Jean Piaget and Sigmund Freud's Concept on Psychological Development from Birth to Adulthood

Published: 2021-09-22 22:25:10
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Childhood development is something that has been studied profusely as long as the idea has existed that what occurs as a child has a direct effect on what kind of adult that individual will turn into. This is of great importance for the simple fact that most of the population wants certain types of people in society at the same time that they want to exclude other types of individuals. For example, most people would agree that an individual who is trustworthy, ambitious, and has a high moral code would be an asset to the population. On the other hand, almost everyone would say that a serial killer is an extreme detriment to society. Studies show that events that happen throughout the course of a childhood can contribute to the likelihood that an individual will turn out in either of these ways. The following paragraphs will examine cognitive development theory before delving into two leading theorists’ views on the subject.
At its most base level, cognitive developmental theories seek to explain how and why humans are able to become smarter and more educated throughout their lives. (Demetriou and Raftopoulos 2005) Theories focus on how humans use experiences and apply their knowledge to other, new experiences. The basic premise of any cognitive developmental theory is that humans become smarter and more capable of complex thinking patterns and interactions throughout their childhood and adolescence.Two of the leading developmental theorists are Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. While they agree on certain aspects, they also disagree on many others. At the base of their arguments, the differences can be likened to the nature vs. nurture argument. While Piaget believes that it is the structure of the brain that ultimately dictates how an individual learns and cognitively develops, Vygotsky believes that it is primarily based on social processes of learning. (Demetriou and Raftopoulos 2005) While Vygotsky obviously acknowledges that the structure of the brain and the biological reactions and functions play their part in allowing information to be processed, he believes that how it is processed is a social activity. Vygotsky backs up his theory citing the existence of various languages and cultural influences. For example, once a child learns a language, they will think about things and process information in that language. The influence of cultural variants becomes even more obvious when one thinks of the fact that certain languages have words and phrases that do not have a direct or accurate translation into other languages.
However, even though these theories seem very different, they are also somewhat similar. Even though each theory favors one side of the argument, both theorists acknowledge the influence of both biology and the environment on development. For example, one cannot deny the effect that a biological learning disorder such as ADHD has on a child’s development. Conversely, an abusive family environment has extremely adverse impacts on a child’s development as well. There is a wealth of scientific evidence for each school of thought. (Demetriou and Raftopoulos 2005) Learning is a factor of both social and biological influences. Both Piaget and Vygotsky also understand the importance of inputs to the development process. Piaget seems to emphasize that it is how the inputs are processed that matters while Vygotsky believes that it is the inputs themselves that influence how a child develops. In both theories, however, inputs are vital to the entire process.
Vygotsky’s theory does not have stages of development. Rather, he emphasizes that cognitive development is a continual social learning process. One difference from Piaget’s theory that can be likened to stages is that while Piaget believes that cognitive development must precede learning of any sort, Vygotsky believes that social learning is constantly occurring, and thus comes before cognitive development happens. (Demetriou and Raftopoulos 2005) Piaget’s theory, on the other hand, has several stages that he explains in detail. The sensori-motor stage occurs from birth to two years of age. During this period, the young infant recognizes themselves from objects. This is somewhat akin to self-awareness. Also, the infant will recognize that certain causes have effects and that they can cause certain effects. For example, when a baby shakes a rattle, they expect it to make noise through experience. Finally, the child will also realize object permanence. That is, things exist in their absence.
The next stage is the pre-operational stage. This stage lasts from two to seven years of age typically. This stage is characterized by the individual learning to use words and images that represent physical objects. However, the viewpoint of the child is still extremely egocentric in that they can’t typically see things from any perspective besides their own. Furthermore, their thinking is still base in that they group together items by one or few characteristics. For example, they would group together all types of water bottles in one category regardless of brand or shape. (Gholson and Rosenthal 1984)
The next stage is the concrete operational stage. This is when the child starts to think logically about things and occurs when the child is seven to eleven years old. This is also when the child is supposed to develop conservation of number. Conservation of number is the concept that basically when things are rearranged, they do not change in amount. (Gholson and Rosenthal 1984) For example, if there is a row of three red chips and a row of three white chips and they are spaced equally, the child will recognize that there are the same number of red and white chips. If someone spaces out the white chips further apart, the child without conservation of number may believe that there are now more white chips than red.
The final stage in Piaget’s developmental theory is the formal operational stage. This occurs from the age of eleven years old on. This period is characterized by the child gaining the ability to test his/her own hypotheses in a systematic manner as well as think about abstract ideas. The child now also becomes concerned with the future and hypothetical situations. (Gholson and Rosenthal 1984)
Each theory has different repercussions in the classroom. Piaget’s theory can be utilized as a tracking mechanism to notice when children are hitting developmental milestones. Children who are ahead of their peers can be identified as gifted earlier in life and can be enlisted in honors programs to nurture their abilities. Conversely, children who are falling behind can be given special treatment to ensure they catch up.
Vygotsky’s developmental theory focuses more on the classroom environment. Because Vygotsky’s theory places such a high importance on socialization processes, the social environment of the classroom is deemed to have a direct effect on how the child develops. This means that the teacher must make sure to cultivate an atmosphere where the children will be correctly socialized with their peers. The social environment must also be one of learning and development. (Gholson and Rosenthal 1984)
Cognitive developmental theories are key to understanding how children should be educated. The primary difficulty lies in deciding which cognitive developmental theory is the most beneficial. Obviously, both of the theories discussed have their merits and have scientific support so either can manifest their own advantages in the classroom.

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