Middle childhood biological and cognitive development
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Middle Childhood: Biological and Cognitive Development. Aylin Küntay PSYC 206. Motor Development.

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Middle Childhood: Biological and Cognitive Development

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Middle Childhood: Biological and Cognitive Development

Aylin Küntay

PSYC 206

Motor Development

  • At age of 5, boys tend to be more advanced in motor skills that require power and force (e.g., jumping, running, throwing or kicking a ball), while girls tend to excel in fine motor skills (e.g., drawing and writing) or in gross motor skills that combine balance and foot movement (e.g., skipping and gymnastics)

    • Boys have slightly greater muscle mass and are bigger than girls (until age 10½ when girls spurt ahead in height for a few years)

  • However, cultural conceptions of the activities appropriate to boys and girls also play an important role in shaping these differences

Brain Development

  • Increased myelination, particularly in frontal cortex

  • Increased number of synapses

  • Increased output of neurotransmitters

  • EEG patterns change dramatically…

    • Until age 5, EEGs of awake children are dominated by theta activity (characteristic of adult sleep states), rather than alpha activity (characteristic of engaged attention)

    • Theta and alpha patterns are equalized in ages 5-7, and thereafter alpha activity dominates

  • EEG coherence (synchronization of electrical activity in different areas of brain) increases significantly…

    • Particularly between frontal lobes and other parts of the brain (resulting in controlled attention, planning, self-reflection…)

Changes in amount of theta and alpha EEG activity during development

Changes in EEG coherence in the transition from early to middle childhood

Cognitive Developments

A Change in Logical Thinking


A Change in the Logic of Thinking

  • In middle childhood children’s thinking becomes distinctly“two-sided”

    • Can think about objects from more than one perspective

    • Can hold one characteristic of a situation in mind while comparing it with another

A Change in the Logic of Thinking

  • Piaget: Concrete Operations

    • “Concrete” because these mental actions (i.e., operations) are directed toward concrete objects in everyday activities

    • Distinguished from preoperations by their double-sidedness

    • Results in more flexible and organized thinking (e.g., can think about alternatives and can reverse their thinking)

    • Allows children to think through their actions, and to mentally combine, separate, order, and transform objects and actions


  • Understanding that some properties of an object remain the same even when its appearance is altered (e.g., beaker test…, card test…)

    • Begin to understand at age 5 or 6; typically mastered by age 8

  • Mental operations

    • Identity – “They were equal to start with and nothing was added, so they’re the same.”

    • Compensation – “The liquid is higher, but the glass is thinner”

    • Reversibility – “If you pour it back, you’ll see that it’s the same”

Piaget: Conservation of Quantity

Piaget: Conservation of Number

Children below the age of 6 or 7 rarely display conservation of number, and will say that the elongated row has more.

An understanding of logical necessity—that “it has to be that way”—is Piaget’s key criterion of a stagelike change in thinking.

Causes of Developmental Changes in Cognition

Information-Processing Bridges

Evolution of Strategies

Additional Bridging Processes

Possible Causes

  • Piaget believed that all cognitive growth is driven by assimilation (i.e., incorporate new experiences into existing schemas) and accommodation (i.e., modify existing schemas in the light of new experiences)

  • Other, more recent, explanations

    • Memory capacity

    • Accumulating knowledge

    • Development of cognitive strategies

Influence of Memory on Cognition

  • Factor 1: Increased speed and capacity of memory processing

    • Memory span: 5-year-olds remember 4 digits, 10-year-olds remember 6, adults remember 7

    • Retrieval speed: 11-year-olds retrieved information from long-term memory about 6 times faster than 5-year-olds

    • Speed and capacity are interrelated…

Relationship of memory span and speed of naming

Influence of Memory on Cognition

  • Factor 2: Expanded knowledge base

    • Retention improves because children have more prior information to which to relate new information

    • Younger subjects who have a rich knowledge base in a given area remember more new information related to that area than older subjects whose knowledge base is not as rich

Influence of Memory on Cognition

  • Factor 3: Acquisition of improved memory strategies (all are two-sided because they must simultaneously think about a goal and the way to achieve it)

    • Rehearsal – Repeating to oneself the material one is trying to memorize

    • Memory Organization – Group in meaningful clusters (e.g., by sound, by situational associations “farm things”, by conceptual categories “foods”), tested by free recall (any order)

    • Elaboration – Make up connections between 2 or more things to be remembered (“tomato” and “street”, imagine tomato squashed in the street), tested by paired words

Influence of Memory on Cognition

  • Factor 4: Emergence of metamemory(i.e., the ability to think about one’s own memory processes)

    • 8-year-olds have a better understanding of the limitations of their own memories than most 5-year-olds

    • Consequently they knew enough to study the materials and to test themselves on their ability to remember

Combining Memory and Logical Stages

  • It is an increase in the capacity of working memory that allows children to think about two or more aspects of a problem at one time

    • Hence, a close relationship between problem-solving ability and the capacity of working memory

Not until middle childhood did children pay attention to each of the four houses in a systematic way to discover the subtle differences between them.

Increased Linguistic Skills

  • Vocabulary

    • 6-year-olds understand about 10,000 words

    • 2 years later that has doubled

    • By 10 or 11, have a vocabulary of approximately 40,000 words

  • Conversation: Older children are better at making sure they and their partners understand each other and have a greater ability to maintain coherence in a conversation over longer periods of time

    • Use linguistic makers: “Getting back to…” “As I was saying”

    • Provide ongoing feedback by nodding or saying “Uh hum”

Increased Classification Skills

  • Piaget: Set of brown beads and white beads “Are there more brown beads or more beads?”

    • Children 4-6 cannot attend to the subclass and the superordinate class at the same time; instead they compare one subclass with another subclass

    • In middle childhood gain ability to understand the hierarchical structure of categories and can categorize objects according to multiple criteria

    • Begin to collect stamps, baseball cards, etc.

Is conservation acquisition universal?

Children in non-industrial societies lag a year or more behind Piaget’s norms, and in some cases never acquire it, even as adults

Is conservation acquisition universal?

  • Performance improves, however, with training, and when interviewed in their native language and with content with which they are more familiar

  • Thus, conservation is a universal cognitive achievement of middle childhood, as Piaget assumed it was, when these conditions are taken into account

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