[10.2] Infancy and Childhood: Cognitive and Emotional Development Flashcards Preview

🚫 PSY100H1: Introduction to Psychology (Winter 2016) with J. Vervaeke > [10.2] Infancy and Childhood: Cognitive and Emotional Development > Flashcards

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Cognitive Changes: Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory

  • cognitive development: the study of changes in memory, thought, and reasoning processes that occur throughout the lifespan 
  • assimilation: a conservative process, whereby people fit new information into the belief systems they already possess 
    • e.g. young children may think that all girls have long hair; they may run into a boy with long hair and mistake him for a girl (or vice versa)
  • accommodation: a creative process whereby people modify their belief structures based on experience 
    • e.g. over time the children will learn that the rigid categories of long-haired girls and short-haired boys need to be changed
  • Piaget's observations revealed that there are four distinct stages of development: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational (table 10.3)


The Sensorimotor Stage: Living in the Material World

  • sensorimotor stage: from birth to two years, during which infants’ thinking about and exploration of the world are based on immediate sensory (e.g. seeing, feeling) and motor (e.g. grabbing, mouthing) experiences 
  • object permanence: the ability to understand that objects exist even when they cannot be directly perceived 
    • this is the first major milestone of cognitive development proposed by Piaget (1896-1980)


The Preoperational Stage: Quantity and Numbers

  • preoperational stage: from ages two to seven, toddlers undergo language development, using symbols, pretend play, and mastering the concept of conservation 
  • conservation: the knowledge that the quantity or amount of an object is not the same as the physical arrangement and appearance of that object (figure 10.6)
    • critics of Piaget (1896-1980 )point out that the pennies experiment may have been due to not understanding the task, not cognitive limitations; they might've thought "more" meant "longer"
    • e.g. if presented the same task, but replace pennies with M&Ms, children will choose the tighter row as having more candies
  • abstract thinking abilities are still a work in progress until age 3, when children scale errors decline and understand symbolic relationships (figure 10.7)


The Concrete Operational Stage: Using Logical Thought

  • concrete operational stage: from ages 7 to 10, children are developing skills in logical thinking and manipulating numbers 
  • e.g. transitivity: a child in the concrete operational stage recognizes that if X is more than Y, and Y is more than Z, then X is more than Z


The Formal Operational Stage: Abstract and Hypothetical Thought

  • formal operational stage: (ages 11 to adulthood) involves the development of advanced cognitive processes such as abstract reasoning and hypothetical thinking 
  • scientific thinking, such as gathering evidence and systematically testing possibilities, is characteristic of this stage


Evaluating Piaget

  • core knowledge hypothesis: proposes that infants have inborn abilities for understanding some key aspects of their environment 
  • habituation: a decrease in responding with repeated exposure to an event
    • e.g. if an infant views the same stimulus over and over, she will stop looking at it 
  • dishabituation: an increase in responsiveness with the presentation of a new stimulus 
    • i.e. the infant will return her gaze to the location that she previously found boring 
  • we cannot know exactly what infants are thinking, and perhaps they look longer at events and stimuli simply because these are more interesting, rather than because they understand anything in particular about them
  • the key insight from research on babies is that cognitive development at this age is much more sophisticated than psychologists have assumed


Complementary Approaches to Piaget

  • children’s abilities are responsive to their social environment 
  • zone of proximal development: development is ideal when children attempt skills and activities that are just beyond what they can do alone, but they have guidance from adults who are attentive to their progress 
    • proposed by Lev Vygotsky (1978)
  • scaffolding: a highly attentive approach to teaching in which the teacher matches guidance to the learner’s needs 


Types of Attachment

  • attachment: the enduring emotional bond formed between individuals 
  • attachment motivations are deeply rooted in our psychology, compelling us to seek out others for physical and psychological comfort
  • Harry Harlow (1950s): studies with rhesus monkeys showed that infant monkeys hung onto cloth mothers for feeling secure, which is based on physical comfort
  • strange situation: a way of measuring infant attachment by observing how infants behave when exposed to different experiences that involve anxiety and comfort 
  • Ainsworth (1978): used stranger anxiety and the strange situation to figure out three broad patterns of behaviour
    • secure attachment: the caregiver is a secure base that the child turns toward occaisionally; when the caregiver leaves the child avoids the stranger, and when the caregiver returns the child seeks comfort
    • insecure attachment; anxious/resistant: child is clingy, upset when the caregiver leaves and fearful of the stranger; seeks comfort but also pushes caregiver away, not allowing his distress to be easily alleviated
    • insecure attachment; avoidant: child behaves as though he doesn't need the caregiver at all; not upset when caregiver leaves and is unconcerned about the stranger
    • disorganized: the child has learned that caregivers are both sources of fear and comfort, leaving the child oscillating between wanting to get away and wanting to be reassured
  • maternal sensitivity (i.e. being highly attuned to the infant’s signals and communication, and responding appropriately) is key to developing a secure attachment style 
  • under-responsiveness and over-involvement/hyper-sensitivity to an infant’s needs and emotions are correlated with the formation of insecure attachment styles 



  • self-awareness: the ability to recognize one’s individuality 
  • egocentric: only considering one's own perspective  
  • this does not imply that children are selfish or inconsiderate, but that they lack the cognitive ability to understand the perspective of others 
  • theory of mind: the ability to recognize the thoughts, beliefs, and expectations of others, and to understand that these can be different from one’s own 
    • e.g. the false-belief task: An experimenter offers three-year-old Andrea a box of chocolates. Upon opening the box, Andrea discovers not candy, but rather pencils. Joseph enters the room and she watches as Joseph is offered the same box.The researcher asks Andrea, “What does Joseph expect to find in the box?” 
    • if Andrea answers “pencils,” this indicates that she believes that Joseph knows the same thing she does. 
    • if Andrea says that Joseph expects to see chocolates, it demonstrates that she is taking Joseph’s mental perspective
    • theory of mind is not a linear outcome of development, but rather a continual process 
  • self-awareness and theory of mind are dynamic and in constant development right from birth 
  • as caregivers respond to children’s emotions, this provides a kind of “mirror,” a “higher order representation” that assists children in organizing their emotion, helping them “know what they feel” 
  • if their emotional exchange is completely synchronized (e.g. the child and the caregiver both experience fear) then the symbolic function of the caregiver’s sensitive response is lost; the child simply gets fear reinforced, rather than gaining the ability to understand that she is feeling fear


Prosocial Behaviour

  • in order for explicitly prosocial motives to develop, children must learn to attribute their negative feelings to the other person’s distress, thereby becoming motivated to reduce the other person’s suffering, not just their own reaction to it 
  • children show a natural pre-disposition toward prosocial behaviour very early in their development; going back to early infancy
  • instrumental helping: providing practical assistance (e.g. helping to retrive an out-of-reach object); develops around age 1
  • empathetic helping: providing help in order to make someone feel better; develops around age 2
  • attachment behavioural system: focused on meeting our own needs for security
  • caregiving behavioural system: focused on meeting the needs of others 
  • each system guides our behaviour when it is activated
  • the attachment system is primary, and if it is activated, it tends to shut down the caregiving system 
  • helping people feel securely attached is important for building a truly compassionate society



  • children are not stimulus-response machines, and the pervasive use of conditional approaches sows the seeds for many problems that crop up over time 
  • the reward approach encourages a whole generation of children to become addicted, in a sense, to praise and other rewards, finding it difficult to motivate themselves or even to explore their passions for the intrinsic interest and enjoyment of the activity
  • an overuse of rewards builds a more conditional sense of self-worth, making people more dependent on external sources of validation or reward in order to feel good about themselves 
  • introjection: the internalization of the conditional regard of significant others  

What Works Better?

  • inductive discipline: involves explaining the consequences of a child’s actions on other people, activating empathy for others’ feelings 
  • providing a rationale for a parent’s decisions, showing empathy and understanding of the child’s emotions, supporting her autonomy, and allowing her choice whenever possible all promote positive outcomes such as greater mastery of skills, increased emotional and behavioural self-control, better ability to persist at difficult tasks, and a deeper internalization of moral values 

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