Numerous theories explain the process of cognitive development from childhood to adulthood. However, the Piaget and Vygotsky’s theories are the two main works that have dominated this field. The theories have formed a framework for which modern research on the topic is based as scholars seek to unearth the truth in the various concepts highlighted by the two psychologists. Piaget bases his argument on four stages of development where he describes what transpires in each phase. On the other hand, Vygotsky bases his argument on the cultural and social interactions to explain the process of cognitive development. This paper explores the main theories on the topic and analyzes the major similarities and differences.
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Cognitive development refers to the systematic acquisition of intelligence, knowledge, and problem-solving tactics that starts during infancy and continues through adulthood. The most influential theories that have shaped the peoples’ understanding of the topic are the Piaget and the Vygotsky’s theories (Carpendale & Lewis, 2006). The two theories explore the process of knowledge acquisition among infants even though the arguments presented by each theory vary greatly. The theories have undergone evolution as modern scholars embark on practical research to verify the concepts outlined by the two psychologists. This research paper explores the two theories by highlighting their main similarities and differences to gain insight into the major concepts described by their developers.
The Piaget’s theory of cognitive development
Jean Piaget, a French psychologist, developed this theory in 1952 to explain the process of cognitive development (Pass, 2007). In the theory, Piaget argues that children acquire intelligence in four critical phases with each stage being marked by certain developmental activities. The theory highlights the following four major stages of cognitive development in children.
The Sensorimotor Stage
This stage is characterized by the recognition of the reality by the kid and it occurs between zero and two years of age (Tryphon & Vonèche, 2013). In this phase, a child encounters the environment and starts accepting its various aspects. Often, at the early stages, the motions and actions undertaken by the child are of trial and error nature. However, at the mastery level, the activities become intentional as opposed to trial and error.
The Preoperational Period
At this stage, children have already realized the reality side of nature having passed through the previous phase. The child now tends to engage in pretend play albeit he/she has difficulties adopting the viewpoint of other people with whom he/she relates. This stage occurs between two and seven years, and even though the child cannot conceptualize abstractly, he/she can comfortably play different games. Towards the end of this phase, the child is confident about his/her abilities, and he/she can perform various childhood activities independently (Pinter, 2006). At the late stages of this phase, children can handle games with rules as opposed to easy games at the start.
The Concrete Operational Stage
In this stage, a child begins to think more logically, and he/she tends to view life from other peoples’ perspectives. Children can now understand the feelings of others. Besides, they appreciate that their thinking is unique. At this stage, a child can share his/her ideas with other people and listen to suggestions. The child now starts recognizing the uniqueness of everyone’s mind and the difference in opinions among different people.
The Formal Operational Stage
The development of logical thoughts and enhanced reasoning characterize this stage. In this stage, a child starts viewing life more positively and he/she can offer scientific explanations for various phenomena. Additionally, the child can now offer viable solutions to problems.
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The Vygotsky’s Theory of Cognitive Development
This theory is premised on the assumption that knowledge is passed from adults to children through social interactions. The theorist argues that a child acquires knowledge through the interaction with experienced persons such as teachers or other older groups of people. As opposed to the Piaget’s theory that does not emphasize on communication, Vygotsky insists that communication is essential.
Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding
Under this concept, Vygotsky argues that kids need assistance from adults to develop a particular set of skills that they initiate independently. For example, a child may develop a set of sounds before he/she can speak fluently. In such a case, assistance or scaffolding from an adult is essential to guide the child through the sounds (Pass, 2007). The assistance may be availed through the development of pictures and sounds similar to the ones discovered by the child.
Vygotsky emphasized the role of language in the development process and argued that a common language would enhance the passage of knowledge. The theory outlines the following three levels of communication:
- Private Speech
- Social Speech
- Silent Inner Speech
According to the theory, social expression denotes communication between the kid and other people in society in which the child resides. Such communication is demonstrated as essential when the child attains the age of 2 years (Pinter, 2006). On the other hand, private speech refers to inner communication that is usually directed to oneself, but the audience can still hear it. The communication mode develops upon attainment of three years. Lastly, the silent inner speech refers to an inner voice directed to oneself, and it is usually inaudible.
Imaginative play refers to the tendency of a child to mock adults and pretend to be acting in their capacities. According to Vygotsky, such mockery helps kids develop a sense of life and unravel the meaning of the world around them.
Differences between the theories
Interaction with adults vs. peers
Piaget recognizes the need for kids to interact with peers, and he asserts that children tend to acquire intelligence faster when interacting with age-mates as opposed to similar interactions with adults (Tryphon & Vonèche, 2013). Piaget alleged that the interaction between kids and adults was immaterial to cognitive development since a child could not skip any stage of development. However, his counterpart, Vygotsky, advocates for the interaction with adults. He claims that children stand to gain a lot from interacting with older people. Vygotsky premised his claims on the view that adults have more knowledge as compared to the kids. Therefore, knowledge is quickly passed to the child through such interactions.
Another difference between the two theories is how each theorist presents his school of thought. Piaget identifies four stages of cognitive development. He asserts that the development of knowledge must align with the defined stages. Piaget states that children acquire knowledge independently through interaction with the environment. On the other hand, Vygotsky emphasizes the need for guidance by adults to facilitate the transfer of intelligence.
Similarities in the theories
The two theories differ on the extent to which knowledge is acquired through interaction with nature. However, they both agree that knowledge is acquired through the interaction with the environment. Piaget argues that children gain knowledge through interaction with peers and the environment at large with the only limitation to such acquisition being the age. Vygotsky also concedes that knowledge is acquired through interaction with adults and the environment in general.
Speed of acquisition
The other similarity that is evident in the theories is the idea that the extent of cognitive development differs with age. Both tend to agree that the development is faster in childhood than in adulthood. Moreover, they both agree that conflicts present an opportunity for the children to develop their knowledge as they seek solutions to problems that present in the course of their development.
Evolution of the Theories
The two theories have undergone evolution as the theorists, and other scholars seek to offer better explanations regarding cognitive development. Piaget improved the theory by observing kids as they developed and gained intelligence. Modern scholars have indulged in research to verify the concepts outlined by the theorists. The two theories form the framework on which contemporary research is established with psychologists making their inputs in favor of either the theories or their opposition. Modern researchers have made significant contributions as they try to verify the concepts contained in the two theories. Contemporary researchers use laboratory research to prove their findings and criticize the theories. For example, a recent study found that children tend to acquire intelligence through the memorization of ideas (Pass, 2007). None of the two theories recognizes memorization as a way of intelligence acquisition.
Cognitive development is a continuous process that starts right from birth and continues through adulthood. Various researchers have engaged in research to unravel what transpires during a child’s development. The two main theories that seek to explain the development process are the Piaget and the Vygotsky’s theories. The two theories have similarities as well as differences that surface in the way each views the developmental process. Both theorists agree that the acquisition of knowledge occurs due to the interaction with nature. However, while Piaget breaks down the developmental process into four stages, Vygotsky asserts that knowledge acquisition is not restricted to age but the kid’s background.
Pinter, A. (2006). Teaching young language learners. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Tryphon, A., & Vonèche, J. (2013). Piaget Vygotsky: The Social Genesis Of Thought. East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press.
Carpendale, J., & Lewis, C. (2006). How children develop social understanding. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
Pass, S. (2007). When constructivists Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky were pedagogical collaborators: A viewpoint from a study of their communications. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 20(3), 277-282.
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