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How successful have developmental psychologists been in their efforts to understand the development of thought in the first year of infancy?

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Introduction

Mrs Tracey Goode. How successful have developmental psychologists been in their efforts to understand the development of thought in the first year of infancy? The scientific study of children's development in which it has been deemed worthy of intellectual interest, is relatively new in the history of childhood. Up to Piaget's time the only 'grand theory' of mental development of children was one derived from Darwin's evolutionary theory. 'The younger the child, the more primitive in an evolutionary sense are his/her mental abilities'. Recent research has provided new understanding of the developing child and of the nature of development itself. This essay is going to discuss the complexity of researching the development of children's thoughts by using Piaget's theory and other research, which has extended and/or criticised his theory. In order to do this, two areas are going to be concentrated on, one the infants understanding of the nature of objects, which was considered by Piaget to be 'the 'linchpin', of the child's cognitive system', (Bancroft, D, 1994 pg 126) and two how infants engage in conversations via imitation. Human thought is a wide - ranging topic and encompasses such areas as concept formations, the development of schemas and scripts, the use of cognitive maps, social and environmental influences and individual characteristics. When researching developmental issues such as thought during infancy longitudinal studies, observational studies and clinical interview techniques are ususally used, which encompasses methodological issues, which will be evident throughout this essay. ...read more.

Middle

Harris (1973, as cited by Bancroft, D, 1994) then modified Piaget's experiment by using two cloths, an object and adding an interference task of a time delay. This experiment challenges Piaget theory as Harris (1973) found that the child without the interference task searched straight away for the object. By adding the interference task it showed that the original information was lost and the child could not remember where the toy was so did not reach for it. The overall conclusion is that 'while infants may have some idea of the existence of objects, keeping track of objects which move from place to place is a harder problem since it makes demands on various parts of their still developing cognitive system.' (Bancroft, D, 1994 pg 139) When discussing Piaget's experiments it has to be taken into consideration the ecological validity of the experiments. Piaget used his own children as participants, which can incorporate experimenter bias. Several aspects of Piaget's theory have been questioned but other aspects remain influential. Even though his stage concept has not been supported by more recent research, we find most educationalists and developmentalists operate within this four part division. Piaget's neglect of social context is considered an important reason why his research tends to underestimate children's ability. The second area of thought in which psychologists are interested in is the way that children engage in conversation through imitation. ...read more.

Conclusion

For the Piagtian framework development is characterised as unified abstract entities that function across cognitive domains, while for others development may progress in different domains independently (such as spatial, number and causality cognition). These approaches retain the idea that modules of cognitive processing are pre-wired and autonomous. Development involves the child's strong or weak working of theories. Meltzoff and Moore take a radically different view concerning the nature of the newborn infants cognitive system. In their view infants do not need to embark on the developmental process described by Piaget since they are born with an ability to symbolise (or represent) their world, which is based on evidence that suggests that infants can imitate in the first hours of life. 'They belong to a group of theorists working from a 'nativist' philosophical starting point who believe that newborn humans possess an integrated sensory system in which physical behaviour and sensory behaviour both share a common form of representation.' (Bancroft, D, 1994, page 150) Vinter's perception accommodates evidence from both Piaget and Meltzoff and Moore. The Neo - Piagtian stance is represented by the new theory. The generality and stages of development are de emphasised. Social interaction is more influential. The child's information processing capacities as well as development in working memory are more relevant. However, even though investigating thought during the first year of infancy is contentious and there is limitations in the investigations that we have looked at, they have provided the psychological and educational world an insight into relevant clues about the mental life of infants and how we progress as humans. ...read more.

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