Research Paper: Paiget Theory
A new approach to the theory of intellectual development was born in the1920’s out of Jean Piaget’s research into the structures and functions of intelligence. Up to that time the Behaviorist viewpoint, which dealt with content, in terms of how much information children could lead by rote, rather than with the structure of intelligence as a function of age, had been prevalent. Six Psychological Studies encompasses the heart of Piaget’s philosophy as to how children construct their knowledge. Books that present detailed summaries, clarification, and confirmation of Piaget’s framework include Herbert Ginsburg and Sylvia Opper’s Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Development and Barry Wadsworth’s Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive and Affective Development. Piaget suggested that children’s thinking was a qualitatively different process to that of adults and that, “in estimating the child’s conception of the world the first question, obviously, is to decide whether external reality is as external and objective for the child as it is for us”.
He postulated that, as the individual evolved through the human growth process, so the variable affective and intellectual psychological structures evolved, in an invariant age-related sequence. Ginsburg and Opper, in Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Development, wrote: “Intellectual development proceeds through a series of stages with each stage characterized by a different kind psychological structure and a different type of interaction between the individual and the environment”. Thus each new experience to which children are exposed provides opportunities for cognitive growth.
This cognitive growth is achieved through the processes of assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is the integration of external elements and it involves structuring or restricting every cognitive encounter into the existing cognitive organization. Schemata are the cognitive structures of the mind which each individual uses to adapt and organize the environment. When confronted with a stimulus, the child tries to fit it into existing schemata. When the concept to which the individual is exposed is integrated into existing schemata, there can be refinement, and schemata gradually become more differentiated as they mature.
When the new stimulus does not fit into existing schemata, then accommodation takes place. The individual can either adapt an existing concept or create a new schema into which to place the stimuli. Thus accommodation is a structural change that involves the development of new cognitive structures. When these complementary functions of assimilation and accommodation that lead to cognitive growth and development are in balance, equilibrium occurs.
According to Piaget: “Ail behaviors tend towards assuring an equilibrium between internal and external factors or, speaking more generally, between assimilation and accommodation”. Writing in Six Psychological Studies. Piaget compared physical growth and mental growth, suggesting that, just as the human body grows to maturity, “so mental life can be conceived as evolving toward a final form of equilibrium represented by the adult mind. When there is an imbalance between the experiencing of a new stimulus and the existing cognitive structure then disequilibrium will occur. The process by which the individual moves from disequilibrium to equilibrium is called equilibration.