between Preoperational & Concrete Stages

Piaget believed that human development involves a series of stages and during each stage new abilities are gained which prepare the individual for the succeeding stages. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the differences between two stages in Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory--the preoperational stage and concrete operational stage. Cognitive development refers to how a person constructs thought processes to gain understanding of his or her world through the interaction of genetic and learned factors. The development of new cognitive structures (mental maps or schemas) will be a result of the individual's ability to adapt through mental processes such as assimilation and accommodation and gain intelligence doing so. This involves an on-going attempt to achieve equilibrium, which is a mental balance between cognitive schemes and information from the environment. An experiment was done on three subjects (children) of varying age to explain the transition between the two stages and to determine whether they fit into Piaget's theory according the way they answer the questions during the experiment. Piaget states that this transition is the development of logical thought processes, which are demonstrated by one's ability to conserve, think operationally and understand the concept of reversibility. During the preoperational stage (ages 2-7 years), according to Piaget's theory, one would expect to find that a child's thought is based on perceptual cues and that the child is unaware of contradictory statements. Characteristics include: language & symbol development, egocentrism, irreversibility, ability to think transductively, and classification of single properties. The preoperational stage also includes two substages: preconceptual stage (ages 2-4) and intuitive stage (ages 5-7), where the intuitive stage is usually where transitional characteristics into the next stage are displayed. During the concrete operational stage (ages 7-12 years), one would expect to find that a child has logical ways of thinking as long as it is linked to concrete objects. Characteristics include: reversibility, classification and conservation of number, mass, weight and volume.

To conduct this experiment three subjects were selected: Adriana (female-age 3), Isaac (male-age 5) and Patrick (male-age 8). Each child was interviewed individually and participated in four different tasks which tested their cognitive abilities to conserve number, volume and mass, and how they articulated their thought process. In the first task they were presented with two rows of pennies, each containing five pennies lined up next to each other. The experimenter asked if there were more pennies in row one or more in row two, or if there were the same in each row. The bottom row of pennies was then spread out and the child was asked the same question. In the second task they were presented with two glasses filled with equal amounts of water and the experimenter asked the same questions as in task 1. Then the water from one glass was distributed into another glass of different size and the experimenter posed the same questions. That process was repeated once more. The third task involved two equal balls of clay and the subject answered the same questions again in relation to the amount of clay in each ball. Then the experimenter rolled one ball into a snake-like shape and asked the same questions once again. The last task tested their thought process by asking them to answer a question: "Where do dreams come from?" The goal of these experiments was to determine whether each child accurately fit into Piaget's development theories according to their age.

With each task, Adriana could determine that the pennies, water and clay were the same for each question, but she always agreed with the last option the experimenter presented her, which was "or are they the same?" On a couple of different occasions she would agree with "does this have more", but as soon as the last option was spoken, she agreed with that one instead. The power of suggestion, which is how a person says something, demonstrated that Adriana was easily persuaded to change her mind. When the experimenter performed task two and three, he asked her why she thought the amounts were the same and she simply explained what she saw visually, but she always looked for confirmation in her answer from the experimenter. Adriana was then asked about where she thinks dreams come from and she said they "were scary". She couldn't mentally come up with any other reasons of where she thought they came from, which demonstrated her inability to think abstractly or logically.

Isaac was able to agree on each task that initially all the quantities were the same, but was easily influenced once the pennies were moved, the water was placed into a different size glass and the clay was rolled into a different size shape. He thought the row of pennies that was spread out had more pennies, the glass that was taller had more water and the clay that was rolled out had more clay. When asked why he thought there was more, he used concrete physical descriptions about what he saw such as the glass was "taller" or of a different "size" and that the clay was "longer". This demonstrated Isaac's inability to conserve and that he is indeed in the preoperational stage, as Piaget suggests. When presented with the last task, Isaac first said he "didn't know" and then once the experimenter encouraged him to answer what he really thought, he said "my mom told



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