Cognitive Perspective

In the cognitive developmental perspective, we will discuss three approaches related with cognitive
development. They are: 

  • Piagetian Approach or Cognitive Developmental Approach; 
  • Information-Processing Approach; and 
  • Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Approach


Piagetian Approach or Cognitive Developmental Approach

Famous cognitive psychologist, Jean Piaget proposed an important theory of cognitive development. This perspective focuses on how children construct their understanding of the world as they pass through four stages of cognitive development through assimilation (responding according to existing schemas) and accommodation (modifying a schema to fit new information). Each of these age-related stages consists of different ways of thinking. Each stage represents a fundamental change in how children understand and organize their environment. In Piaget’s words, it is said that ‘Children think differently from adults’. A child’s cognition is qualitatively different from one stage to another as shown in the following table: 

  1. By using the cognitive perspective, developmental researchers try to explain how children and adolescents process information and how their understandings affect their behaviour.
  2. The criticism levelled against Piagetian perspective is that his theory perceives cognitive development as discontinuous. 
  3. You have read how Piaget presented the four distinct stages in which the quality of cognition differs from one stage to the next. However, in the view of developmentalists, growth is considered as a continuous process. 
  4. They have put forward another perspective known as the information processing approach which we will discuss in the next paragraph. 

Information-Processing Approach 

Information-Processing approach traces the ways individuals manipulate information, monitor it and strategize about the information. 

As this approach is built from Piagetian research, it is also known as Neo-Piagetian approach. It explains how the thinking process of children develops through childhood and adolescence. Unlike children, adolescents develop a larger capacity for processing information enabling them acquire more complex knowledge. Like computers, human cognition also consists of mental hardware and mental software. Mental hardware consists of cognitive structures, including different memories where information is stored; whereas mental software includes organized sets of cognitive processes that assist individuals to complete specific tasks. 

For example, if a student wants to do well in an examination, s/he must encode the information during reading, store it in memory, and then retrieve the necessary information during the examination. Let us understand how this approach explains thinking process during childhood and adolescence stages. It is similar with the advancements made in personal computers. Compare the computers built a decade ago with that of modern computers. The modern computers have better hardware and software. Likewise, older children and adolescents have better hardware and better software. You may get more vividness when you observe that older children easily solve mathematics problems better than younger children who rely more on calculators. An important aspect of development is to learn good strategies for processing information. 

Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Approach 

The goal of developmental cognitive neuroscience is to know how brain function gives rise to mental processes such as logical thinking, reasoning, and vision. This approach looks at cognitive development through the lens of brain processes. ‘Developmental cognitive neuroscience is an interdisciplinary scientific field devoted to understanding psychological processes and their neurological bases in the developing organism. It examines how the mind changes as children grow up, interrelations between that and how the brain is changing, and environmental and biological influences on the developing mind and brain’ (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). The two main principles around which this approach revolves on are: 

  1. Different information-processing operations are performed at different brain areas; and 
  2. A cognitive performance consists of breaking down the overall task into component information processing activities and determining the area of brain that performs the activity. 

From the above principles, we may notice a brain-based approach in studying the mental operations. This approach has taken into account the neurological activity that underlies thinking, reasoning and other cognitive behaviour. 

For example, consider the interrelation between motor skills and visual-motor coordination that requires high cognitive functions which attains maturity by late adolescence. We see children suffering from Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a developmental disorder that affects both cognitive and motor functioning. In many children with cognitive developmental disorders, movement deficits are evident. More research is underway on dyslexia, specific language disorder and autism. Interaction of genetic and environmental factors during development is another area of concern of developmental cognitive neuroscience psychologists. Thus, this approach studies how the physical brain and nervous system along with other intangible factors lead to patterns of thought and behaviour. When we go through the Piagetian information processing and developmental cognitive neuroscience approaches, we may see that they do not take into account the socio-cultural context in which development takes place.

Socio-Cultural Perspective 

Socio-cultural perspective emphasizes the role of culture and social interaction in the process of child development. Lev Vygotsky, the propounder of socio-cultural perspective, focuses that a child’s thinking does not develop in a vacuum but rather is influenced by the sociocultural context in which s/he grows up. 

Vygotsky believed that the development of memory, attention and reasoning includes learning to use the language, mathematical systems and memory strategies that is prevalent in a society. Thus, it is clear that each culture provides its members with certain tools of thought. The ways in which individuals in various cultures passed information to posterity is embodied in various languages; thereby shape thoughts. Hence we may say that thinking varies across social and historical contexts. 

The collaborative strategy that is used in classrooms with which you are familiar is developed from this socio-cultural perspective. In this strategy, knowledge is not generated from within the individual but rather is constructed through interaction with other people who have different thought processes and who belong to various cultures. When Piaget considered children as independent explorers, Vygotsky tended to see them as social beings who develop their minds through their interactions with parents, teachers, and others as scaffold.

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