Cognitive Development

OBJECTIVES: This lecture is designed to enable you to:

  1. discuss some of the basic characteristics of Piaget's theory of cognitive development.
  2. discuss some of the basic characteristics of Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development.
  3. Discuss the similarities and differences between Piaget's and Vygotsky's approaches to cogntive development.

  1. Piaget -- viewed cognitive development from biological perspective. Proposed that two major principles operate in intellectual growth and development: adaptation and organization.

    1. Adaptation -- Piaget believed that humans desire a state of cognitive balance or equilibration. When the child experiences cognitive conflict (a discrepancy between what the child believes the state of the world to be and what s/he is experiencing) adaptation is achieved through assimilation or accommodation.

      1. Assimilation involves incorporating new information into previously existing structures or schema (e.g., a child encounters a Dalmatian for the first time and incorporates Dalmatians into her existing schema for "dogs").

      2. Accommodation involves the formation of new mental structures or schema when new information does not fit into existing structures (e.g., a child encounters a skunk for the first time and learns that it is different from "dogs" and "cats." She must create new representation for "skunks").

    2. Organization refers to the mind's natural tendency to organize information into related, interconnected structures. The most basic structure is the scheme.

    3. Stages of Development -- Piaget proposed four stages of cognitive development: the sensorimotor period (0-2 yrs); the preoperational period (2-7yrs); concrete operational period (7-11 yrs); formal operations (11-15 yrs). See the text (Solso, 1995) for further review.

    4. Piaget maintains that development precedes learning. Development is stimulated by cognitive conflict.

  2. Vygotsky -- Russian psychologist, contemporary of Piaget. Theoretical questions:

    1. How is information from the external world transformed and internalized?

      1. Second Signal System -- Vygotsky believed that we encode and represent our world through language.

        1. Language is a symbolic system by which we communicate.

        2. Language is a cultural tool. History and culture are transmitted through language.

        3. Our thoughts are based on language -- "inner speech"

      2. Social Interaction plays an important role in the transformation and internalization processes.

        1. social plane -- Vygotsky argued that development first takes place on a social plane. The child observes the parents' behavior, listens to the parents' speech, and tries to imitate. The parents guide the child in his/her efforts, making corrections when needed and providing greater challenges when appropriate.

        2. internal plane -- as the child becomes more competent information becomes internalized. For example, language is now represented in the mind as thought or inner speech.

    2. Vygotsky also was interested in human intellectual development.

      1. Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) -- " the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with a more capable peer" (in Bruner, 1986, p. 13).

        1. Scaffolding -- the process of guiding the learner from what is presently known to what is to be known. This occurs in the ZPD. The more competent person supports the learner in their endeavor to reach the new level of development.

        2. In contrast to Piaget, Vygotsky believed that instruction precedes development. Instruction leads the learner into the ZPD.

      2. What is the role of language in cognitive development? Vygotsky believed that language has two purposes: communication and regulation:

        1. Communication is important in the transmission of culture and history between individuals.

        2. Regulation refers to one's control over one's own cognitive processes (e.g., thoughts, memory, etc.) A goal of development is to make the transition from being other-regulated to becoming self-regulated.

  3. Some Differences Between Vygotsky and Piaget

    1. Progression of Development

      1. Piaget believed that development proceeds from the individual to the social world. Egocentric speech suggests that the child is self-centered and unable to consider the point-of-view of others. Piaget also maintains that development precedes learning.

      2. Vygotsky believed that development begins at the social level and moves towards individual internalization. Egocentric speech is seen as a transition between the child's learning language in a social communicative context, and attempting to internalize it as "private" or "inner speech" (i.e., thoughts). For Vygotsky, learning precedes development.

      3. Both agree that development may be initiated by cognitive conflict.

      4. Like Piaget, Vygotsky believed that children's egocentric speech was an important part of their cognitive development. The two differed in how they viewed the purpose of egocentric speech.


Bruner, J. (1986).

Solso, R. L. (1995). Cognitive psychology (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Top of This Page
List of Lecture Outlines
CEP 564 Web Page
CEP 564 Schedule
CEP 566 Assignments & Projects
CEP 564 Web Sites