Jean Piaget was a Swiss philosopher and developmental psychologist, who conducted epistemological studies on children to determine human cognitive development. He significantly contributed to cognitive psychology with his own theory (Keller, 2011). Piaget closely studied the development and nature of intelligence in human beings. The theory of cognitive development states that cognitive development is the progressive change of human mental processes due to environmental experiences and biological maturation. It is apparent that Piaget considered cognitive development as a process that human beings continue to undergo since childhood (Keller, 2011). According to Piaget, the decisions and actions that people undertake depend on the environmental and genetic factors. It is necessary to consider the views of Jean Piaget regarding mind and human development.
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Human beings make different decisions depending on environmental and genetic factors. Assimilation and accommodation are the complimentary processes that take place in the human mind from childhood to old age. Assimilation refers to a complimentary process through which a person gathers information by interacting with the social and physical environment. Accommodation is the change of a person’s mind to fit new experience as the person continues to gather new information. Piaget suggested that assimilation and accommodation take place simultaneously. According to Jean Piaget, human cognitive development takes place in four stages, namely sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage, and formal operational stage (Costley, 1986).
The sensorimotor stage starts from the moment of birth and ends when the child is about two years old (Costley, 1986). The child understands the environment through motor activities and sensory perceptions. Behaviors of children during the sensorimotor stage include basic motor reactions to sensory stimuli. The preoperational stage of human cognitive development starts when a child is about two years old and ends when the child is about six years old. Children gain the ability to communicate using words, but they cannot manipulate information mentally because they do not comprehend concrete logic. Another phase is the concrete operational stage, which starts when the child is about seven years old and ends when the child is eleven years old (Costley, 1986). The child understands mental operations during this stage of human cognitive development. Children start thinking in a logical manner about concrete occurrences, but fail to understand hypothetical or abstract concepts. The last stage of human cognitive development is the formal operational stage. It starts at the age of twelve and lasts to the late adulthood. People can be able to think about hypothetical concepts during this stage. Skills like logical thought, systematic planning, and deductive reasoning also emerge in the formal operational stage.
It has been evident that the later stages of human development are more complex than the earlier, primitive stages of development. This is because people continue to gain new information, as well as undergo biological maturation. Therefore, in human beings, the behavior depends on the amount of information that has undergone assimilation and accommodation in their minds (Costley, 1986). A person cannot think freely and make meaningful decisions without the influence of biological maturation and environmental interactions. It is necessary to discuss the perspective of cognitive psychology on free will and determinism.
Piaget suggested that people’s decisions and actions depend on biological and environmental factors (Burman, 2008). Therefore, according to Piaget, people cannot make decisions or carry out actions without the influence of either environmental or biological factors. It is evident that Piaget supports determinism, which asserts that environmental and biological factors determine human behavior. Adults tend to make more meaningful decisions in comparison to the case with young children. This is because adults acquired a lot of information from their environment as they have interacted with the environment for many years. Children have interacted with their environment for a shorter time as compared to adults. Biological maturation is a significant biological factor that determines the way how people make decisions (Burman, 2008). Behaviorists suggest that individuals can portray behaviors not acquired from the environment. At the same time, the behaviors may not depend on any biological factor like biological maturation. Piaget was against the idea that people can make decisions on their own without the influence of environmental and biological factors (Elliott, 2011).
Piaget’s cognitive development theory is against free will because it does not require a person to depend on either physical environment or biological factors (Baumeister, Bauer, & Lloyd, 2010). Knowledge acquisition and experience, as well as innate capacities of the brain, determine the behavior of human beings. Free will asserts that human beings expose various behaviors because of their intellect, passions, and motivation. According to Jean Piaget, young children express different behaviors, which show primitive stages of development. When the children grow older, they express themselves in a meaningful way either using sign language or verbal communication (Burman, 2008). Therefore, people show different behaviors, ranging from primitive to most advanced behaviors depending on biological maturation and interaction with different agents in the environment. If the ability to make decisions depends on free will, then young children will be able to make concrete decisions before undergoing biological maturation, as well as without interacting with other people (Elliott, 2011).
In conclusion, Jean Piaget supported determinism, and he was obviously against free will. He illustrated different stages of human cognitive development starting from early childhood to late adulthood. Piaget considers biological maturation and environmental factors are the determinants of human behavior (Burman, 2008). This is because the thinking capacities of young children are lower than those of adults, who are mature and have interacted with their environment for many years.
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