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A Brief Introduction to Piaget’s Theory. Prof. Jack Bauer University of Dayton. First Things to Know. • One of 20th century’s most influential theorists in the sciences & beyond • Piaget’s interests: • Knowledge (epistemology) • Knowledge is a system of mental representations

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A Brief Introduction to Piaget’s Theory

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A Brief Introduction to Piaget’s Theory

Prof. Jack Bauer

University of Dayton

First Things to Know

• One of 20th century’s most influential theorists in the sciences & beyond

• Piaget’s interests:

• Knowledge (epistemology)

• Knowledge is a system of mental representations

• Dev’t of knowledge (“genetic epistem.”)

• Not to be confused with David Letterman

What Knowledge Does

• Organization: Brings order to experience

• Adaptation: Helps to interact with and adjust to the world

• Assimilation: Compare & contrast one’s past knowledge to new info

• Accommodtion: Reconstruct one’s past knowledge to incorporate new info

How Knowledge Develops

  • Knowledge emerges from action

  • Child actively constructs knowledge

    • Not “absorbs” it

  • Cog. abilities develop progressively

  • What is cognitive development?

    • Increasing capacity to differentiate & integrate information

    • Increasing capacity to generate knowledge

Overview of Four Stages

• Sensorimotor Stage

• Born with reflexes, not thoughts

• Actions & perception get more complex

• Traces of memory become more permanent

• Preoperational Stage

• Simple knowledge (what things are)

• Fuzzy or sporadic logic

• Concrete Operations Stage

• Logical reasoning for observable world

• Formal Operations Stage

• Logical reasoning for abstract world

• Complex possibilities, underlying motives

Sensorimotor Stage

• Start w/ reflex motions (not thoughts!)

• With experience, those motions come under control & are combined with different stimuli

• Then planned actions in present moment

• Gradual acquisition of object knowledge

• i.e., knowledge/memory that things exist

• More familiar things 1st, then less familiar

• Object permanence in 2nd year of life

• Mental representations formed routinely for all things

• Overall: Traces of procedural “knowledge” build into enduring mental representations

Preoperational Stage

• Roughly ages 2-7 (more at: pre-school years)

• Child knows what things are but has limited logic for how they operate

• e.g., “fantasy play” w/ toys & story characters

• Egocentrism: Limited perspective-taking

• Stage ends with conservation

• General understanding that things can change form but still be the same thing

Concrete Operations Stage

• Roughly ages 7-12 (grade-school years)

• Child can reason logically about the concrete (i.e., observable) world

• Interested in how things, people etc. work

• Classifies everything into categories, rules, roles

• Stage ends when child generally thinks logically about the abstract world also

Formal Operations Stage

• Roughly ages 12 on up

• Can think about complex possibilities & alternatives

• Hypothetical/deductive reasoning

• Can ask “if...then...” about abstract things, like:

• variables

• complexities of relationships

• underlying values and ideologies

• self in the distant future

Discontinuous Stages?

  • This is how Piaget’s theory is often characterized by people who aren’t specialists in Piaget





Not-So-Discontinuous Stages

  • This is closer to how Piaget described his own stages—with substages





Continuous Stages

  • The line represents purely gradual/continous dev’t

  • The ovals represent points along the line where functioning starts to look different than before





Stages: Continuity & Discontinuity

  • This is how I tend to think of Piaget: Gradually increasing capacities to differentiate and integrate yield qualitatively advanced capacities to think





Final Notes on Piaget

• Focus on sequence of stages, not age

• Especially for personality development in adulthood

• Dev’t to next stage is indicated by routine functioning of the next stage’s abilities, not by the first signs of it

• Dev’t is not about how much info one has

• Rather, it’s about how complexly and integratively one knows

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