Chapter 2 cognitive and linguistic development
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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

  • The preoperational stage emerges when the child is about 2 years old and continues until the child is about 6 or 7. Hence, we are likely to see characteristics of this stage in most preschoolers, as well as in many children in kindergarten and the early elementary grades. 


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

  • 1. Language: Use of language in both social communication and mental representation of the world.

  • Example: A child can express his/her needs and desires to others.

  • Example: A child can think about an object simply by thinking about the word for that object.


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

2.Preoperational egocentrism: An inability to view situations from another person’s perspective.

Example: Children may have trouble understanding why they must share their toys with a guest, or why they must be careful not to hurt someone else’s feelings

Example: Children may play games together without ever checking to be sure that they are all playing according to the same rules

Example: Children may exhibit egocentric speech, saying things without really considering the perspective of the listener


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

3. Confusion between physical and psychological events: Confusing external, physical objects with one’s own internal, mental ideas.

  • This characteristic takes two forms:

  • Animism: Children attribute psychological qualities such as thoughts and feelings to inanimate objects.

  • Example: A child who accidentally bumps his head on a table spanks the table to punish it.

  • Example: A child expresses a concern that a doll is sad or in pain when its leg is torn off


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

  • Realism: Children believe that their thoughts and ideas have physical reality.

  • Example: A child has an imaginary playmate.

  • Example: A child worries that monsters and bogeymen lurk in the basement.

  • Example: A child finds nightmares realistic and terrifying.


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

  • 4. Lack of conservation: A lack of understanding that, when nothing is added or taken away, amount stays the same regardless of alterations in shape or arrangement.

  • Example: When water is poured from a tall, thin glass into a short, fat one, a child believes that there is a different amount of water (either less or more) than before.


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

  • Example: Two rows of six pennies each are placed in front of a child, like this:

  • O O O O O O

  • O O O O O O

  • The child agrees that both rows contain the same number of pennies. The pennies in the second row are then spread farther apart, so that the two rows now look like this:


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

  • O O O O O O

  • O O O O O O

  • The child is now likely to say that the second row has more pennies than the first row because the coins are spread farther out or the row is longer. Without the realization that the number of objects is constant despite changes in arrangement (i.e., without conservation of number), preoperational children have a limited understanding of the concept of number itself.


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

  • 5. Centration: Focusing on one dimension of an object to the exclusion of other dimensions.

  • Example: When explaining why water poured from a tall, thin glass into a short, fat glass is now less than it was before, a child says that the water in the first glass is “taller.” The child does not recognize that the first glass is also thinner and that height compensates for width.


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

  • Example: During the conservation of number task just described, a child justifies the conclusion that the second row has more pennies by saying that it’s longer, without acknowledging that the pennies are also spread farther apart.


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

  • 6. Inability to reason about transformations: Difficulty thinking about change processes. Preoperational children tend to focus on static situations.

  • Example: In the conservation tasks just described, a child doesn’t take into account the fact that the same amount of water was merely poured into a different glass and that the pennies in one row were simply spread farther apart.


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

  • Example: A child has trouble arranging a series of pictures of a pencil to show its various positions as it is held in a vertical position and then allowed to fall (Sund, 1976).

  • Example: A child resists the idea of caterpillars becoming butterflies through the process of metamorphosis; he/she may instead insist that the caterpillars crawled away and butterflies came to replace them (Harris, 1986).


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

  • 7. Irreversibility: Difficulty recognizing that transformations can be undone, or reversed.

    Example: A child does not comprehend that subtraction is the reverse of (i.e., it “undoes”) addition. The child is therefore likely to learn 2 + 3 = 5 and 5 – 3 = 2 as two separate, unrelated number facts.


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Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

8. Single classification: An inability to classify an object as being a member of two categories at the same time.

  • Example: A child is shown 10 wooden beads, of which 8 are brown and 2 are white. When asked, “Are there more brown beads or more wooden beads?” the child says that there are more brown beads.

  • Example: A child denies that a mother can also be a teacher.


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