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Cognitive Development Theories and Their Evolution


This paper provides an in-depth analysis of the cognitive development concept with a lot of focus on the various theories of cognitive development, their evolution, and the associated developmental stages. In the modern theoretical aspect of cognitive development, it is suggestive that children begin their cognitive development with particular core principles that tend to change as well as get modified based on the children’s experience as they grow. This aspect is borrowed from the works of Piaget and Vygotsky on both environmental and biological factors that affect the cognitive growth of human beings. Therefore, it is evident that the concept of cognitive development continues to evolve.

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This essay provides insights into the human cognitive development domain. It is a domain that focuses on explaining human beings’ cognitive development in terms of skills evolution, acquisition, and use (Shaffer & Kipp, 2013). As such, the paper lays a lot of emphasis on the progress of the domain concerning various stages of development. Also, the paper provides an overview of the theories of cognitive development by discussing several theories to establish how the theories compare as well as their evolution over time.

Cognitive Development Theories

Several theories have laid the foundation for the understanding of cognitive development of human beings such as Vygotsky’s theory, Piaget’s theory among others (Taylor, 2016). A review of the modern cognitive theories of development reveals that there is a need to understand how human beings develop their cognitive skills over time (Shaffer & Kipp, 2013). The theory of cognitive development presented by Piaget provides the basis for the understanding of how human beings develop cognitively. However, Vygotsky as well has considerably contributed to the field of cognitive development.

Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development

One of the basic beliefs of Vygotsky was that the social community’s knowledge affects the way children think. Based on this belief, Vygotsky pointed out that language plays a significant role in the achievement of social knowledge. This theory is founded on the zone of proximal development, which according to Vygotsky is based on a child’s present level of development as well as their potential level of development. The first level in Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development focuses on the capability of a child to achieve various goals without any assistance (Shaffer & Kipp, 2013; Brubaker, 2016). The second level, on the other hand, describes the child’s ability to achieve various goals when assisted by other people.

Brubaker (2016) noted that Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development puts a lot of weight on the factors that influence the cognitive development of an individual. Based on this assertion, Taylor (2016) pointed out that the theory emphasizes on the significance of the sociocultural environment as well as its role in the developmental process of human beings. This theory sets the basis of the idea of scaffolding, through which one can understand the capabilities of a child to do things alone as well as when helped (Shaffer & Kipp, 2013).

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development describes four stages of development explaining the cognitive abilities through which human beings develop. The cognitive development theory by Piaget has been very instrumental in providing insights into the subject of human cognition development based on several stages (Taylor, 2016). According to Brubaker (2016), this theory has been used as a foundation by numerous other theorists of cognitive development. As such, Piaget contributed immensely to the understanding of human continuous progress from one less complex stage to a more complex one. This theory lays a lot of emphasis on the role of human biology in the development of an individual’s cognitive abilities.

Comparison of Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s cognitive theories of development

There are significant differences and similarities between the two theories described above. First, the works of Vygotsky and Piaget have been very instrumental in the provision of a better understanding of the concept of cognitive development. Nevertheless, the two theories differ in their approaches; for example, Vygotsky lays more emphasis on external factors that influence cognitive development in human beings while Piaget focusses on the biologically defined factors (White, Livesey, & Hayes, 2012). As such, the zone of proximal development explained by Vygotsky denotes environmentally-conditioned (non-biological) development in human beings. The theories of Piaget and Vygotsky though differ in approach; they focus on providing similar knowledge as far as the concept of cognitive human development is concerned.

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Evolution of the theories

The initial focus of researches in cognitive development was on examination of factors that hurt the development of children’s intelligence. According to Taylor (2016), such an approach was common in the middle of the last century following the discovery of a constructivist turn pioneered by Jean Piaget. The work of Piaget on cognitive development formed the basis for the developmental psychology domain as it described various stages through which human beings develop their cognitive abilities.

As such, Piaget’s theory set the pace for other theories that were postulated later. For instance, Fisher’s skill theory evolved from Piaget’s theory as it focuses on the explanation of sensorimotor, representational, and abstract aspects concerning various levels of development (Taylor, 2016). Also, Vygotsky’s theory has a great percentage of bearing on Piaget’s theory. However, this study diverts its focus from biology-related factors of cognitive development to explain the environmental factors. Such development can be seen in the modern perspective of the cognitive development domain.

Developmental stages of cognitive development

The developmental stages of cognitive development are considered in the form of the stages stated in Piaget’s theory of development as discussed below.

Stage 1: Infancy

Infancy is the period from birth to about 48 months and is correlated with the sensorimotor stage. According to Brubaker (2016), this stage involves the development of certain simple reflexes within the human body before the extension of the environment. Such development is aimed at having control over any actions driven by the outcome.

Stage 2: Pre-operational Stage

This stage starts after a child is two years old. It is characteristic of the development of imagination, memory as well as intelligence (Taylor, 2016). Despite this, children in this stage do not have egocentricity and logic until they reach the concrete operational stage.

Stage 3: Concrete operational stage

This stage considers the development of human beings’ cognitive abilities between seven and eleven years. During this stage, children exercise high levels of mental operational thinking concerning the development of subjective morality and use in real events, objects, and concrete problems (Brubaker, 2016).

Stage 4: Operational Stage

The last stage can be traced through children’s adolescence to their adulthood and takes into consideration the use of logical symbols, development of hypothesis as well as abstract thought.

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From the foregoing, it is evident that Vygotsky’s and Piaget’s theories have been instrumental in understanding the concept of cognitive development. Both theories complement each other as Vygotsky diverted the attention of stage-based development by focusing on environmental factors that influence cognitive development in human beings. Based on the analysis above, it is evident that the evolution of cognitive development remains progressive. This explains why there is a need for more studies to provide more insights into the concept of human cognitive development.


Brubaker, J. (2016). Cognitive Development Theory. In C. Shehan & D. Duncan (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell encyclopedia of family studies (pp. 1-5). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell.

Shaffer, D., & Kipp, K. (2013). Developmental psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Taylor, K. (2016). Diverse and Critical Perspectives on Cognitive Development Theory. New Directions For Student Services, 2016(154), 29-41. Web.

White, F., Livesey, D., & Hayes, B. (2012). Developmental Psychology: From Infancy to Development. New York, NY: Pearson Higher Education.

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