Infant cognitive development
Infant cognitive development is the study of how psychological processes involved in thinking and knowing develop in young children. Information is acquired in a number of ways including through sight, sound, touch, taste, smell and language, all of which require processing by our cognitive system.
Scientific investigation in this field has its origin in the first half of the 20th century, an early and influential theory in this field is Jean Piaget's Theory of cognitive development. Since Piaget's contribution to the field, infant cognitive development and methods for its investigation have advanced considerably—for example Neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Jean Piaget
- 3 Lev Vygotsky
- 4 The Development of Mental Processes
- 5 Further reading
- 6 References
Tabula rasa is a theory that the (human) mind is at birth a "blank slate" without any rules for processing data, that data is added and rules for processing it are formed solely by one's sensory experiences. The modern idea of the theory is mostly attributed to John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, written in the 17th century.
Its corollary, nativism, argues that we are born with certain cognitive modules that allow us to learn and acquire certain skills, such as language, (for example the theory of Universal Grammar, the theory that the 'programming' for grammar is hardwired in the brain) and is most associated with the recent work of Noam Chomsky, Jerry Fodor, and Steven Pinker.
If one accepts that nothing is known until learned, and that everyone shares a basic common sense, it appears infants must—to some degree—make some specific ontological inferences about how the world works, and what kinds of things it contains. This procedure is studied in psychology and its validity is studied in philosophy.
We acquire these ordinary [Common sense] beliefs at an early age and we take them for granted in everyday life; ... Then, because we are also self-reflective creatures, we turn back on our commonsense assumptions and find them to be more puzzling and problematic than we had bargained for. The concepts we habitually employ raise the kinds of disturbing questions we call philosophical'.
Through observations of children, Jean Piaget established a theory of cognitive development. According to Piaget's theory of cognitive development there are four stages of cognitive development.
- Sensorimotor Stage (Birth to 24 Months)
- Preoperational Stage (24 Months to 7 Years)
- Concrete Operational Stage (7 Years to 12 Years)
- Formal Operational Stage (12 Years and Up)
Infant cognitive development occurs in the Sensorimotor stage which starts at birth and extends until the infant is about 2 years of age. The sensorimotor stage is made up of six sub-stages.
|Stage 1 – Reflexes||Birth to 6 weeks|
|Stage 2 – Primary Circular Reactions||6 weeks to 4 months|
|Stage 3 – Secondary Circular Reactions||4 months to 8 months|
|Stage 4 – Coordination of Secondary Circular Reactions||8 months to 12 months|
|Stage 5 – Tertiary Circular Reactions||12 months to 18 months|
|Stage 6 – Mental Representation||18 months to 24 months|
Lev Vygotsky was also very influential in cognitive development theory. His theory included the Zone of proximal development. Vygotsky also believed that social and cultural factors contributed heavily to cognitive development.
The Development of Mental Processes
The development of memory in children becomes evident within the first 2 to 3 years of a child's life as they show considerable advances in declarative memory. This enhancement continues into adolescence with major developments in short term memory, working memory, long term memory and autobiographical memory.
Research on the development of memory has indicated that declarative, or explicit memory, may exist in infants who are even younger than two years old. For example, newborns who are less than 3 days old demonstrate a preference for their mother’s own voice.
Attribution of Causality
The perception of causality was initially studied by Albert Michotte where he presented adults with animated images of moving balls. By manipulating the direction and timing of the moving balls (spatial and temporal dimensions) he was able to influence participants’ perception of causality. There is contradicting evidence on whether causal perception is innate and present at birth or whether it is a result of perception development. Through research with very young infants, many studies have shown support for the theory that humans are born with the mechanisms needed for the perception of causality . Recent research has even shown this ability in newborns only a few hours old. However, other studies have shown similar results received by Michotte (1976) in infants as young as 6 months, but not younger . These studies support a more developmental progression of abilities required for the perception of causality.
Object permanence is the understanding that an object continues to exist, even when one cannot see it or touch it. It is an important milestone in the stages of cognitive development for infants. Numerous tests regarding it have been done, usually involving a toy and a crude barrier which is placed in front of the toy, and then removed repeatedly (peekaboo). In early sensorimotor stages, the infant is completely unable to comprehend object permanence. Psychologist Jean Piaget conducted experiments with infants which led him to conclude that this awareness was typically achieved at eight to nine months of age. Infants before this age are too young to understand object permanence, which explains why infants at this age do not cry when their mothers are gone – "Out of sight, out of mind". A lack of object permanence can lead to A-not-B errors, where children look for an object at the location where they first discovered it rather than where they have just seen it placed.
Largely thanks to the innovative strategies developed by Renee Baillargeon and her colleagues, considerable knowledge has been gained in the about how young infants come to understand natural physical laws. Much of this research depends on carefully observing when infants react as if events are unexpected. For example, if an infant sees an object that appears to be suspended in mid-air, and behaves as if this is unexpected, then this suggests that the infant has an understanding that things usually fall if they are not supported. Baillargeon and her colleagues have contributed evidence, for example, about infants’ understanding of object permanence and their reasoning about hidden objects.
The most common technique used in research for testing self-awareness in infants is a mirror test known as the "Rouge Test". The rouge test works by applying a dot on an infant’s face and then placing them in front of the mirror. If the infant investigates the dot on their nose by touching it, they are thought to realize their own existence and have achieved self-awareness. A number of research studies have used this technique and shown self-awareness to develop between 15 and 24 months of age. Some researchers take language such as "I, me, my, etc." as an indicator of self-awareness.
|Stage 1 - Differentiation
|Right from birth infants are able to differentiate the self from the non-self. A study using the infant rooting reflex found that infants rooted significantly less from self-stimulation, contrary to when the stimulation came from the experimenter.|
|Stage 2 - Situation
(by 2 months)
|In addition to differentiation, infants at this stage can also situate themselves in relation to a model. In one experiment infants were able to imitate tongue orientation from an adult model. Additionally, another sign of the differentiation is when infants bring themselves into contact with objects by reaching for them.|
|Stage 3 - Identification
(by 2 years)
|At this stage the more common definition of "self-awareness" comes into play, where infants can identify themselves in a mirror through the "rouge test" as well as begin to use language to refer to themselves.|
|Stage 4 – Permanence||This stage occurs after infancy when children are aware that their sense of self continues to exist across both time and space.|
|Stage 5 – Self-consciousness or meta-self-awareness||This also occurs after infancy. This is the final stage when children can see themselves in 3rd person, or how they are perceived by others.|
Symbolic thought refers to the ability to use words, images, and other symbols to represent words or feelings. During the preoperational stage a child's capacity for symbolism increases, this is shown by their increase in language use during this stage. This can also be seen by the way children play with objects, a stick becomes a sword and a box becomes armor. Children in this stage still might not understand that a map represents a real place, and that a picture of food does not have a smell.
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