Introduction to Child Development

A great deal of criticism has also fallen on Piagets Formal operations stage. Research has shown that nearly half the adult population do not reach this stage as not everyone appears to be capable of abstract reasoning. “Piaget’s formal operations stage is tested by mathematical and scientific thinking with no measure for the more non-scientific fields such as art, history or practical problem solving.” (Papalia, Olds & Feldman, 1998).

It was demonstrated through Danner & Day’s research (1977), that a “training component can increase success on formal operational tasks. Therefore it is now thought that formal operational thinking is specific to domains in which we are either familiar with, trained in or domains which are important to us.” It has also been suggested by recent research that achievement of formal operational thinking is a much more “gradual and haphazard than Piaget assumed.” (Smith, Cowie & Blades, 4th Edn).

It has been noted that Piaget contributed enormously to the present day field of cognitive development. However several objections have been raised in relation to his methods. “He used a flexible method of interviewing children, the clinical method, which meant that he adapted his procedure to suit the children rather than following a standardised method.” (Santrock, 2002). This makes replications of the experiment difficult and questions the validity of the results. He has also been criticised for putting too much emphasis on the child’s failures rather than his successes. Many of his finding came from direct observation of his three children.

Not only was this a minute sample size, the three children were all from the same middle class background and environment and all were Swiss. This further questions the ecological validity and possibility of extrapolation in relation to his theory. In his defence however it can be seen that he “later used larger samples in his systematic and rigorous research and his experiments, though old fashioned in today’s terms, were ingenious for the times.” (Wadsworth, 1996). Neo-Piagetian’s emerged as a direct result of Piagets theories.

They believe that Piaget had some great ideas. However they argue that “a more accurate vision of the child’s cognitive development involves fewer references to grand stages and more emphasis on the role of strategies, skills, how fast and automatically children can process information, the task specific nature of children’s cognition, and the importance of dividing cognitive problems into smaller, more precise steps.” (Santrock, 2002).

The statement claiming “classical Piagetian theory is outdated and no longer useful” is untrue. Piaget’s theory has stood to be the cornerstone of cognitive development. His methods and to some extent his concepts have proved to be inaccurate but they have provided the first stepping stone on which new theorists can build and expand on said theories. Boden wrote that; “Piaget is vague and often wrong but he created a framework on which much has been built and he has contributed greatly to educational development and cognitive psychology.”

Piaget must be credited with providing a sound conceptual framework from which to view educational problems. Piaget focused primarily on development from a cognitive perspective. This may be seen as narrowed minded in our present world, where the notion of development has enlarged to include not only cognition but social, ecological, religious and environmental factors. However it is important to recognise that no one theory can possibly explain development in its entirety.

Piaget was one of the first developmentalists to get off the fence and make an attempt to ring fence development and place boundaries around it. He may not have been justified in doing so but he paved the path for others to criticise his theories which resulted in the new and improved theories we have today. Piaget contributed immensely to how we view development. Many of his basic concepts are still used in schools nationwide. Piagetian theory has laid the foundations for the psychologists of today; it will always be useful even if it is just stands as reminder of the mistakes we as psychologists have made in the past.


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Berger, K. S. (2005), The developing person through the life-span (6th ed), New York; Worth publishers.

Boden, M. (1988), Piaget (3rd Ed), London; Fontana press.

Davenport, G. C. (1992), An Introduction to Child Development (2nd Ed), Collins

Flavell, J. H. (1985), Cognitive Development (2nd Ed), New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Mussen, P. H, Conger, J. J, Kagan, J. & Huston, A. C. (1984), Child development and Personality (6th Ed), New York; Harper&Row.

Passer, M. W. & Smith, R. E. (2001), Psychology: Frontiers & Applications (1st Ed), New York; Mc Graw Hill.

Papalia, D. E. Olds, S. W. & Feldman R. D. (1998), Human development (7th Ed), Boston; Mc Graw Hill.

Santrock, J. W. (2002), Child development (6th Ed), Brown & Benchmark.

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