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Three Cognitive Theories: Bruner, Piaget, and Vygotsky
Psychology of Learning
Chapter 7

Principle interests are with higher mental functions – perception (how physical energies are translated into meaningful experiences), concept formation, memory, language, thinking, problem solving, and decision making.
Shift from emphasis on animal research to renewed emphasis on human research.
Principle goal is to make plausible and useful inferences about the mental processes that intervene between input and output, what we think of as meaning.
Less ambitious in scope than behaviorism; emphasis on intensive research in specific areas rather than on the construction of general systems.
Main metaphor of cognitive psychology is information processing.

Bruner’s Learning Theory
Evolution of the brain – humans would easily have been dominated had it not been for their intellect; no better solution to one’s environment than the brain.
Evolution of mental representation
inventions and mental evolution
devices that could amplify their motor capacities
Devices that could amplify sensory capacities
Devices that could amplify intellectual capacities
evolution of representation in children
Enactive representation –children represent objects through their own immediate sensations of them.
Iconic representation –children use mental images that stand for certain objects or events.
Symbolic representation – completely arbitrary symbols used to represent objects.

Bruner’s Theory of Representation: Categorization
All human cognitive activity involves categories, structures through which inferences can be made.
concept – representation of related things
percept – physical thing apprehended through senses.
Categories can be compared to the cell assemblies and phase sequences of Hebb’s theory.
Categories are based on associations developed largely through frequency or redundancy.
Categorization is closely tied to similarity; objects tend to be placed in the same categories based on the similarities among them.

Categories as Rules

Rules for categorizing
A category is defined by criterial attributes.
A category specifies the attributes that are criterial and indicates the manner in which they are to be combined.
A category assigns weight to various properties.
A category sets acceptance limits on attributes
Decisions are made about identities of stimulus inputs; all input is classified in relation to categories that already exist.

Decision Making
To identify an object is to make a decision about whether it belongs to a given category.

Once an object is placed in a category, there is inherent in the category a decision about how the object should be reacted to.
Coding Systems
Coding systems are related categories on which inferences about new information is based.

Hierarchical arrangements of related categories, such that the topmost category is more general.

Details of a specific instance can be re-created, and the transfer value of coding systems results

Concept Attainment
types of concepts
Conjunctive concepts: presence of two or more attribute values.

Disjunctive concepts: the joint presence of two or more attributes or by the presence of any one of the relevant attributes.

Relational concepts: a specified relationship between attribute values.

Strategies for Concept Attainment
Simultaneous scanning
Successive scanning
Conservative focusing
Focus gambling

Recent Research
Developmental trends in concept learning
Children tend to learn nouns and related concepts before verbs.
Children start by learning concepts of intermediate generality, then learn learning those that are more specific and more general, later.
Category boundaries
Items or events that are included in the same category are not all equivalent, even though they may be reacted to as though they were.
Categories are not always well defined, and the definitions that exist may be somewhat arbitrary and individualistic.
Abstraction is the idea that even objects cannot be sensed directly.
prototype model, or generalized model – developing a generalized notion of the most typical or representative features of a concept based on repetitive exposure to related objects.
exemplar model –comparing new objects to other examples that define the concept; requires less abstraction than the prototype model

Educational Implications
Advocates a discovery oriented approach in schools
Advocates use of spiral curriculum
Promotes a constructivist approach to teaching
Conceptual change movement in education
Ongoing debate with reception learning

Scientific criteria:
Clear and understandable
internally consistent
not useful in forming predictions and explaining specific behaviors, but are useful in explaining higher mental processes such as decision making and the use of cognitive strategies
Major contribution is its primary role in the cognitive revolution
Goal of establishing meaning as the central concept of psychology
Emphasis changed from constructing meaning to processing information.

Jean Piaget: A Developmental-Cognitive Position
Zoology’s questions:
Which properties of organisms allow them to survive?
How can species be classified?
Directed toward development of children:
What characteristics of children enable them to adapt to their environment?
What is the simplest, most accurate, and most useful way of classifying child development?
Piaget’s theoretical orientation is biological, evolutionary, and cognitive.
Human development is a process of adaptation, and the highest form of adaptation is cognition or knowing (Glasersfeld, 1997).

The Methode Clinique
The Methode Clinique is a semi-structured interview technique in which subjects’ answers to questions determine what the next question will be; questions are not predetermined.
requires that the interviewer listen while letting the child talk
requires that the interviewer go where the child’s explanations and questions lead
offers considerable flexility
Used in the Hawthorne Effect studies

Assimilation and Accommodation: the Processes of Adaptation
Assimilation involves responding to situations using activities or knowledge that have already been learned or that are present at birth.
Accommodation involves changes in understanding
The interplay of assimilation and accommodation leads to adaptation.
Equilibration is the processes or tendencies that lead to balance in development

Play is the process of continually assimilating objects to predetermined activities, ignoring attributes that don’t really fit the activity; involves little change and thus little accommodation.
stages of play:
before 3 years: children have no idea that rules exist and pay according to none
by 5 years: children believe that rules are eternal and unchangeable, but they change them constantly as they play
ages 6 to 12: children realize that rules are made by people and can be changed, but they become rigid in their adherence to them
by 11 or 12: children arrive at a complete understanding of rules; both in behavior and thought, they accept rules as completely modifiable.

Imitation is primarily accommodation.
Through imitation of activity, children’s repertoires of behaviors expand and gradually begin to be internalized.
Internalization involves the formation of mental concepts; the process by which activities and events in the real world become represented mentally.
Thus, first comes activity, then comes its mental representation.
object concept: the infant’s world of the here and now; explanation for why imitation in infants doesn’t persist beyond the presence of the model.
deferred imitation: the ability to imitate things and people not immediately present
evidence that the infant has internalized a representation of that which is imitated
evidence that infant has begun to realize that things continue to exist on their own even when out of sensory range; evidence of the object concept

Intelligence is the property of activity that is reflected in maximally adaptive behavior and can thus be understood as the entire process of adapting.
Instead of a relatively fixed quality or quantity, intelligence is mobile.
Mental and physical action are the basis of Piaget’s theory.
Adaptation is the process of interacting with the environment by assimilating aspects of it to cognitive structure and by modifying (or accommodating) aspects of cognitive structure to it.
Cognitive structure: a description of characteristics of children at different ages or stages of human cognitive development; has implications for developing tests of intelligence.

Sensorimotor Development: Birth to 2 years
Absence of language and of internal representation
The object concept = a realization of the permanence of objects
Before 1 year, children show no signs of missing an object that they are interested in after it is removed.
At about 1 year, children will look for objects they have seen being hidden.
Exercising reflexes
At birth, infants are capable of simple reflexive acts.
Five more substages outline additional acts such as coordination of separate activities, evolution of language, etc.

Preoperational Thinking: 2 to 7 Years
preconceptual thinking: 2 to 4 years
inability to understand all the properties of classes.
reacting to all similar objects as though they are identical.
Transductional thinking rather than inductive or deductive.

intuitive thinking: 4 to 7 years
Transductional thinking stops and becomes more logical or intuitive
lack of conservation: easily misled by appearance (perception) of different quantities of substances
egocentrism: inability to easily accept the point of view of others
classification problems, particularly when classes are nested

Concrete Operations: 7 to 11 or 12 Years
Conservations involve realizations that certain quantitative attributes of objects do not change unless something is added or taken away.
Reversibility is the realization that the action could be reversed and certain logical consequences follow from doing so.
Identity is the realization that adding or taking away nothing produces no change.
Compensation or combinativity is a property defined by the logical consequences of combining more than one operation or dimension
Children also acquire new skills in dealing with classes, numbers, and series

Formal Operations: After 11 or 12 Years
Capability of dealing with hypothetical or ideal (the nonconcrete); not real

Capability of imagining all possibilities in regard to problem solution and then exhausting them, demonstrating hypothetical and combinatorial analysis of formal-operations thinking.

Capability to inhabit thinking that is not restricted to the consideration of the concrete or the potentially real but instead deals in the realm of the hypothetical, called propositional thinking.

Piaget’s Theory of Learning
assumes the following:
The acquisition of knowledge is a gradual developmental process made possible through the interaction of the child with the environment.
The sophistication of children’s representation of the world is a function of their stage of development. That stage is defined by the thought structures they then possess.
Maturation, active experience, equilibration, and social interaction are the forces that shape learning

Educational Implications
Piaget describes 4 great forces that shape a child’s development: equilibration, maturation, active experience, social interaction
Use of constructivism in school curricula
Schools providing students with tasks and challenges of optimal difficulty
Importance of social interaction

Small sample sizes
Research supports sequence of cognitive development, but not necessarily ages.
Piaget underestimated abilities of young children and overestimated those of older children
Formal operations are not highly general.
System is too complex – unclear terminology
Scientific criteria:
Internally consistent
Clearly and understandably describes stages; does not clearly and understandably describe abstract logical systems.
Explains some new behaviors and predicts cognitive functioning at different stages.
Very useful and influential theory – immense influence in schools

Lee Vygotsky: A Cultural/Cognitive Theory
Often serves as an example of constructivism, but emphasizes forces that are outside the child.
(Piaget, on the other hand, emphasizes forces within the child.)
Overriding themes:
importance of culture
role of language
relationship between educator and educated

Role of Culture
Social interaction is fundamentally involved in the development of cognition; child’s interaction with culture
Culture is powerful, dynamic, and changing and specifies what successful outcome of development is.
Cultures determine what it is we have to learn, what sorts of competencies are required for successful adaptation to our worlds.
Influences mental functions
Elementary mental functions = normal, unlearned tendencies and behaviors
Higher mental functions = all activities involved in thinking, such as problem solving and imaging

Role of Language
Higher mental functioning, or thought, is made possible through language.

Stages of speech development
social speech (external speech) mainly controls behavior of others or expresses simple concepts.
Egocentric speech (between 3 and 7 years) bridges public speech of first stage and inner speech of third stage.
Inner speech is the stage of self-talk or “stream of consciousness.”
Zone of Proximal Growth
Both educator and educated are teachers and learners.
Zone of proximal growth = potential for developing
“What the child is initially able to do only together with adults and peers, and then can do independently lies exactly in the zone of proximal psychological development” (Davydov, 1995, p. 18).
Educational implications – primary task is to arrange for children to engage in activities within their zone of proximal growth

Scaffolding is guidance and support that, initially, is essential to learning.
“Demonstrating, showing, correcting, pointing, urging, providing models, explaining procedures, asking questions, identifying objects, etc.” helps build scaffolds for children.
Scaffolding allows children to perform tasks that would be beyond their abilities if they were working alone.

Does not provide precise measurements
Does not lead to verifiable assumptions
Scientific criteria:
clear and understandable
internally consistent
attempts to simplify what is known; complex observations relating to human learning and development
important practical applications in childrearing and education
continues to stimulate research in social sciences